LGA conference: Councils have ‘no excuses’ over housebuilding

James Brokenshire says councils must strengthen ability to deliver homes, as survey exposes extent to which finance officers have lost confidence in future positions.

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Communities secretary James Brokenshire has told the LGA conference councils had “no excuses” not to build homes now the HRA cap has been lifted.

Either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt must fold a Green Paper on local government into their policy plans with housing as a top priority where councils had to strengthen their ability to deliver, Brokenshire said.

The conference heard housing pitched by Brokenshire as the government’s top domestic priority.

Referencing the lifting of the cap,  Brokenshire said: “there are no excuses now.”

The “accelerated” Social Housing Green Paper – currently being drawn up – would, he said, boost the ability of councils to build faster and reduce delays.

Brokenshire’s keynote came as a CIPFA survey showed the majority of council government finance officers have lost confidence in their future financial positions over the last year.

Some 70% of respondents said they were either slightly less or much less confident in their financial position this year, compared to 2018-19.

“I believe that the next leader of my party will need to look afresh at the entire ecosystem underpinning local government and acknowledge that role we all have to play – to spot problems earlier, champion best practice, and help each other improve,”  Brokenshire said.

“The local audit system, too, could and should step up more robustly – not just because it reinforces confidence in financial reporting, but because it reinforces services delivery and, ultimately, our faith in local democracy.”

Brokenshire acknowledged, however, that central government He argued that central government “could and should do more” to identify councils that were struggling financially.

There was, he said, scope for a “reset” in the relationship between central and local government.

New LGA chair Cllr James Jamieson used his conference address to push central government toward more devolution of powers to councils through a new localism settlement – underpinned by a devolution bill in the next Queen’s speech.

Jamieson told the conference that Brexit presented an opportunity for local government and urged central government to “trust us to deliver and give us certainty through the right funding and the right powers – give us the powers, freedoms, flexibilities, and funding, and we will deliver great communities”.

Against this background, the CIPFA survey exposed the extent to which council finance officers have lost confidence in their future financial positions over the last year.

The survey received a total of 119 responses from UK councils – 56 top tier authorities, 47 English districts, 12 Scottish authorities, and four Welsh authorities.

As reported by 24housing, the LGA yesterday (2nd July) released a survey of its own, showing two-thirds of councils believed they would not be able to fund statutory services by 2024-25.

The CIPFA survey showed 70% of respondents said they were either slightly less or much less confident in their financial position this year compared with 2018-19.

The survey also showed 68% were either slightly less or much less confident in their ability to deliver services in 2020-21, 62% expressing equal confidence in their financial position for 2019-20 as they had last year.

The greatest pressure for top tier authorities was still children’s social care, with the number of authorities rating it as the biggest pressure rising by six percentage points.

For districts, the greatest pressures were housing, cultural services, and environmental services.

Rob Whiteman, CIPFA chief executive, said: “Local government is facing greater demand pressures than ever before, with particular pressures in adults’ and children’s social care and housing. Local authorities also lack certainty about their future financial positions, so it’s unsurprising to see confidence on the decline.

“We have repeatedly pointed out that local government is in need of a sustainable funding solution, but meeting this demand requires more than pennies and pounds. The sector as a whole must come together to address the challenges of effective service delivery.”

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