LA Spotlight

English Devolution – what might we expect?

Many in Local Government are eagerly awaiting the White Paper on English devolution which was promised in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019.  So what will the White Paper contain?  At present it is anybody’s guess, but the promise was to unleash “regional potential in England, and to enable decisions that affect local people to be made at a local level”.

We anticipate a raft of potential matters for consideration but assume these will be focussed on more Combined Authorities and Unitary Governance. However, locally the rub may be that Simon Clarke Minister for Housing communities and Local Government has said that new combined authorities will not be introduced in two tier areas without unitarisation, in order to avoid creating another tier of local governance.

Some of the key questions and issues include:

  • Size matters: Recent announcements have even suggested 300,000 to 400,000 population as a minimum and a potential maximum around 600,000.
  • Capacity: We are aware of a number of councils that have written to Government with a view to starting the process by asking the Secretary of State to invite those authorities to prepare proposals. How many proposals can DCLG realistically progress for Combined Authorities and Unitaries, when central government likes to be heavily involved in the process and is then responsible for drafting the Orders to implement the new arrangements?
  • Process: Once the Government agrees to the creation of a new unitary a Structural Changes Order will be prepared that provides for the abolition of the relevant councils and creation of the new Council(s) for the relevant area and then numerous other Regulations apply that deal with finance, assets, properties, staff and liabilities;
  • Further devolution: What role can town and parish councils play to strengthen local governance?
  • Potential for Challenge: It strikes us that unless the Government introduces further legislation allowing unitaries to be created in the absence of agreement in local areas (like the time limited provisions that were placed in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act) or revises the guidelines for creation of unitaries, that there are likely to be challenges by way of judicial review (as was the case in Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole and Buckinghamshire), even if such a challenge may only be a delaying tactic.
  • Timescales: the Government is looking for swift action and the creation of new combined authorities with elected mayors and new unitary councils to take effect from April 2022. 

Like you, we await the White Paper and will be commenting and offering further support once more is known.

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Delivering Value

The road to recovery

So it begins, the road to recovery for struggling local economies… how to achieve this with looming threats of local lockdown. Notwithstanding that as a nation, we grapple with a cloud of an unprecedented recession.

The global village has created an environment for international trade and growth but how now can this protect the local economies which have been exposed to vulnerabilities that global movement has brought over recent months.

The challenges of 2020 for local government have brought with it new opportunities for growth in sectors that flourish through creativity and innovation. The LGA guide published earlier this month is an encouraging show piece as to how local authorities can think about using their existing assets and indeed funding allocations for the leisure, culture and arts sector to support those industries that can flourish in the new world.

To build on the momentum and experience gained through the benefits of digital advances during the pandemic, supporting the digital economy will feature highly on the road to recovery.


Schemes for financing schools
Department for Education | Updated August 5, 2020
Statutory guidance for local authorities on producing and amending school financing schemes.

Statutory guidance: Local authority powers to impose restrictions: Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.3) Regulations 2020
Department of Health and Social Care | July 17, 2020
The document supports the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.3) Regulations 2020 (‘the Regulations’) that came into force on 18 July 2020. It provides guidance for local authorities in England on what the new regulations allow them to do and how they should exercise those powers, how those powers should be enforced, and guidance for those impacted by local authority directions. These powers may be exercised by upper tier local authorities in England. As set out in Regulation 1(4). This includes: in 2-tier areas, county councils; in single tier areas, the unitary county or district council; London Borough Councils; the Common Council of the City of London; the Council of the Isles of Scilly

Publications & Guidance

Hundreds of additional school improvement projects get green light
Department for Education | August 5, 2020
Funding has been allocated for 580 building projects at academies, sixth form colleges and voluntary aided schools in England to transform facilities and improve school buildings.

The funding will be used to repair and upgrade school facilities and create modern, fit-for-purpose spaces that meet schools’ needs. It also allows for a small number of expansion projects to increase school capacity.

Projects range from the upgrading of boilers to new green, energy-efficient models, to the complete refurbishment of a classroom block with brand new facilities. The works can begin as soon as schools are ready, and the majority should be completed this financial year. The government is also bringing forward £200 million for FE colleges this year, as part of plans for £1.5 billion of investment over five years to transform the FE college estate.

