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     Housing
    Adult Social Services     Infrastructure
    Business Rates     Planning Policy
    Children's Services     Procurement
    Economic Development     Public Health
    Education     Regulatory Services
    Equality and Discrimination     Standards

Access to Information

Jones v Information Commissioner (Dismissed Freedom of Information Act 2000) [2016] UKFTT 2015/0247 (GRC): the FTT has published an FOI consent order enabling J "in his capacity as councillor, and only in such capacity" [their emphasis] to view the requested document, reserving the Information Commissioner's and the Council's position that s.42 FOIA 2000 (legal professional privilege) applied to the document. This order follows J's appeal against the ICO's decision notice upholding Wrexham CBC's refusal to disclose legal advice about changes to the Council's structure and compliance with the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011. The Council had withheld the information on the basis that it was subject to legal professional privilege, and was therefore exempt under s.42(1) FOIA. (9 August 2016)

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

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Adult Social Services

Welsh Government: National Strategy on Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence – A framework for delivery 2016 – 2021: seeks views on ways in which the Welsh Ministers propose to develop a National Strategy as required by the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. The consultation closes on 10 October 2016. (15 August 2016)

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

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Business Rates

DCLG: Check, challenge, appeal – Reforming business rates appeals: consultation on statutory implementation: this technical consultation document seeks views on draft Non-Domestic Rating (Alteration of Lists and Appeals) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 to support the business rates appeals reforms clauses in the Enterprise Act 2016. These would amend the Non-Domestic Rating (Alteration of Lists and Appeals) (England) Regulations 2009 (SI 2009/2268) and the Valuation Tribunal for England (Council Tax and Rating Appeals) (Procedure) Regulations (SI 2009/2269) so as to implement the Government's new three-stage system: Check, Challenge, Appeal. The paper also discusses the proposed appeals fee structure. The regulations will be laid before parliament towards the end of 2016, and the reformed system will come into force from 1 April 2017, to coincide with the national revaluation of rateable values. The amended Regulations will apply only in relation to a rating list compiled on or after 1 April 2017.The consultation closes on 11 October 2016. (16 August 2016)

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

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Children's Services

HC Communities and Local Government Committee: Government interventions – The use of Commissioners in Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets: this report examines the interventions in Rotherham MBC and Tower Hamlets LBC, and looks more broadly at how DCLG monitors local authorities, how it makes decisions on whether to intervene, and the form of any intervention. It finds that in both councils, DCLG's intervention was justified. DCLG must now learn lessons from what has worked well in these interventions and from what could have been improved. Equally, lessons must be learned by DCLG, by the LGA and by local authorities across the country, about how to effectively monitor and mitigate the risk of financial, governance or service failure. The committee highlights the need for all local authorities to learn from Rotherham’s experiences in relation to child sexual exploitation and ensure that vulnerable children are protected and safeguarded; from the experiences of both Rotherham and Tower Hamlets about the need to encourage and support whistleblowers and take their concerns seriously; and from both councils about the need to ensure that there are proper checks and balances and scrutiny arrangements in place to drive a culture of transparency and continuous improvement. (19 August 2016)

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

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Economic Development

House of Commons Library: City Deals: this research briefing provides an overview of City Deals, with details of the 30 that have been successfully negotiated since July 2012. It also notes developments in Wales and Scotland in 2016. (24 August 2016)

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

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LGA: Councils call for oversight of academy finance: the LGA is calling on the new Education Secretary to restore local oversight of all school finances, providing democratic accountability so that parents and communities can be confident their children aren't missing out, following a series of recent abuses of the school finance system by academies and free schools. (24 August 2016)

