This is the fourth in our series of quarterly local government update blogs, which will enable readers to catch up on the most important cases, issues or developments in local government since May 2013.
Please feel free to submit a comment below or contact us at email@example.com if you have any views on the cases, issues, or legal development that is covered or if you think we have missed something that should be brought to the attention of local government practitioners.
Local authority income and charging
Following the tough 2012 spending review, many more local authorities are considering ways in which extra income can be generated. Therefore, any available information on how other local authorities have generated additional income using their charging powers in the Local Government Act 2003 will be of interest. The Audit Commission’s briefing paper provides some interesting findings and data on the income that local authorities have generated. Of particular interest is the fact that, in 2011/12, local authorities in England generated income of £10.2 billion (which equates to 10% of their total expenditure) and, although social care services accounted for the highest percentage of income from charging, this was followed by income from highways and transport which mainly comprised parking charges.
Local authority parking charges continue to generate considerable adverse publicity in the media. These are seen as providing huge cash surpluses for some local authorities in England. Although local parking restrictions are often necessary, and not a means of raising revenue, the conclusion of the Portas Review of high streets was that high parking charges have dissuaded people from using their local high street shops. Therefore, the government has issued a consultation setting out various proposals for parking reform. These proposals include the introduction of parking enforcement guidance to support local shops and dealing with unacceptable fine collection practices.
In Wales, the Welsh Government has published a consultation on discretionary powers for Welsh local authorities to increase council tax on second homes. Currently, the council tax system in Wales does not specifically recognise second homes and the Welsh Government is therefore proposing the introduction of primary legislation that would amend the Local Government Finance Act 1992. This would allow Welsh local authorities to charge more than the standard rate of council tax on second homes.
Local authority regeneration and development
The Sustainable Communities Act 2007, which gives local authorities the power to submit proposals for social, economic and environmental improvements in their local areas, embodies the government’s commitment towards localism and empowering communities to take decisions about improvements they want to see introduced in their local area. From 14 October 2013, the power to submit proposals under the legislation has been extended to town and parish councils with the making of the Sustainable Communities (Parish Councils) Order 2013. The Order adds parish councils to the class of persons that are able to make proposals to promote the sustainability of local communities, following an invitation to do so by the Secretary of State.
One of the key policy goals of the Localism Act 2011 is to give communities more power to become involved in the way that local services are delivered and to stimulate social, environmental and economic growth and regeneration through community asset ownership. In order to enable individuals to have greater influence over their communities, for example in bidding to take over premises for community purposes, the DCLG has published a guide to community rights. In addition to case studies, the guide provides a summary of the new powers under the Localism Act 2011 and of various policies such as the changes that have been made to the process for establishing a town or parish council and the right to request the sale of public land.
Standards of conduct
The changes in the standards regime that were effected by the Localism Act 2011 continue to generate great interest, particularly whether the sanctions for breach of standards are adequate. The Committee on Standards in Public Life has expressed concerns as to the adequacy of the sanctions and is continuing to monitor the implementation of the regime (see Legal update, Committee on Standards in Public Life publishes annual plan for 2013-14). In addition, Transparency International UK has recently published a report raising its concerns that the changes to the regulation of local government (contained in the Localism Act 2011 and the Local Audit and Accountability Bill 2013-14) could have the unintended consequences of increasing the risk of local government corruption.
In September 2013, the DCLG updated its guide for councillors, Openness and transparency on personal interests, to require members to register their membership of trade unions. The guide confirms that any payment or financial benefit from a trade union within the meaning of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 is a disclosable pecuniary interest and requires councils’ own codes of conduct to specifically require members to register their personal trade union interests.
Regulation and enforcement
When enacted, the measures in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will overhaul the existing anti-social behaviour regime and replace anti-social behaviour orders and anti-social behaviour injunctions. In order to explain the purpose of the new powers, who can exercise them, the relevant tests in relation to each new power and the penalties for breach, the government has published draft guidance on the reforms. Part 7 of the Bill will amend the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 so that the offence of a dangerously out of control dog is extended to all places, including private property. A draft practitioners’ manual for tackling irresponsible dog ownership has been published to assist local authorities on using the powers.