Creative places - supporting your local creative economy
LGA | August 4, 2020
The Local Government Association (LGA) is launching this guide on how councils can best support local creative economies at a time without precedent. Discusses how during lockdown local creative industries have faced the same hardships as our wider economy, with many creative businesses struggling to stay afloat. This document is designed to help councils understand the creative sector, illustrated by examples and case studies and with tips from councils across England.

Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation publishes its first report on public sector data sharing
CDEI | July 30, 2020
The CDEI has published its first report on public sector data sharing, which explores barriers to data sharing and focuses on addressing citizen trust.

Evaluation of the LGA Sector Led Improvement programme for Children’s Services
LGA | July 30, 2020
The evaluation assesses the extent to which support has led to improvements in children’s services; with specific identification of the parts of the offer that have led to positive impacts. It also examines whether there should be a change in focus of the offer to help better address the issues and challenges councils are facing.


Axing Public Health England could provide ‘key opportunity’ for councils
LGC | August 17, 2020
The disbanding of Public Health England provides a "key opportunity" for directors of public health to take a wider role in health protection, it has been claimed, amid concerns the organisation is being used as a scapegoat for the government’s own Covid-19 policy failings.

Cyber attack cost council more than £10m
LocalGov | August 6, 2020
A report has revealed that a ransomware attack in February cost Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council more than £10m.

The council has estimated the cyber-attack has cost it £10.14m and has been working with the Government on receiving financial support.

The council acted quickly and effectively, working extremely hard to mitigate the effects on our key services and most vulnerable residents. However, the attack did permeate almost all functions of the council, and the required response and consequential impacts will have a bearing on the council’s finances.'

Jenrick pledges to lobby ‘strongly’ for council cash
Public Finance | Aug 4, 2020
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has promised to lobby the Treasury “very strongly” to ensure councils receive the funding they need at the Comprehensive Spending Review.

The review, delayed from its original date of July until the autumn due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will set UK government departments’ resource budgets for the years 2021/22 to 2023/24.  

Remote council meetings: Warwick District Council
LGA | August 1, 2020
The Council tested various products and decided to use Microsoft Teams with live broadcast via YouTube.

Councils awarded £800,000 to build on digital advances made during pandemic
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | July 27, 2020
Communities across the country are set to benefit from better local services as councils receive a share of £800,000 for innovative digital projects.

Councils have responded to the coronavirus pandemic by rapidly introducing innovative new ways of serving their communities. This new funding will help ensure they continue to modernise and improve the way they deliver public services. 

Councils urge extension for grants support scheme
LocalGov | August 3, 2020

There have been fresh calls for councils to be allowed to distribute the £1.6bn unspent from the Government’s small firms grant funds. The calls come after the Government confirmed that local authorities should close their small business grants fund, the retail, hospitality and leisure grants fund and the discretionary grant fund by Friday August 28.

Councils have expressed concerns that the deadline will not allow them enough time to pay out the remaining grants.

North East councils team up for £2.1bn energy and waste project
LocalGov | July 24, 2020
Seven councils in the North East area have joined forces on a £2.1bn energy and waste project. The councils plan to build a new Energy Recovery Facility to generate electricity and heat through the controlled burning of rubbish.

Hancock announces plans to share more data
LocalGov | July 20, 2020
Health secretary Matt Hancock has announced plans to share more data with local government in a bid to help track and trace COVID-19 cases more effectively. Although maintaining in the past that local authorities had all the data they need, the health secretary said he would share more data at a local level. He told Parliament: ‘We are publishing more data, and sharing more data with local bodies. ‘Properly used, data is one of the best epidemiological weapons that we have.

Thousands of new school spaces for SEND children
LocalGov | July 20, 2020
The Education Secretary has announced that new special free schools will provide over 3,000 extra places for pupils with the most complex needs. The 35 new free schools will provide children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) tailored support and specialist equipment. Another two schools will be created solely for children who have been or are at risk of being excluded.