R (Jones) v Denbighshire CC [2016] EWHC 2074 (Admin) Admin Ct): J applied for judicial review of the Council's decision to implement its proposal to close two maintained primary schools and for the Diocese to establish a new voluntary controlled primary school, initially operating from the two sites of the existing schools. One of the schools to be closed was a Welsh language school and the other was a dual stream school in which pupils were taught in either English or Welsh. It was proposed that the new school was dual stream. J contended that the decision was unlawful as the Council had failed to take into account a material consideration and the consultation process was flawed.
The court held, allowing the application, that in deciding to close the two schools and create a new school on both sites, the council had erred in failing to take into account the language and community impact of its proposal thereafter to transfer the school to a new build on a single site. The Welsh School Organisation Code required any proposal to include "a detailed description of the proposal or proposals, the projected timetable for statutory procedures and for the implementation of the proposals and any proposed interim arrangements which might be necessary for their implementation". The Council could not defeat the purpose of the Code by categorising what was in substance an interim step towards a final proposed goal as a stand-alone proposal. The decision in relation to implementing Phase 1 could not properly be taken without taking into account the language and community impact of Phase 2. The consultation document was hopelessly confused and it was regrettable that there were inconsistencies between the English and the Welsh versions. The decision would be quashed. (12 August 2016)

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

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Equality and Discrimination

Government Equalities Office: Mandatory gender pay gap reporting – Public sector employers: seeks views on plans to introduce mandatory gender pay gap reporting for large public sector bodies in England and certain public authorities operating across Great Britain in relation to non-devolved functions. The consultation closes on 30 September 2016. (18 August 2016)

Prime Minister's Office: Prime Minister orders government audit to tackle racial disparities in public service outcomes: announces that the Prime Minister has ordered Whitehall departments to identify and publish information showing how outcomes differ for people of different backgrounds, in a range of areas including health, education and employment. The audit will give every person the ability to check how their race affects the way they are treated by public services, and will help government and the public to force poor-performing services to improve. The audit will be led by a new dedicated Whitehall unit situated in the Cabinet Office, reporting jointly to DCLG and the Cabinet Office. The first data is expected to be published before the summer 2017 and will be updated annually to ensure the public can track improvement and better hold services to account. (27 August 2016)

HC Women and Equalities Committee: Employment opportunities for Muslims in the UK: this report highlights the economic disadvantages faced by Muslims, who experience the highest levels of unemployment out of all religious and ethnic groups, at 12.8% compared to 5.4% for the general population. It looks at the overall context of the Government’s approach to integration and opportunity and then considers four key areas in tackling barriers to equal employment opportunities for Muslims in the UK: supporting the aspirations of Muslim women; widening access to university; providing effective support to work; and tackling workplace discrimination. The report concludes that the Government's commitment to tackling disadvantage for Black and Minority Ethnic people must be coupled with a coherent cross-Government strategy focused on specific groups, including Muslims, and recommends that a plan should be developed by the end of this year. (11 August 2016)

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

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HC Communities and Local Government Committee: Homelessness: this inquiry aimed to get a clearer picture of levels of homelessness and to understand the pressures that affect homeless people. The committee found that that despite some examples of great work, it was not acceptable that the level of support offered to vulnerable people varied significantly across the country. It calls on the Government to monitor councils, identify those not meeting their duties, and review and reinforce the statutory Code of Practice to ensure that the levels of service that local authorities must provide are clear. The Government should also consider setting a statutory duty for local authorities to provide meaningful support to single homeless people with a local connection after the inquiry found that many people receive little more than a list of local letting agents.
The report is complemented by the Homelessness Reduction Bill, a Private Member's Bill presented by Bob Blackman MP which had its 1st Reading in the Commons on 29 June 2016. The Committee will take evidence on the Bill, which is aimed at improving the support and advice offered to all homeless people, once it has been published. (18 August 2016)

LGA: LGA calls on Government to rethink pay to stay policy: the LGA is urging new ministers to rethink the Pay to Stay policy which will require councils to charge some of their tenants higher rents from April 2017, after new analysis reveals that more than 70,000 social housing tenants could face rent rise bills of an average £1,000 p.a. from next year under government plans to increase rents for those deemed to be earning high incomes. (26 August 2016)

Homes and Communities Agency: Consumer regulation review 2015 to 2016: sets out the social housing regulator’s consumer regulation work for the year 2015/16. It explains its approach to consumer regulation and how it has applied the serious detriment test in its work. It includes case studies – most of these relate to breaches of gas safety legislation but for the first time it also found serious detriment as a result of a registered provider failing to meet fire safety legislation. (23 August 2016)

