NLGN BLOG

What does the Conservative Manifesto mean for Councils?
Claire Mansfield, Head of Research, NLGN, 18 May, 2017

Manifestos are always launched with a certain amount of excitement, but none more so than the Conservative Manifesto this morning. While the Lib Dem’s manifesto explicitly positioned them as the party of opposition, the Tory manifesto would reveal what the next government’s priorities and promises would be. Except it didn’t quite do that.

After the bullet pointed manifesto of yesterday, it was a more arduous task to sort through today’s manifesto. Promises are, (naturally enough for a party that knows it is going to govern), kept open while the demands it places on others are more specific.

Devolution is still on the agenda and in many ways, this manifesto is more positive than some had feared. It is heartening to see that they ‘will respect the devolution settlements: no decision-making that has been devolved will be taken back to Westminster’ – even hinting at greater powers. But the manifesto also hints that devolving power does not necessarily come naturally to Mrs May.

In the turn of a page, the manifesto skips from open and visionary statements such as promising to give local government ‘greater control over the money they raise’ to micro-managing by ‘taking new powers to force councils to remove roadside litter and prosecuting offenders’ and ‘placing new duties on councils to consult when they wish to cut down street trees’. With a multitude of powers being returned to the UK following Brexit it looks like local government will have to fight hard to make sure these don’t just stop in Westminster.

There were of course some specific policies and announcement for local government, not least social care. The details are below, but essentially it means paying more for care, but not while you are still alive. It is good to see social care at least being addressed as an issue, and the potential for some extra funding, but the proposals do fall short.

Local government is under pressure now, and there is little detail on how councils will be able to address their increasing demand in the immediate future. On top of this, the model fails to spread the financial burden across the whole population with an upper threshold on care costs meaning the policy will fail to bring stability to a crumbling market, fairness to the system or certainty for those requiring care.

All in all, the manifesto has revealed some of the direction Mrs May’s government will take and gives her a mandate for some of the more controversial policies, but does leave plenty of space for some surprises along the way.

The main points affecting local government are summarised below:

Communities


  • The industrial strategy will focus on creating the right institutional framework to make the strategy last for decades to come
  • The industrial strategy is designed to deliver a stronger economy that works for everyone – where wealth and opportunity are spread across every community in the United Kingdom, not just the most prosperous places in London and the south east.
  • Moving many of the functions of central government out to cities around Britain where possible and to see our vast cultural assets reach people around our country too. It is also why they will support local growth through combined authorities, mayoralties and local enterprise partnerships.
  • Make each partnership and combined authority responsible for co-ordinating their own local industrial strategy in alignment with the national industrial strategy, bringing together local businesses, political and public sector leaders to drive growth and economic regeneration.
  • Deliver growth funding through these organisations.
  • Give local enterprise partnerships greater weight by backing them in law.
  • A new duty on councils to consult when they wish to cut down trees.
  • New powers to force councils to remove roadside litter and prosecuting offenders.
  • Extend the coastal communities fund to 2022.
  • Mayoral elections will use the First Past the Post system.
  • Halve rough sleeping by the end of this parliament, and eradicate rough sleeping by 2027
  • Demand all local authorities be commissioners of the highest-quality family support and child protection services, removing these responsibilities from the weakest councils and placing them in trust.

Devolution


  • Respect the devolution settlements: no decision-making that has been devolved will be taken back to Westminster
  • Continue to give local government greater control over the money they raise and address concerns about the fairness of current funding distributions.
  • Consolidate approach to devolution, so all authorities operate in a common framework.
  • For combined authorities that are based around cities, continue to support the adoption of elected mayors, but not for the rural counties.
  • Widen the role of police and crime commissioners, including sitting on local health and wellbeing boards.
  • Build on the Policing and Crime Act, which introduced better co-ordination of policing and fire and rescue services, with greater devolution of criminal justice responsibility and budgets to local commissioners.
  • In land and housing value to be reinvested in new social housing over time. The tenant would receive the first right to buy on the property at the point of sale.

Health and social care


  • Those who can should contribute to care, by means testing domiciliary care, where home value will be taken into account alongside other assets. However, people will always retain at least £100,000 of their assets.
  • Defer payments for residential care to those receiving care at home.
  • The Winter Fuel Allowance will be means tested to help fund social care.
  • 140,000 staff from across the EU will carry on making their contribution to the health and social care system.
  • An upcoming green paper will look at health and social care further.

Housing


  • Aim to build 1 million new homes by 2020, and homes will be built to a higher quality.
  • Housebuilding will be balanced across the country, not just focused in the south east.
  • Support for ambitious councils and housing associations to build thousands of new homes, in exchange for them building a new generation of fixed term, high quality council homes linked to a new right to buy for social tenants.
  • Councils and housing associations will be given funding and housebuilding capability from the Homes and Communities Agency.
  • Councils would be able to assemble land, including derelict buildings or unused pocket sites, more easily under reformed compulsory purchase rules. The deals would require a proportion of the social homes built to be sold after ten to fifteen years, allowing increases.

Economy


  • Continue to ensure that residents can veto high increases in council tax via a referendum
  • To ensure the system is sustainable for the future, they would also conduct a full review of the business rates system to make sure it is up to date for a world in which people increasingly shop online
  • A new £23 billion National Productivity Investment Fund. The government will target this spending at areas that are critical for productivity: housing, research and development, economic infrastructure and skills.
  • To look at how the visa system can be better aligned with the industrial strategy, to benefit strategically important sectors (nothing on how this could work locally or regionally).
  • Expert planning functions will be developed to support local councils in major fracking decisions.
  • Replace the EU structural fund with the United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund to improve prosperity across the country.

Public sector workers


  • Moving significant numbers of civil servants and other public servants out of London and the south east to cities around the UK.
  • Establishing the freedom for employees to mutualise within the public sector.
  • Break down barriers to public sector workers taking on more qualified roles because of their prior educational attainment.

Education


  • Prohibit councils from creating any new places in schools that have been rated either ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’.
  • Establish new institutes of technology backed by leading employers and linked to leading universities in every major city in England, which should meet the needs of local employers.
  • We will deal with local skills shortages and ensure that colleges deliver the skills required by local businesses through Skills
  • Advisory Panels and Local Enterprise Partnerships working at a regional and local level.


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