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 four 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:  

   Adult Social Services    Finance
   Anti Social Behaviour    Housing
   Audit    Licensing
   Benefits    Negligence
   Children's Services    Performance
   Civil Procedure    Rating
   Localism Act 2011 Commencement Table (as at 7 March 2012) 
   Bevan Brittan's Local Government Training Programme 


Adult Social Services

Welsh Government: Social Services (Wales) Bill: seeks views on draft proposals to provide, for the first time, a coherent legislative framework for social services in Wales. The draft Bill covers the following areas: maintaining and enhancing the wellbeing of people in need; giving citizens a stronger voice and real control; ensuring a strong national direction and  local accountability for delivery; safeguarding and protection; regulation and inspection; adoption and transitions for disabled children and young people. It follows on from the White Paper, 'Sustainable Social Services for Wales: A Framework for Action'. The consultation closes on 1 June 2012. (12 March 2012)

DH: LAC(DH)(2012)1 - Charging for residential accommodation: this circular and the guidance annexed give details of the charges for residential accommodation which will come into effect from 9 April 2012. (20 March 2012)

R (Bevan & Clarke LLP) v Neath Port Talbot CBC [2012] EWHC 236 (Admin) (Admin Ct): B&C, who were operators of residential homes in the Council's area, applied for judicial review of the Council's decision to set the rate to be paid to residential care providers for the 2011/2012 year at a rate that represented an increase of 5.7%. In setting the rate, the council used the economic toolkit developed by Laing & Buisson and also Laing & Buisson's 2004 report "A Fair Price for Care: Wales". B&C claimed that the Council had: unlawfully failed to set a rate which reflected their costs in providing care and the need for the sector to be sustainable;  failed to take account of relevant guidance; and that the decision was procedurally unfair. The Council submitted that its function of setting a fee under its contracts with providers was a private function that was not amenable to judicial review.
The court held, refusing the application, that the Council's decision was amenable to judicial review. Its decision was not purely incidental or supplementary to its public function under the National Assistance Act 1948 of providing care or making arrangements for others to provide care for those who needed. While the Council's fee-setting function was less closely regulated than those of a registered social landlord, the statutory and regulatory framework showed that a council did not have the freedom that a private individual would have to use its bargaining power to drive down the price as far as possible. The mere fact that the decision concerned the setting of a fee under a contract did not mean that it was to be characterised as a private act. 
The court distinguished the decisions in R (Mavalon Care Ltd) v Pembrokeshire CC [2011] EWHC 3371 (Admin) and R (Forest Care Home Ltd) v Pembrokeshire CC [2010] EWHC 3514 (Admin) regarding use of the Laing & Buisson toolkit. The argument that the Council should have used the toolkit to reach a conclusion on the financial pressures faced by providers was flawed because the toolkit was concerned with the calculation of costs for the relatively efficient home, but the issues here were B&C's financial difficulties. The toolkit and its methodology were no more than a relevant consideration, and the Council was entitled to depart from the toolkit's 12% rate of return figure. The Council had not acting unlawfully in taking account of its resources when setting the fees, which was different from taking account of those resources when assessing an individual's needs for the purposes of s.21 of the 1948 Act. Given the financial pressures on the Council and the fact that the 5.7% increase for the current year was coupled with guaranteed minimum increases for the next three years, the increase was not unreasonable. (17 February 2012) 

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

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Anti Social Behaviour

DCLG: Tackling neighbours from hell: announces that social landlords will be able to present their evidence in court through a new type of statement, which clearly sets out the harmful impact of anti-social behaviour on the community. This will help landlords present a stronger case in court by enabling them to exhibit the impact of anti-social behaviour on the entire community, not just individuals. The new statements have already been used by 11 pilot landlords in 21 court cases. They provide a summary of evidence that can help barristers answer judges' questions about complex cases, and the harmful impact on the community and local resources. DCLG also states that it will shortly be announcing new measures to tackle anti-social behaviour and strengthen the hand of landlords. (16 March 2012)

