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DCLG (February Recess Work)

Volume 559: debated on Monday 25 February 2013

I would like to update hon. Members on the main items of business undertaken by my Department since the House rose on 14 February 2013.

Delivering local pay transparency

The Department is continuing its commitment to deliver transparent and open government to drive out waste, protect front-line services and ensure value for money to the taxpayer. We want to make it easier for local people to see how their money is being spent.

Councils have a responsibility to the public and transparency is at the heart of that. On 20 February, my Department published supplementary guidance on pay policy statements in order to strengthen the transparency and democratic accountability measures over senior pay practices. This recommends that in addition to a full council vote for hiring senior officer earning more than £100,000 six figure severance pay-offs should also be democratically approved so elected councillors have the opportunity to vote and give their democratic consent.

We also announced our intention to change regulations on the dismissal of senior officers, to tackle the culture of large “parachute payments” being made to senior officers. My Department will following an informal consultation reform the existing Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) Regulations 2001 to remove the requirement for the appointment of an expensive designated independent person. These changes will mean each council can decide the best disciplinary process that delivers value for money without the need for an independent investigation.

Both measures are designed to offer maximum value for money for the taxpayer.

Keeping Council Tax down for a third year

This Government are committed to helping people struggling with the cost of living. We have set aside £450 million for local government in England to freeze council tax in 2013 to 2014.

On 22 February, my Department published an updated list of the 219 councils so far adopting a “can-do” attitude by opting to take our freeze grant and support their residents. Those that freeze bills are making a real difference to families and those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners. We expect this figure to increase further as local authorities finalise their budgets.

To ensure that councils do not by pass the taxpaying public when setting their council tax increases, we have introduced through the Localism Act 2011 a new local democratic process that triggers a council tax referendum giving residents the means to protect against excessive rises. This year a local authority will have to go to the polls if they decline the freeze offer worth an equivalent of a 1% rise and raise council tax above a 2% increase.

This is the third successive year in which a freeze scheme has been applied. In total the three freeze deals are worth potentially over £200 to a typical Band D resident.

Driving economic growth and Enterprise Zone delivery

Economic growth is this Government’s biggest priority and enterprise zones are the engine room of that strategy. We are determined to help ensure that Britain is the best place in the world to start and grow business and we believe the economy needs to be rebalanced so this can begin at the local level. It is local business and commerce that drive the private sector growth, jobs and wealth that this country needs.

This morning, 25 February, I invited local enterprise partnerships to bid for £59 million worth of investment to help deliver the infrastructure that enterprise zones need to become economic engine rooms and drive local growth across the country.

This fund will help zones with real growth potential to put in place the infrastructure required to unlock sites so businesses can set up. This could mean links to local road networks or reconfiguring site layouts; upgrading or installing utilities like electricity and water; or land remediation to reclaim contaminated land.

There are 24 enterprise zones across the country made up of 142 sites. Since they opened for business last April, they have already created around 1,700 jobs and attracted £155 million of private sector investment. In the coming months more jobs and investment are expected to come forward.

This fund is part of the local infrastructure fund announced at autumn statement which provides £474 million to for infrastructure investment and other site preparation works that will support local economic growth, jobs and homes. The fund will operate for England only. The local infrastructure fund prospectus also invites locally-led large housing sites to come forward.

A copy of the associated documents and press notices have been placed in the Library of the House.