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Place & Growth

The new Code for Leasing Business Premises (2020) has more teeth

The new Code for Leasing Business Premises (2020 Code) comes into force on 1 September 2020. It will apply to most business tenancies in England and Wales, which are let out for a period of over six months with certain exceptions. The most significant change from the current Code (2007 Code) is that whilst the 2007 Code is voluntary, the 2020 Code has the status of an RICS Professional Statement, which means that some parts are mandatory for RICS members and registered firms.

The 2020 Code has both mandatory requirements (Part 2) which covers both the approach to negotiations (including a requirement to notify non-RICS members of the code), and details what should be included in heads of terms as a minimum. The code also sets out good practice when negotiating heads of terms (Part 3). Part 4 contains template heads of terms and a checklist.

The 2020 Code undoubtedly has more teeth than its predecessors; if the mandatory requirements are not complied with RICS members could face legal and/or disciplinary consequences. The good practice set out in Part 3 should be followed unless there are exceptional circumstances, and so RICS members may have to justify why they have departed from it.

Overall, the aim of the 2020 Code is to promote fairness in lease negotiations and the recommendations in Part 3 in many ways reflects what happens in practice now, so having this documented can only be seen as a positive step. Clear heads of terms make lease-drafting much easier, so time is not wasted on trying to second guess what they mean or having to renegotiate provisions which are either unfair or misunderstood. Overall, the 2020 Code is an improvement on the 2007 Code but only time will tell if it is any more effective.


The Rating Lists (Valuation Date) (England) Order 2020
Coming into force on August 31 2020
By virtue of sections 41(2A) and 52(2A) of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 (“the 1988 Act”), non-domestic rating lists for England are to be compiled on 1st April 2017 and every fifth year afterwards. Paragraph 2(3)(b) of Schedule 6 to the 1988 Act provides the Secretary of State with the power to specify the day by reference to which properties are to be valued for the purposes of compiling new lists.

Article 2 of this Order specifies 1st April 2021 as that day for the purposes of the next local and central non-domestic rating lists to be compiled once this Order has come into force.

Draft options for regional or local coronavirus interventions
Department of Health and Social Care | July 24, 2020
Draft legislation options to show how government could respond to a local or regional coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak without returning to a national lockdown.

Publications & Guidance

Planning for the future
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | August 6, 2020
The Planning for the future consultation proposes reforms of the planning system to streamline and modernise the planning process, bring a new focus to design and sustainability, improve the system of developer contributions to infrastructure, and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed.

First Homes – consultation outcome
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government | Updated August 6, 2020
In the First Homes consultation, we discussed proposals for a scheme to provide homes for first-time buyers with a 30% discount against market value. The consultation covered both the design of the scheme and proposed planning changes to ensure they are delivered.

£1.3bn investment to deliver homes, infrastructure and jobs
Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government | August 4, 2020
Funds to deliver up to 45,000 homes, create up to 85,000 jobs and upgrade skills and infrastructure to help fuel a green economic recovery have been announced. Over 300 shovel-ready projects in England to share £900m investment to build homes and infrastructure, and create jobs. £360m investment confirmed to deliver 26,000 new homes on brownfield land. Strict accreditation rules for tradespeople involved in the £2bn Green Homes Grant scheme to ensure homes are of the highest quality.

Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery scheme: entering a bid
Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy | August 4, 2020
Local authorities can bid for funding under this scheme to improve the energy efficiency of low-income households in their area. Applications must be received by 1 September. The initial phase of the scheme provides £200m funding for local authorities to upscale existing energy efficiency improvement projects. A further £300m will be available in the second phase of the scheme later in 2020 for Local Energy Hubs in England to procure services that support upgrading eligible homes. Local authorities can bid for funding under this scheme to improve the energy efficiency of low-income households in their area.

Improving the private rented sector: A guide for councils
LGA | August 3, 2020
This report is one of three publications produced by the Housing Quality Network (HQN) for the Local Government Association (LGA). There is, in addition, a set of case studies and a toolkit. Although each of these can be used separately, they are intended to form a single comprehensive handbook. Overall, they form a good practice guide. The aim is to help councils to improve the health and well-being of tenants in the private rented sector.