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

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Network Rail: New Stations Fund: invites organisations, including local authorities, to apply for a share of £20m funding under the second round of the New Stations Fund. The funding will provide up to 75% of the construction costs of new stations or to reopen previously closed stations, in order to improve access to the rail network and create new travel, employment and housing opportunities. The closing date for submission of bids is 25 November 2016. (26 August 2016)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Jonathan Turner

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Planning Policy

Wandsworth LBC: Wandsworth Council protects 120 pubs from redevelopment: the Council has announced that it has issued an Article 4 Direction removing permitted development rights from 120 of the borough's best loved bars and taverns. The sites were chosen due to their historic or architectural value or because they make a positive contribution to their community. This means that the Council will be able to refuse applications to convert any of these venues into another use. It states that this is the first time Article 4 Directions have been issued on this scale. (17 August 2016)

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

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Home Office: Fire and rescue authority procurement data: the Home Office has for the first time published data showing how much fire and rescue authorities in England pay for 25 common items of uniform and equipment. It aims to help authorities adopt a collaborative approach to procurement as the first step in the Government’s programme of reform for the sector, focusing on diversity, efficiency and transparency. (24 August 2016)

Home Office: Government calls for greater collaboration between police forces to drive down costs: the Home Office has published data on prices paid by police for 18 essential items including forensic, telephony and office supplies. Forces were also asked to report on the extent to which they had collaborated to purchase these items. The data indicates that high levels of collaboration are generally associated with lower prices and that forces can, and should, use this information to help identify further saving opportunities. (25 August 2016)

CCS: Guidance on amendments to contracts during their term: updated guidance on the extent to which a contract can be amended after award without the need to re-advertise in OJEU, under reg.72 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. (8 August 2016)

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

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Public Health

DH / PHE: Childhood obesity – A plan for action: sets out the Government’s plan to reduce England’s rate of childhood obesity within the next 10 years by encouraging industry to cut the amount of sugar in food and drinks and primary school children to eat more healthily and stay active. (18 August 2016)

HM Treasury: Soft drinks industry levy: the Government announced at Budget 2016 that it would introduce a new Soft Drinks Industry Levy from April 2018, as part of the Childhood Obesity Plan. The levy will directly target the producers and importers of sugary soft drinks to encourage them to remove added sugar, promote diet drinks, and reduce portion sizes for high sugar drinks. This consultation seeks views on proposals for how the levy will be designed and implemented. The consultation closes on 13 October 2016.
There is also an information sheet on the levy. (18 August 2016)

DH: Improving outcomes and supporting transparency – Part 2: Summary technical specifications of public health indicators: sets out the technical specifications of the indicators in the revised Public Health Outcomes Framework 2016-2019. Local authorities must consider this document when carrying out their public health functions. (16 August 2016)

PHE: Public Health Skills and Knowledge Framework (PHSKF): this revised framework aims to be reflective of the prevailing public health landscape, ensuring that the public health workforce continues to develop the skills and competences needed both now and in future. There is also a user guide, setting out how the Framework can be used by individuals, employers and educational providers working in public health. (10 August 2016)

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

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Regulatory Services

Home Office: Report of the bulk powers review: David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, has published the findings of his review into the operational case for the bulk powers contained in the Investigatory Powers Bill that is currently before Parliament. These powers are: bulk interception; bulk acquisition; bulk equipment interference; and bulk personal datasets. The review took a narrower definition of bulk powers, limited to those powers which provided for data in bulk to be acquired by the Government itself but stressed that that the collection and retention of data in bulk did not equate to so-called “mass surveillance”. It concludes that there was a proven operational case for three of the bulk powers, and that there was a distinct (though not yet proven) operational case for bulk equipment interference. (19 August 2016)

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

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Committee on Standards in Public Life: Annual Report 2015-2016: reports on the Committee's work 2015-2016 and sets out its Forward Plan for 2016/17. It includes a review of the local government standards regime, noting that the role of the independent person is generally well received and that vexatious complaints are falling; however, the effectiveness of the sanctions regime is still a concern. The Committee invite councils to consider whether their own local standards frameworks are sufficient to address standards breaches and build public trust. (9 August 2016)

If you wish to discuss any of the items noted in this section please contact Judith Barnes or Frances Woodhead.

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