Legal intelligence for professionals in local government.

This update contains brief details of recent Government publications, legislation, cases and other developments relevant to those involved in local government work, which have been published in the previous two weeks. Items are set out by subject, with a link to where the full document can be found on the internet.

If you have been forwarded this update by a colleague and would like to receive it direct please email Claire Booth.

All links are correct at the date of publication. The following topics are covered in this update:

   Access to Information     Finance and Funding
   Children's Services    Governance
   Community Engagement    Health and Safety
   Competition     Parish Councils
   Coroners    Public Bodies
   Education    Standards
   Efficiency    Vetting and Barring
   Bevan Brittan's Local Government Training Programme


Access to Information

Draft Freedom of Information (Time for Compliance with Request) Regulations 2010: these draft regulations modify the period within which proprietors of Academies must respond to FOI requests.  Academy proprietors will not have to count any working day that is not a school day towards the period of 20 working days within which they have to answer requests for information, provided that the request is answered no later than 60 working days following the date of receipt of the request. They do still remain subject to the obligation to respond promptly. (11 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Caraline Johnson.

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Children's Services

NICE: Promoting the quality of life of looked-after children and young people: joint guidance from NICE and the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) for all those who have a role in promoting the quality of life of looked-after children and young people, including directors of children’s services and social care providers. It focuses on how organisations, professionals and carers can work together to help looked-after children and young people reach their full potential and enjoy the same opportunities in life as their peers. The recommendations cover local strategy and commissioning, multi-agency working, care planning and placements, and timely access to appropriate health and mental health services. (18 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Caraline Johnson.

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Community Engagement

Cabinet Office: Building a stronger civil society -  a strategy for voluntary and community groups, charities and social enterprises: sets out the Government's strategy for voluntary, community and other third sector bodies (referred to as "civil society organisations") as the first step towards helping them grasp new opportunities arising from the devolution of power to local communities and reform of public services that underpins the Big Society.
Plans in the strategy include:

  • reducing red tape for small organisations;
  • giving public sector staff the right to form a co-operative or mutual supported by a new network of advice and mentoring;
  • giving local communities the right to buy or bid to run community assets;
  • continuing to match fund local endowments to encourage giving; and
  • modernising public service commissioning so the most efficient and effective charities can get a fair chance to bid for public contracts.

Alongside the strategy is a consultation on Supporting a stronger civil society that discusses how central Government can best play a role to support building infrastructure in this sector. The consultation closes on 6 January 2011, apart from Question 9 on  commissioning a new strategic partner programme - responses to this question must be submitted by 25 November 2010. (18 October 2010)

DCLG: Councils should recognise the valuable role of the voluntary sector: the Decentralisation Minister in a speech at the SOLACE conference has said that local authorities should look for opportunities to strengthen ties with the voluntary and community sector, so as to make best use of the diversity, innovation and cost savings that voluntary and community groups can offer in a tougher economic climate. He stated that the forthcoming Localism Bill will include a right for communities to challenge councils to consider new ways of working, giving communities with good ideas far greater freedom to implement their innovations, and sharing lessons and good practice. (14 October 2010)

English Heritage: Pillars of the community - the transfer of local authority heritage assets: guidance on the transfer of land and buildings from local authorities to community-based organisations. It summarises more detailed web-based guidance drawn up in conjunction with the Asset Transfer Unit. (20 October 2010)

DCLG: 16 areas to get 'community budgets' to help the vulnerable: announces that 16 areas covering 31 local authorities and their partners are to become pathfinders for Community Budgets that pool various strands of Whitehall funding into a single 'local bank account' for tackling social problems around families with complex needs.  The Government intends to roll out Community Budgets to all areas from April 2013. In addition, it will be working with a further 20 innovative areas to help push forward local flexibility and to address barriers, including supporting budgets focused at the very local level in 13 areas. (22 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Matthew Waters.