Local planning authorities: developing a recovery and resilience planning package post-pandemic
LGA | July 30, 2020
Includes details of suggested changes to the planning system, and recommends proposals for incentives, powers and flexibilities

Delivering the Government's infrastructure commitments through major projects
Public Affairs & Constitutional Affairs Committee | July 28, 2020
The Committee warned that the overall aims of infrastructure spending remains ‘ill-defined’ and a 'legacy of white elephants' could be left without culture change. It is calling on the Government to clarify what it means by ‘levelling up’ and ensure plans are responsive to local needs.


London's first cross-borough low traffic scheme
LocalGov | August 6, 2020
Newham and Waltham Forest Councils have set up the capital's first cross-borough lower traffic neighbourhood. The two councils will set up an experimental Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) at their border. The scheme will aim to reduce traffic, noise and pollution by encouraging walking, cycling and public transport use.

Hampshire councils sign £1.2bn joint venture for new garden community
LocalGov | July 29, 2020
A public-private partnership to deliver 3,500 homes in Hampshire's new garden community has been announced. The participants in this joint venture are Basingstoke and Deane BC and Hampshire CC, developer Urban&Civic, and charitable foundation the Wellcome Trust. The £1.2bn Manydown Development Vehicle LLP will deliver 3,500 new homes, a 250-acre country park, two primary schools, and other local facilities.

Cambridgeshire autonomous metro
Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority | July 28, 2020
A proposal has been made to form a new, separate company charged with leading the delivery of the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM) as one joined-up scheme represents the start of an exciting new phase of the project. At its August 5 meeting, The Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority Board will be recommended to approve the establishment and incorporation of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which will provide the dedicated resource and focus needed to deliver a programme of the scale and complexity of the CAM.

Infrastructure: More local input needed in big projects, say MPs
BBC News | 28 July 2020
MPS have said that much more local input is needed if the UK's biggest infrastructure projects are to deliver their desired socio-economic benefits. Too often consultation with affected communities took place after major decisions had already been taken, the Public Administration Committee reported. It called for feedback to be taken into account before funding is given and better data on how success is measured. The government said it was committed to working with local people.

Turn high street shops into new homes, urges report
LocalGov | July 22, 2020
A new paper has argued that the Government should stop trying to slow the ‘inevitable’ decline of the high street and instead embrace new ways of saving urban centres. The Social Market Foundation (SMF) suggests that empty high street shopping units could be converted into 800,000 new homes by the public sector. It is calling on the Government to write off £80bn in local government debt to stimulate new investment in community assets in town and city centres.

Will ‘Build Build Build’ help construct council housing?
LocalGov | July 20, 2020
Analysis of the Prime Minister’s recently announced an ambition to 'build build build' as part of 'project speed' to kick start infrastructure projects and revitalise major housing projects. However, whilst housing minister Chris Pincher asserted that housing will be 'central' to post-COVID recovery, project speed could be seen as much a response the pre-existing housing crisis as the issues created by COVID-19. Discusses whether project speed will help councils build? The issues for councils in the current crisis are in effect no different to those for developers or housing associations. Councils may have land but the issue has always been the inability to build sufficient numbers of affordable homes.

Council launches UK’s first local government green bond
LocalGov | July 16, 2020
West Berkshire Council has launched the UK’s first local government green bond. The council intends to raise £1m from its citizens to fund solar panel installations on five council-owned buildings. The bond uses Community Municipal Investment (CMI) developed by Abundance, which allows councils to offer a regulated investment directly to their residents for the first time.

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Governance & Reorganisation

Public Sector Exit Payments: Getting ready for new regulations and guidance

The prospect of a ceiling of £95,000 on exit payments in the public sector would seem to be much closer. This follows HM Treasury’s response to the consultation and publication of the new Restriction of Public Sector Exit Payments Regulations 2020 – and soon to be released final guidance and directions on how the cap will take effect. The implementation date is still awaited but we understand it is the intention that the cap will be in force for the end of the 2020 calendar year.