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

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Audit Commission: Significant cuts in audit fees for town and parish councils: announces the provisional award of contracts for audits of smaller local public bodies, such as parish and town councils and internal drainage boards. The five year contracts have been awarded to four firms: BDO LLP, Grant Thornton (UK) LLP, Littlejohn LLP and Mazars LLP. The contracts will be confirmed once the standstill period ends on 29 March. The Audit Commission states that the new contracts mean that around half of England's small local public bodies will not have to pay any audit fees at all, as those small bodies with annual income/expenditure of up to £10,000 will now fall into the 'nil fee' band. (19 March 2012)

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

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Welfare Reform Act 2012: this Act has received Royal Assent. Some sections came into force on 8 March 2102, some come in on 8 May 2012 and the remainder come into force on a day (or days) to be appointed. The Act follows the November 2010 White Paper "Universal Credit: welfare that works" which set out the Government’s proposals for reforming welfare to improve work incentives, simplifying the benefits system and tackling administrative complexity. It provides for the introduction of a Universal Credit to replace a range of existing means-tested benefits and tax credits for people of working age, starting from 2013. The aim is to improve work incentives, simplify the benefits system and make it less costly to administer. It also makes a number of other key changes including a new Personal Independence Payment to replace Disability Living Allowance, changes to Housing Benefit, restrictions on Employment and Support Allowance, amendments to the statutory child maintenance scheme, and the introduction of a benefit cap. The Act will impact on local authorities in a number of ways:

  • the benefit cap will be enforced by local authorities through Housing Benefit until the Universal Credit is introduced;
  • abolition of the discretionary Social Fund providing community care grants and crisis loans and replacement with new locally-administered welfare assistance funded by a non-ringfenced grant to unitary and upper tier authorities;
  • extension of the size eligibility restrictions that apply in the private sector to working-age Housing Benefit claimants in the social rented sector;
  • abolition of Council Tax Benefit in its current form, in preparation for the introduction of localised Council Tax support under the Local Government Finance Bill;
  • changes to local authorities' powers to prosecute housing benefit and council tax benefit fraud; and
  • the Act contains a number of provisions on data-sharing.

(8 March 2012)

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

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Children's Services

DfE: An action plan for adoption - tackling delay: this action plan sets out how the Government intends to overhaul the system for prospective adopters and strengthen the performance regime for local authorities. It includes:
  • new adoption scorecards that will highlight key indicators for how swiftly local authorities place children in need of adoption and how swiftly they and adoption agencies deal with prospective adopters; 
  • a revised six month approval process, consisting of a two-month pre-qualification stage, followed by a four-month full assessment stage; and
  • a national gateway for adoption, providing a first point of contact for anyone interested in adoption.

It also includes radical plans to reform the recruitment, training and assessment processes for prospective adopters. The Government will consult on the necessary changes to regulations, statutory guidance and the National Minimum Standards later this year, with a view to implementing them as early as possible in 2013.  (14 March 2012)

DH: Getting it right for children, young people and families: this guidance contains the Government's vision and call to action for school nursing services. It sets out an ambition that the service vision and model for school nursing services developed through the School Nursing Development Programme will be a framework for local services that meet both current and future needs. The report identifies the next steps towards achieving improved services and outcomes, within the Healthy Child Programme 5-19 (HCP) . There is also a factsheet that explains how local authorities should start preparing now for the transfer of commissioning responsibility for the component of the HCP for children aged 5 – 19 years that starts in 2013. (12 March 2012)

DfE: Living in children's residential homes: this research report provides an insight into the nature of children’s residential homes, the characteristics and circumstances of the young people who live in them and the short-term outcomes for these young people. (12 March 2012)