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OFT: Land agreements guidance consultation: seeking views on draft guidance for businesses about the types of land agreements that might fall foul of competition law. Until now, land agreements between businesses benefited from special treatment under the Competition Act 1998. However, from 6 April 2011 land agreements that prevent, restrict or distort competition will be void and unenforceable. Companies involved in such agreements can also face fines of up to 10 per cent of their annual worldwide turnover. The guidance provides a practical framework and hypothetical examples of how typical agreements may be assessed. It makes clear that: 

  • there is no presumption that a restriction in a land agreement constitutes an infringement of competition law, and the OFT expects that only a minority of restrictions will be anti-competitive; 
  • the types of restriction most likely to impact competition are those which keep other companies out of a market, or which aim to make it more difficult for other businesses to compete; and 
  • the law will only apply to land agreements between businesses, not individuals.

The consultation closes on 14 January 2011. (15 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Susie Smith.

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Ministry of Justice: Updating the coroner system: announces plans for changes to the coroner system in England and Wales, and implementation of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. It states that in the current economic climate, the Government will not now implement the provisions relating to national leadership from a Chief Coroner, an appeals system, or a Medical Adviser. The Office of the Chief Coroner will be abolished and the MoJ is further considering the transfer of some of the Chief Coroner’s functions to suitable alternative bodies. It will continue to work collaboratively with coroners, local government and police authorities to deliver service improvements. (14 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Nadia Persaud.

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DfE: DfE to close arm's length bodies to improve accountability: lists all of the DfE's arm's length bodies (ALBs) that are to close following the Cabinet Office's cross-government review of public bodies (see below). Eight ALBs are still under review, including Partnership for Schools (PfS). (14 October 2010)

DCLG: Planning for schools development: seeks views on proposals to make changes to the GPDO 1995 to give a permitted development right for change of use planning permission for schools development, in order to support DfE’s policy on new free schools. The proposals affect only those developments that involve purely converting non-school buildings for school use; where a schools development requires any additional work to change the exterior of an existing building or is a new build development, planning permission will be required in the normal way. The consultation closes on 10 December 2010. (14 October 2010)

DfE: Deputy PM announces £7bn 'fairness premium': Nick Clegg has announced £7bn funding for a ‘fairness premium’, which will provide 15 hours a week of pre-school education to disadvantaged two-year-olds, in addition to that already available to them at the ages of three and four. Schools will also receive additional funds to offer targeted help to pupils eligible for free school meals and help to access university will be given to teenagers from deprived backgrounds. (15 October 2010)

DfE: Michael Gove announces changes to the specialist schools programme: announces that from April 2011 funding for specialist schools will not be a dedicated grant but continue to be routed to schools through the Dedicated Schools Grant. The Government has also announced that schools will no longer be required to designate or re-designate as specialist. Consequently, from April 2011 DfE will no longer fund the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and Youth Sports Trust to support schools through the designation and re-designation process and run networks of specialist schools. (20 October 2010)

DfE: Refocusing sport in schools to build a lasting legacy of the 2012 Games: announces that the Government is ending the £162m PE and Sports Strategy of the previous administration, to give schools the time and freedom to focus on providing competitive sport such as rugby union, netball and hockey. In addition, the DfE will not continue to provide ring-fenced funding for school sport partnerships. (20 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Caraline Johnson.

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Cabinet Office: Efficiency review by Sir Philip Green - key findings and recommendations: Sir Philip Green was asked by the Government to carry out an efficiency review of Government spending, focusing on commodity procurement, property and major contracts. This paper sets out the key findings and recommendations of his review. His key finding is that the Government has consistently failed to make the most of its scale, buying power and credit rating. His investigation has revealed the poor quality of much of the data relating to where and how Government spends its money.  In addition, a lack of a centralised approach to buying goods and services has allowed departments to pay hugely different prices for the same items (11 October 2010)

LGA: Delivering more for less - transparency in action: outlines proposals which, if accepted by Government, will reduce centrally imposed burdens on councils, strengthen local accountability and cut the cost. The report calls for guidance on statutory duties to be scrapped, local government laws to be simplified to allow local councils to use the promised General Power of Competence to full effect, and the Government to cut data demands on councils and only collect statistics where they have a proven value to local people. (15 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Bethan Evans.

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Finance and Funding

HM Treasury: Spending Review 2010: announces the spending budgets for each Government department up to 2014-15. However, little detail is given as to how these cuts will be implemented. Each Government department is to publish a business plan later this year setting out the details of its reform plans. Further detail on Tax Increment Financing, which will enable local authorities to borrow against future business rates, and the future incentives and planning powers open to local authorities to support growth will be provided in a White Paper on local growth later this year. Each Government department has issued more information on their settlement, including:

The LGA has produced an On the day briefing that highlights the key messages for local authorities. (20 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Bethan Evans.