For local authorities, especially those involved in reorganisation, or change management programmes, the cap is likely to have significant implications when there is a need for restructuring of management teams or other employees. The Government wants all payments related to exit to be within the scope of the cap –including redundancy/severance payments and pension costs due to early retirement – alongside greater accountability in the use of waivers. It’s important that councils should start planning and making preparations now.

Publications & Guidance

Making Counties Count
County Councils Network| August 4, 2020
Henham Strategy were commissioned to produce this report by the County Councils Network (CCN). The report suggests that the ‘confusing' two-tier model of local government should be abolished and replaced with single unitary councils. It calls on the Government to move to a system of single tier local authorities, with new powers for town and parish councils. It argues this would deliver the greatest financial benefit and make it easier to develop local economic recovery strategies and recommends that the Government should avoid splitting counties and insist on a minimum population for new unitary authorities of 400,000, with no upper limit.

CIPFA advocates for strengthened approach to local authority borrowing
CIFA | July 31, 2020
CIPFA believes that legislation governing the rules on council borrowing should be strengthened. Responding to a HM Treasury consultation on the future lending terms of the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB), CIPFA called for compliance with the Prudential Code to be made a statutory requirement and has committed to strengthening the Code by early 2022.

The Prudential Code currently sets out that local authorities should not borrow purely for yield or other speculative purposes. However, while councils must ‘have regard to’ the Code, they can choose not to follow it (though adherence is a mandatory requirement for CIPFA members). Changing the legislative requirement from ‘have regard to’ to ‘must comply with’ would ensure that all councils adhere to the requirements of the Code.

A councillor’s workbook on effective opposition during COVID-19, reset and recovery
LGA | July 29, 2020
This workbook examines effective opposition in local government and focuses on the role that the opposition plays during the COVID-19 pandemic including the reset and recovery phase.

Fiscal devolution: adopting an international approach
LGA | July 16, 2020
The Local Government Association (LGA) has long called for genuine devolution to local areas. It believes that greater fiscal freedom, the power to raise more money locally and have greater control over how this money is spent in local areas is a crucial part of this process.

The report describes the UK is one of the most fiscally centralised countries in the developed world. Local authorities in Germany, Switzerland and Holland can access a diverse range of revenue sources. They are also able to adjust and introduce local levies in consultation with their residents and businesses, innovating and diversifying their tax base in response to new public priorities, such as responding to climate change, and new forms of economic activity.

By contrast councils in England are only able to levy two taxes: council tax and business rates. Both are subject to significant intervention and control by Whitehall and both stand increasingly exposed in the light of long-term changes in home ownership and business composition, such as the rise of e-commerce and the growth in microbusinesses.


Cornwall to pass Covid funding to parishes
Public Finance | August 6, 2020
Cornwall Council have announced that it is to become the first council in England to pass on government funding and provide financial support for parish and town councils impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Councils urge extension for grants support scheme
LocalGov | August 3, 2020
Councils have asked to be allowed to dole out to businesses the £1.6bn unspent from the Government’s small firms grant funds. The Government confirmed that local authorities should close their small business grants fund, the retail, hospitality and leisure grants fund and the discretionary grant fund by Friday August 28. However, councils have expressed concerns that the deadline will not allow them enough time to pay out the remaining grants.

Ministers to receive Somerset unitary business case
LocalGov | July 31, 2020
A business case for a single Somerset unitary has been sent to Communities secretary Robert Jenrick and local government minister Simon Clarke. Backers of the One Somerset plan have claimed a single unitary will end the ‘confusion, frustration and mess’ of dealing with numerous councils.

Lancashire CC sets out plans for new combined authority
LocalGov | July 29, 2020
Lancashire CC has put forward proposals for a new combined authority and an elected mayor for the county. The plan states that cutting the existing councils from 15 to just three would strengthen the voice of the county at a regional and national level. Council leader, Geoff Driver, said the move would enable Lancashire to benefit from devolution deals that would give the region an economic boost.