Ofsted: Conditions of registration for all regulated social care services and categories of registration for children's homes and voluntary adoption agencies: this updated document sets out Ofsted's policy on setting conditions of registration for children’s social care services under the Care Standards Act 2000 (Registration) (England) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/2130). It covers children’s homes, residential family centres, adoption support agencies, voluntary adoption agencies and independent fostering agencies. (21 March 2012)

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

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Civil Procedure

Harripaul v Lewisham LBC [2012] EWCA Civ 266 (CA): the court considered what, if any, costs order should be made after H withdrew her appeal against a decision of the Council's Housing Review Officer. H was granted permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal against the county court's dismissal with costs of her appeal under s.204 of the Housing Act 1996. However, after that permission was granted, the Council informed H that it would withdraw the review decision and carry out a fresh review. A consent order was drawn up providing for the carrying out of a fresh review, dismissing the appeal and varying the costs order in the county court to 'no order as to costs'. H contended that as she had obtained the relief sought on the appeal (a quashing of the review decision and the carrying out of a fresh review), she was therefore the successful party and enjoyed the benefit of the general rule under CPR Part 44.3 that she should have her costs of the appeal. The Council argued that where a public body compromised a claim for judicial review, that should not be regarded as an indication that the public body accepted the merits of the claim. Its reason for withdrawing the decision was based on the taking of an economic view of the likely costs of resisting the appeal.
The Court of Appeal held that H should be regarded as the successful party and was entitled to her costs. Although it was not obvious that H would have won the appeal, she at least had a good arguable case that could well have resulted in success. Equally, it was difficult to believe that the Council's wish to halt the appeal process was not in part motivated by the consideration that it could not be sure of victory, and by a recognition that, had it fought it and lost, it would be likely to face an order for the costs of both appeals. (14 March 2012)

Tower Hamlets LBC v Lovebox Festivals Ltd (Unreported, Admin Ct): the Council appealed by way of case stated against an award of costs to LF following its successful appeal against a licensing decision by the Council's licensing sub-committee regarding LF's application for a licence for a music festival in one of the Council's parks. The district judge found that the sub-committee had acted unreasonably in changing the terminal hours as there was no basis for their finding that significant disturbance was likely to be caused by people leaving the festival. She awarded LF its costs of £18,138 on the basis that the sub-committee had acted unreasonably.
The Administrative Court held, dismissing the appeal, that  the district judge had directed herself correctly in law - the default position was no order for costs but she was correct that a costs order could be made if the sub-committee had behaved unreasonably. The court was concerned to check that the expenditure incurred was reasonable and proportionate but was unpersuaded that the costs award was too large as the issue of terminal hours was extremely important to LF in the context of a large-scale music festival for 30,000 people. There were no formalities for summary costs applications in the magistrates' courts, but in complex matters a written breakdown should be provided and the Council could have requested one. (16 March 2012)
The judgment is available on Lawtel (password required).

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

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DfE: New statutory guidance for the induction of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) in England: seeks views on draft statutuory guidance to accompany new regulations which those involved in statutory induction arrangements must have regard to. The proposals aim to reduce prescription and provide appropriate bodies and schools with the flexibility to exercise their professional judgement in relation to their own induction arrangements. The new regulations are due to come into force from 1 September 2012. The consultation closes on 25 April 2012. (14 March 2012)

Consistent Financial Reporting (England) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/674): these regulations, which come into force on 31 March 2012, revoke and replace SI 2003/373. They prescribe a framework for the consistent reporting of school finances to local authorities and to the Secretary of State which requires governing bodies of schools maintained by local authorities to prepare financial statements annually, in a prescribed format of approved headings in respect of which amounts of income and expenditure are inserted. This ensures a common, consistent framework which enables schools to benchmark against similar schools when they use the Schools Financial Benchmarking website. Schools are required to send their local authority a completed financial statement by a date determined by the authority; authorities are then required to send the completed statements to the Secretary of State. (8 March 2012)