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Audit Commission: Report in the public interest - town hall land sale: this public interest report follows the external auditor's investigation into the sale in 2008-09 of land belonging to Uttoxeter Town Council. The report finds that the sale took place without adequate marketing and without the Council satisfying itself that it received the best price. It concludes that the Council's decision-making processes and its governance arrangements are flawed and in need of significant improvement. The report raises concerns: about the clarity of roles of councillors, the clerk and other staff; the clarity of the terms of reference for committees and subcommittees; the lateness of circulating agendas and informative background papers to councillors; and about how open-minded the decision-making has been. Its messages and lessons to be learned should be noted by other councils. (20 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Peter Keith-Lucas.

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Health and Safety

HM Government: Common sense, common safety: report of Lord Young's review into health and safety and the compensation culture. He puts forward a series of policies for improving the perception of health and safety, to ensure it is taken seriously by employers and the general public, while ensuring the burden on small business is as insignificant as possible. He highlights the pivotal role that local authorities have in promoting a common sense approach to health and safety, ensuring that businesses, schools and voluntary organisations can operate in a way where health and safety is applied in a proportionate manner. His recommendations include strengthening the function of the Local Government Ombudsman with regard to health and safety, so that citizens can challenge decisions made by local government officials and potentially receive damages in the light of a poor decision. (15 October 2010)

Local Government Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill: this Private Member's Bill, introduced into the Commons by Christopher Chope, has received its 1st Reading. It provides for extending the LGO's powers to provide redress against local authorities which unreasonably ban events on the grounds of health and safety. (21 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Bethan Evans.

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Parish Councils

DCLG: 9.000 parish councils to be freed from archaic payment rules: announces that parish councils are to be given the freedom from 2011 to abolish outdated methods of payment and adopt modern banking methods such as electronic transfers. Under current legislation dating from 1894, even the smallest payments must be signed off by at two members of the council, creating a time-consuming process and leading them to use cheques instead of quick electronic transfers. The National Association of Local Councils and the Society of Local Council Clerks will now work together to put important safeguards in place so that all payments made by parish councils are legitimate and there is no misuse of the system. (9 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Peter Keith-Lucas.

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Public Bodies

Cabinet Office: Public bodies reform - proposals for change: sets out the Government's plans to substantially reform a large number of NDPBs. The proposals will be implemented through a Public Bodies Bill that will be introduced into Parliament this autumn. Of the 481 quangos listed, 192 will cease to be public bodies and their functions will either be brought back into Government, devolved to local government, moved out of Government or abolished altogether. Most of the changes simply confirm previous announcements, while for some bodies, such as Partnerships for Schools, there is still no definite decision as they are still under consideration. (14 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Bethan Evans.

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National Assembly for Wales: New Standards Commissioner with greater powers appointed: announces that Gerard Elias QC has been selected to be the National Assembly for Wales’ new independent Commissioner for Standards. His functions under the National Assembly for Wales Commissioner for Standards Measure 2009 include investigating complaints against Assembly Members rigorously, and promoting high standards of conduct in public life among Assembly Members. (21 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Peter Keith-Lucas.

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Vetting and Barring

Home Office: Scrutiny of vetting and barring scheme gets underway: announces that the Government is to undertake a thorough review of the Vetting and Barring Scheme that will re-examine whether the scheme is the most appropriate mechanism to protect children and vulnerable people and, if so, how many roles should be covered by it. The final recommendations for the scheme will be announced early in the New Year. (22 October 2010)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Carlton Sadler.

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Bevan Brittan's Local Government Training Programme

Bevan Brittan has developed a well-recognised programme of training designed to assist local authorities in successfully implementing legal change. Led by key members of our local authority team, each session will clearly explain the key aspects of the law and the implications for local government. Using case studies and carefully selected complementary speakers, they will assist attendees in realising the full benefits of implementation and the dangerous pitfalls in failure to act.

The full Local Government Training Programme is available on our website. Forthcoming seminars in 2010 include: 

If you wish to attend any sessions please contact our Events team.

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