Reorganisation will deter potential councillors, report warns
LocalGov | July 24, 2020
A report for the District Councils’ Network (DCN), Effective Representation for Local Communities, warns that Local government unitary reorganisation will slash the number of councillors and deter many from standing for election. The report also states England already had ‘far too few’ councillors.

LLG, CIPFA and SOLACE to work together on response to LGA draft model code of conduct, call for monitoring officers to be legally qualified
Local Government Lawyer | July 20, 2020
LLG, CIPFA and SOLACE are to work together on a response to the draft model code of conduct that the Local Government Association (LGA) is currently consulting upon. In a joint statement the three organisations said they would jointly challenge the LGA and “share the insight of our members gained from their close working knowledge of ethical governance within the local authority context”.  The LGA consultation runs until August 17 2020.

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Contract Management

Time to begin transition planning

With the government’s gradual easing of restrictions, the UK is starting to reflect on life in the new normal. After the initial response to COVID-19 (ensuring continuity of service and the provision of supplier relief measures), management of contracts must now begin the transition to move away from supplier relief and look to the future to develop supplier relationships which take into account the new realities brought about by COVID-19.

PPN04/20, released by the Cabinet Office in June 2020, is aimed at all public sector bodies and requires organisations to put in place transition plans as soon as possible and before the end of October 2020.

Transition Planning is about moving towards the ‘new normal’, to what the PPN describes as a “new, sustainable, operating model taking into account strategic and reprioritisation needs”.

Transition Planning should involve organisations reviewing those supplier contracts that have benefitted from supplier relief measures. These measures may have included:

  • continuity or retention payments
  • revised milestones or extended delivery timescales
  • forward ordering or payment in advance, or
  • other measures designed to ease the financial or delivery pressures caused by COVID 19.

The aim should be to work with suppliers to ensure that contracts can function in a way suitable to both parties under the new circumstances.

These plans should look to include:

  • a date that any current supplier reliefs should end (including a process for review)
  • plans for delivery of outstanding goods, including where advance payment have been made
  • a process for reconciling payments that have been made against costs in accordance with the Model Interim Payment Terms or bespoke contractual document
  • an assessment of any costs that have been incurred or will be incurred by implementing Public Health guidance as part of delivery of the contract
  • whether the contract is still operationally relevant and viable as a result of COVID-19, including any required variations or options to terminate.

Preparing transition plans on the basis of the points made above will result in difficult questions being asked and potentially well-established supplier relationships ending, however, these plans and the period of review that will accompany them should be used to ensure authorities are ready for the challenges that will be faced during the latter part of the year and beyond.

Following on from our Contract Management in the wake of COVID-19 webinar in July, we will be launching another webinar looking at the approach to transition planning and the challenges that contracting authorities may face – look out for full details and how to register soon.


Norwich to bring services back in-house
LocalGov | July 23, 2020
Norwich City Council has decided to set up a wholly-owned company when it brings its services back in-house from next year. The council believes that ending the current joint venture arrangement with Norse would give it 'greater flexibility' over the delivery of services.

£13bn construction procurement frameworks launched
LocalGov | July 21, 2020
Two public sector frameworks totalling £13bn have been launched aimed at providing direct support to local economies and the green recovery. Each will operate for a four year period with an option to extend for a further two years.

Scape Group has launched an £11bn construction framework for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and a separate £2bn framework covering Scotland.


Judge rules procurement claimant was not economic operator at relevant time in dispute over largest ever contract let by council
Local Government Lawyer | July 17, 2020
A claimant lacked eligibility as an economic operator at the relevant time and this was sufficient to dispose of its claim against Gloucestershire County Council over the £600m+ procurement of an incinerator, a judge has ruled. In Community R4C Ltd v Gloucestershire County Council [2020] EWHC 1803 (QB) His Honour Judge Russen QC said that a core requirement for a valid claim under Regulation 91 of the Public Procurement Regulations 2015 was missing. The claimant, CR4C, was seeking damages against Gloucestershire in respect of its alleged breach of the 2015 Regulations and/or directly applicable principles of EU law in relation to a waste disposal contract awarded to UBB Waste Gloucestershire in 2016.