Dudley MBC v Shurvinton [2012] EWCA Civ 346 (CA): this case considered the relationship between the provisions in Part IV of the Education Act 1996 regarding special educational needs and the provisions in Part IX of the 1996 Act relating to school transport.
The local authority appealed against the Upper Tier Tribunal's decision that J's Statement of Special Educational Needs (SSEN) should be amended to specify that J attend only the school that J's parents preferred . The local authority's policy on the provision of free transport from home to school was that, for children with special educational needs, free transport was generally provided only to the nearest suitable school. J was autistic with moderate learning difficulties. He attended a special school (B School) and his parents wished him to remain there; however, the local authority considered that J's needs could be met in another special school (H School) that was nearer his home, but it was prepared also to specify B School in the SSEN on condition that his parents paid for his transport. The First Tier Tribunal (FTT) weighed the advantages of J attending B School against the relative costs and concluded that it would not be an inefficient use of resources, and it directed that only B School be named in J's SSEN, even though H School had also been assessed as suitable. The Upper Tier Tribunal (UTT) upheld the FTT's decision, stating that it had been entitled and obliged to consider the potential incompatibility of attendance at B School with the efficient use of resources.
The Court of Appeal held, dismissing the local authority's appeal, that was not a case where the only remaining issue was transport costs and where there was no continuing issue as to placement. A condition as to transport costs of the kind in this case could be one which parents were simply not able to meet, thus denying parental preference. There was a contest as to placement which did relate to a matter of educational provision and so it was within the ambit of s.326(IA)(b) of the 1996 Act. The FTT had been justified in weighing the transport costs involved in sending J to B School as part of the matters requiring consideration under para.3 of Sch.27 to the 1996 Act; its conclusion that a decision to specify B School in Part 4 of the SSEN would not constitute an inefficient use of resources was properly open to it; and the UTT's decision that the FTT had jurisdiction under s.326 so to decide, and that the FTT's conclusion involved no error of law, was correct. (21 March 2012)

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

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Local Authorities (Capital Finance and Accounting) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/711): these regulations, which come into force on 31 March and 1 April 2012, amend the provisions in SI 2003/3146 dealing with the treatment of receipts from disposals made pursuant to Part V of the Housing Act 1985. The amendments relate to the pooling of capital receipts derived from the disposal of housing land and are made to reflect that receipts derived from disposals under the right to buy and disposals made to secure tenants at a discount are now dealt with separately from the provisions dealing with the treatment of receipts of other housing land. (9 March 2012)

DCLG: 'Invest to save' and offer support to vulnerable people: the Housing Minister has written to local authorities asking them when setting their budgets to protect Supporting People funding to help the most vulnerable in their communities. He suggests they should consider evidence showing that every pound spent through this housing support services saves £3 in reduced costs in homelessness, tenancy failure, crime, health and residential care packages. (20 March 2012)

HM Treasury: Budget report 2012: sets outs the Coalition Government's proposals for wide reaching reforms to the tax system to reward work and support growth, along with the next stages in the Government’s plans for the supply side of the economy. The Chancellor states that the Government is committed to driving through the measures announced in The Plan for Growth and Autumn Statement 2011, and is taking further steps in this Budget to stimulate investment, exports, enterprise and the labour market. Announcements of interest to local authorities include:

  • £150m of Tax Increment Financing for larger scale projects in core cities. Further details on a competition for allocating funding will be announced in the coming months;
  • the Government will introduce in 2012-13, a 20 basis points (bps) discount on loans from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) under the prudential borrowing regime for those principal local authorities providing improved information and transparency on their locally-determined long-term borrowing and associated capital spending plans. The Government will also work with the local authority sector to consider the potential for an independent body to facilitate the provision of PWLB lending at a further reduced rate, to authorities demonstrating best quality and value for money;
  • Government evidence to be published on the case for regional public sector pay;
  • confirms selection of Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester and Newcastle to become broadband super-connected cities, as part of the £100m investment announced at 2011 Autumn Statement. The Government will also provide an additional £50m to fund a second wave of ten smaller super-connected cities;
  • there will be a consultation on the potential role that a social housing Real Estate Investment Trust could play to support investment in the social housing sector;
  • increase in the Get Britain Building fund by £150m, which will help deliver over 3,000 more homes;
  • acceleration of the release of public sector land, with the identification of sufficient land to meet the Government's ambition to dispose of land with the capacity to build over 100,000 homes and support as many as 25,000 jobs by April 2014. A progress report setting out further details will be published before summer 2012; plus there will be pilots of land auctions for public sector land, with two sites ready for market by the end of 2012;
  • the National Planning Policy Framework will be published by the end of March 2012, coming into force for plan-making and decisions from  that point onwards, with appropriate implementation arrangements for local authorities with pro-growth policies in local plans;
  • further measures to deregulate and simplify the planning system. The Government will shortly consult on reducing information requirements and on proposals to amend the Use Class Order and the associated permitted development rights to make changing the use of buildings easier, for implementation by April 2013. In addition, new permitted development rights for micro-renewable energy installations will come into force in April 2012.

See also the LGA's Budget 2012 - On the day briefing and the DCLG press release. (21 March 2012) 

DCLG: Council tax levels set by local authorities in England - 2012-13: this statistical release gives details of the level of council tax set by local authorities in England for 2012-13. It includes tables showing average council tax and percentage change, average Band D, and the number and percentage of authorities that have frozen or reduced council tax. (21 March 2011)

DCLG: Accounting Officer accountability system statement for local government: sets out the accountability system for local authorities and fire and rescue authorities for the financial year 2012-13. It has been signed off by Sir Bob Kerslake as Accounting Officer for DCLG. It covers the core accountability system for local authorities, which is concerned with issues such as their financial management and democratic accountability. It sets out current funding systems, legislation and guidance that form the system at present, and it signposts changes which are expected to be made during the year. Annex B sets out the arrangements in place for fire and rescue authorities, which are also a departmental responsibility. (22 March 2012) 

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

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Sheridan v Basildon BC [2012] EWCA Civ 335 (CA): this case considered whether the Council had discharged its duty under s.193(2) of the Housing Act 1996 to provide suitable accommodation for occupation by S and the other appellants, who were Irish travellers.
S became homeless and eligible for housing assistance after the Council cleared an unauthorised site in support of enforcement notices served to prevent infringement of the planning controls over the development of green belt land. S rejected the council's offers of accommodation as unsuitable, as they stated that they each had an aversion to bricks and mortar accommodation, and sought a review under s.202 of the Housing Act 1996. The review panel, after considering a report on the Council's failure to provide sites for travellers and also evidence on the risk of psychiatric harm to S were they forced to accept the offered accommodation, concluded that in each case the property offered was of a suitable size and type for S's housing needs.
The Court of Appeal held, dismissing the appeal, that the s.202 decisions by the review panel did not disclose any error of law. The question whether the accommodation offered fell below the Wednesbury minimum line could not be answered solely in terms of whether the decision-maker took account of all relevant circumstances, but also required the court to consider objectively whether the decision taken was one which a reasonable housing authority in possession of that information and having regard to the statutory test could have reached. The risk of psychiatric harm was the consequence not of the offers of accommodation which had been made but of S's removal from the unauthorised site. The review panel was entitled to treat the risk of psychiatric harm as an existing problem which would not be avoided by any offer of accommodation, and therefore it was not unreasonable for the panel to proceed on the basis that S's psychiatric problems should be dealt with through the use of local NHS services. It was completely unrealistic to expect a housing officer on a s.202 review to conduct a general inquiry into strategic questions about the preparation of a homelessness strategy and the adequacy of site provision. Those were matters that fell well outside the expertise of a housing officer and would require detailed and probably extensive evidence, and Parliament could not have intended the s.202 review machinery to encompass an inquiry of that kind. The review must have been intended to have a much narrower focus of whether the offer of accommodation from within the housing authority's existing resources adequately met the applicant's needs. The Council did not have to acquire land to meet S's housing needs and it could not be said that the Council or the review panel had overlooked an obviously suitable site even if of a temporary kind. (21 March 2012)

