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Party conference roundup

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The devolution question following the Scottish referendum was debated widely at each conference, particularly in the fringes, and the fallout from the Scottish referendum for local areas is still a hot topic among localists and some political commentators.

Localism in a hung parliament

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A hung parliament next May is looking like a very likely prospect. But while coalition negotiations leave everything hanging in the balance, the practice of governing where it really counts will carry on.   135 days after their last national …

City Energy: A new powerhouse for Britain

This report by the IPPR encourages cities to engage in the energy supply market directly- by stimulating local distributed energy generation, and to invest in low-carbon infrastructure through, especially, their pension funds. It argues that the current energy market model is failing and local authorities can create new revenue streams by supporting localised energy production; localising energy benefits (eg jobs and resilience) and reducing fuel poverty in the process.

This report is most relevant for chief financial officers, and electricity and infrastructure-related departments, mainly in the larger cities and local authorities, but a role for smaller/rural authorities in the energy market is also possible

Democracy-max: council leaders say yes to devolution

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England and Wales should have the same devolved powers as Scotland and that power should be held locally.

Emerging models for leadership and governance of local economic development

This briefing reviews emerging models for leadership and governance of local economic growth and development (LED).
* A number of issues for Local Authorities’ (LA) economic leadership are raised by recent LED developments. Notable among these are Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) formulation of strategic economic plans (SEPs) and EU structural and investment fund strategies (SIFs); and the inception of four new Combined Authorities (CAs) for northern ‘city regions’ (Leeds, Liverpool, North East, and Sheffield).
* The briefing describes the CA ‘model(s)’, and the current government consultation on its evolution. It also considers alternatives to CAs that LAs, LEPs and other partners are seeking to pursue.
* It outlines a number of questions and issues that LAs may wish to address in determining how LED leadership and governance should develop in its area. This is relevant to LA involvement in influencing the 2015 general election campaign, and the priorities of the incoming 2015-20 government.
* Members and officers in all tiers of council involved in economic growth and with their LEPs, together with those responsible for broader governance reforms will find the briefing of particular relevance.

Locally-led garden cities

* The government has published Locally-led Garden Cities, a prospectus to stimulate proposals for a new generation of garden cities.
* It encourages local areas, with the backing of local authorities, to submit expressions of interest that may receive support from the government, including limited capacity and capital funding.
* The government has also announced that stalled development at Ebbsfleet in Kent will be kickstarted by establishing an urban development corporation to create Ebbsfleet Garden City.
* The Wolfson Economic Prize has published the results of a poll that found 74 per cent of people are in favour of new garden cities.
* Questions remain for local authorities about location and how garden cities can be delivered quickly through the planning system.

This briefing will be important reading for elected members, strategic planners across local authorities, and planning policy officers.

Climate Change and Social Justice: A Review

* The review is part of a series by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (written by the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) ) which aims to analyse the social justice implications of climate change in the UK. Using a rapid research assessment method to analyse literature, it also makes recommendations related to existing mitigation and adaptation policies and actions (at both national and local level) and the degree to which they currently or could deliver socially-just outcomes
* It suggests that little is known about the social impacts of climate change policies. In general there is a focus on short-term disaster responses rather than long-term resilience building. It argues that local authorities, especially in the policy areas of spatial planning, health, housing, have a key role to play and need to more strongly consider the social implications and equity dimensions of their climate change policies and actions
* This will be relevant not just to those working in environmental or sustainability units, but also those in social welfare, housing, healthcare and community engagement. Local authorities at all scales are implicated; but especially those in urban areas and those with flood management and/or coastal management responsibilities.

The first Community Energy Strategy: opportunities for local authorities

* The Community Energy (CE) strategy provides a framework for support to increase the role of community groups in the distribution, production and saving of energy; with the aim of contributing to national carbon reduction targets, energy efficiency, local resilience, reductions in fuel poverty and localism.
* It has been developed closely with the various CE groups and coalitions in the UK, and enjoys their broad support. While the focus of the strategy is on communities, the vital role of local authorities in facilitating and co-driving local decentralised energy and energy efficiency is a significant part of the strategy.
* The strategy mainly announces incentives and initiatives which cover England, recognising that in Scotland and Wales, support systems and funding for CE groups already exists and good lessons can be learnt. It will be of interest to those working across different types of local authorities, especially in community engagement, energy and planning.

Rural Communities : Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

This briefing summarises a House of Commons inquiry report on Rural Communities which assesses the Government’s delivery of its rural policy commitments. The report describes the “rural penalty” faced by rural households that pay more council tax whilst receiving less government grant and lacking access to public services and infrastructure. It demands reforms to the local government finance system and makes a range of recommendations to improve support to rural communities, including from local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Local authorities with rural populations will value the report’s breadth of perspective, its clear assessment of the challenges facing today’s rural communities and the particular strategic priorities of rural housing, transport, economic development and community capacity.

House Proud: how councils can raise standards in the private rented sector

The LGiU and the Electrical Safety Council have published a new report focusing on the relationship between local government and the private rented sector (PRS) in relation to property conditions in the sector.

House Proud: how councils can raise standards in the private rented sector, builds on evidence from a survey of 178 councils which showed that eight out of ten local authorities expected to take a more proactive stance with the PRS in future. It also draws on case studies illustrating examples of innovative practice, from Newham Council’s borough-wide compulsory licensing scheme, to a landlord-led improvement alliance in Southend.

The report makes a series of recommendations for both central and local government and calls on central government to give councils more freedom to respond to the private rented sector needs of their local communities. It is relevant to Cabinet Members for Housing, officers working with the private rented sector and anyone with an interest in this issue.