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Disputes & Regulatory Support

Pandemic related Freedom of Information Requests put pressure on public bodies

Public authorities, particularly within local government, are under increasing pressure because of a significant rise in the number of Freedom of Information (‘FOI’) requests. Over recent months, a large proportion of those requests relate to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how organisations and individuals have responded during the emergency.

Local authorities are concerned that diverting resources towards responding to an upsurge in FOI requests could impact on frontline services and other vital work. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says it has remained “pragmatic and empathetic” to the pressures public authorities are facing during the pandemic. However, it says it now wants public authorities to put in place clear plans to get back on track with their freedom of information work. It has promised to provide public bodies with maximum support for them to recover.

How authorities respond to COVID-19 related FOI requests at this time is likely to be challenging. Some information requested will no doubt be exempt due to legal sensitivities, data protection issues, commercial interests and internal/external investigations. Effectively managing and responding to high volumes of requests is likely to require public bodies to put in place a strategy to ensure they comply with their obligations whilst remaining as transparent as possible.

Publications & Guidance

Government launches review of judicial review process with report expected later this year
Local Government Lawyer | July 31, 2020
The Ministry of Justice has set out the terms of reference for the review of the judicial review process which will consider “whether the right balance is being struck between the rights of citizens to challenge executive decisions and the need for effective and efficient government”.


Judge gives green light for judicial review challenge of planning permission for second tallest building in Birmingham
Local Government Lawyer | July 29, 2020
A High Court judge has granted permission for a judicial review challenge to the grant of planning permission by Birmingham City Council for what would be the second tallest building in the city. The planning permission is for a residential block in close proximity to the new HS2 station at Curzon Street. The review will consider five grounds relating to the inadequate treatment of heritage issues by the city council.

Town council vows to contribute to £50k fund for judicial review of airport reopening
Local Government Lawyer | July 23, 2020
Ramsgate Town Council is to contribute to a fund to take Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to judicial review over his decision to allow the reopening of Manston airport.
The minister gave permission for Manston to become an air freight hub, overturning the recommendation of the examining inspector appointed under the national infrastructure planning system. He said that despite the inspector’s conclusion that the airport should not reopen on environmental grounds, he disagreed because “there is a clear case of need for the development which existing airports…able to handle freight would not bring about to the same extent or at all”.

Court of Appeal gives permission for judicial review of decision by council to allow drilling for oil
Local Government Lawyer | July 17, 2020
A campaigner has been given permission by a Court of Appeal judge for a judicial review of Surrey County Council’s decision to allow the drilling of four new oil wells and 20 years of oil production at Horse Hill, near Gatwick in Surrey. A campaigner has been given permission by a Court of Appeal judge for a judicial review of Surrey County Council’s decision to allow the drilling of four new oil wells and 20 years of oil production at Horse Hill, near Gatwick in Surrey. Objections to the proposed development by UK Oil and Gas included several reasons, such as climate change.


High Court judge quashes decision of Welsh council to implement major school reorganisation
Local Government Lawyer | July 31, 2020
A High Court judge has quashed a decision by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council to implement proposals for a wide-ranging re-organisation of primary, secondary and sixth-form education in the Pontypridd area. The claimant sought judicial review of a local authority's decision to implement the following proposals:

  • The removal of sixth-form provision from a secondary school
  • Closing schools with sixth-form provision and replacing them with new schools without such provision
  • Closing two primary schools, one dual language and one providing education in the Welsh language (Welsh medium education). The case of JG, R (On the Application Of) v London Borough of Southwark [2020] EWHC 1989 (Admin) concerned an application for judicial review brought by JG through her litigation friend, her mother NG.

Council loses High Court battle over level of support for disabled young woman
Local Government Lawyer | July 30, 2020
The London Borough of Southwark has lost a High Court case over a disabled young woman’s care plan after a judge found aspects of the council’s case to be materially flawed or erroneous.

It was decided that a proposal concerning the establishment or closure of a school would affect sixth-form provision within the meaning of the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 s.50 irrespective of whether the school in question was a sixth-form college or a secondary school which also provided sixth-form education.

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ON DEMAND - Proposed changes to the Mental Health Act

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