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

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Live Music Act 2012: this Act has received Royal Assent and comes into force on a day to be appointed. It amends the Licensing Act 2003 by partially deregulating the performance of live music and removing regulation about the provision of entertainment facilities. (8 March 2012)

Home Office: Extended hours to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee: announces that Parliament has approved plans to allow pubs, bars and other licensed venues to stay open from 11pm on Friday 1 June 2012 until 1am on Saturday 2 June 2012 and from 11pm on Saturday 2 June 2102 until 1am on Sunday 3 June 2012. (16 March 2012)

Home Office: The Government's alcohol strategy: sets out plans to tackle the binge-drinking culture and significantly reduce the number of people who are drinking dangerous levels of alcohol. The proposals include changes to the regulation of licensed premises and the sale of alcohol:

  • stronger powers for local areas to control the density of licensed premises including making the impact on health a consideration for this;
  • piloting innovative sobriety schemes to challenge alcohol-related offending;
  • implementing a levy for late-night licences to contribute to the cost of extra policing, and allow communities to restrict the sale of alcohol between midnight and 6 am; and
  • doubling the fine to £20,000 for those found persistently selling alcohol to children.

(23 March 2012)

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

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Woodland (by her father and litigation friend Woodland) v Essex CC [2012] EWCA Civ 239 (CA): W appealed against the court's decision that the Education Authority, ECC, did not owe her a non-delegable duty of care. W was a 10 year old pupil at one of ECC's schools. She suffered severe brain damage after being injured during a swimming lesson at a swimming pool operated by another council. The lesson had been arranged by ECC but was supervised by a lifeguard and a teacher who both were employed by an independent contractor that provided the swimming lessons. W claimed damages against ECC for personal injuries, contending that ECC owed her a non-delegable duty of care in the capacity loco parentis, and so was vicariously liable for the negligence of both the contractor and the life guard, and directly liable for failure itself to take reasonable care to ensure that the contractor was an appropriate and competent independent contractor to whom to delegate responsibility for the provision of swimming lessons and associated life-guarding services.
The court held, dismissing W's appeal, that, on the facts, there was not a relevant non-delegable duty of care which would lead to the council's liability if negligence were found on the part of the contractor or of the swimming teacher. To hold thus would go beyond anything which has been held as a matter of decision by the Australian courts, and nothing had been placed before the court which would justify such an extension of the existing law. It would not be fair, just or reasonable to impose upon ECC such a non-delegable duty and it could not be inferred that ECC had ever assumed or accepted that duty.  (9 March 2012)

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

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LGA: Are you being served? Consultation on benchmarking residents' perceptions of local government: seeks views from local authorities on a proposed standardised set of resident satisfaction questions which could be used by authorities in their own surveys and thus used by the sector for benchmarking. It also seeks views on draft guidance on quality criteria and methodology. The consultation results from the cancellation of the Place Survey, which compared data across local authorities. It closes on 19 April 2012. (15 March 2012)

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

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DCLG: Business Rates Information Letter (5/2012) - Interest rates for 2012/2013 and discounts in Enterprise Zones: provides information on the interest rates for 2012/13 and also on the operation of the new discounts in Enterprise Zones under the Non-Domestic Rating Contributions (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/664). The Government has committed to fund a 100% business rates discount for a five year period up to state aid de minimis levels for businesses that move into Enterprise Zones before April 2015. Local authorities will provide the discount using the new local discount powers introduced by s.69 of the Localism Act 2011 that amends s.47 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. There is also state aid guidance for local authorities applying the business rate discount feature of Enterprise Zones. (20 March 2012)

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

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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.

For a list of all Bevan Brittan seminars see the Events page on our website. If you wish to attend an LGG seminar that we are hosting at our offices, please book with LGG direct.

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