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Written Statements

Volume 575: debated on Wednesday 5 February 2014

Written Statements

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Communities and Local Government

Local Government Finance

I have today laid before the House the Local Government Finance Report (England) 2014-15 (HC1055) and the Referendums Relating to Council Tax Increases (Principles) (England) Report 2014-15 (HC1056). These reports set out for each local authority in England individual settlement funding assessments, tariffs and top-ups, and the basis of their distributions and the council tax referendum principles for 2014-15. Copies of the appropriate documents have been placed in the Vote Office and the Library of the House.

I shall be making available full supporting information online at: www.gov.uk/government/collections/final-local-government-finance-settlement-england-2014-to-2015.

A draft of the local government finance report was issued for consultation on 18 December 2013 and we received a total of 138 written responses from local authorities, fire and rescue authorities, formal and informal groupings of authorities and others during the consultation. In addition, Ministers met delegations from representative bodies including the Local Government Association and London councils as well as individual local authorities. In their responses local authorities welcomed the reductions in holdbacks that we proposed during consultation and raised a number of issues around distribution. Having considered the views of all those who have commented on the provisional settlement, I have decided to confirm the proposals for the settlement for 2014-15 as announced in December.

Helping local councils pay off the deficit

The autumn statement ensured that the local government budget is protected next year so that councils can deliver a council tax freeze. Councils now have more stability and certainty to plan budgets and move ahead with transforming local services and ongoing efficiency. English local government is expected to spend some £117 billion in 2013-14, so the settlement that we have set out recognises the responsibility of local government to find sensible savings and make better use of its resources and leaves councils with considerable total spending power, with an overall reduction, excluding the Greater London Authority, for next year of just 2.9%. The settlement also confirms the £9.5 million that we proposed for the most rural local authorities in order to assist them in driving forward efficiencies in their area. This grant will now be known as rural services delivery grant in order better to reflect its purpose and will be rolled into the settlement, thereby offering further protection for the most rural authorities.

Every bit of local government needs to do its bit to help pay off the deficit left by the Labour Government, given that it accounts for a quarter of all public spending. The settlement offers increased protection from the safety net so that no council will face a loss of more than 6.9% in their spending power in 2014-15. This is a higher level of protection than we offered both last year and the year before. We have achieved this by increasing the amount we have made available to protect councils through the efficiency support grant, now worth some £9.4 million in 2014-15. But we will expect the councils in receipt of that funding—in line with the efficiencies that we are asking all councils to deliver—to improve services. We will be paying £1.7 million to the efficiency support grant authorities in recognition of the extra progress they have made in fulfilling their plans in the first half of 2013-14.

In order further to facilitate effective budget planning, we are also making available illustrative figures for 2015-16, and that year marks the introduction of the better care fund—£3.8 billion-worth of pooled budgets available between health and social care. This is the largest ever financial incentive for councils and NHS organisations jointly to plan and deliver joined-up services. Alongside this, the new homes bonus remunerates those councils that help build more homes and bring empty properties back into use. The new homes bonus will be some £916 million in 2014-15.

Keeping council tax down for hard-working people

Under the Labour Government, council tax bills across England more than doubled. This Government have taken action to help hard-working people with the cost of living. That is why we have provided extra central funding to local authorities so they can freeze council tax for the next two years. This means we have provided total freeze funding of up to £5.2 billion up to 2015-16, which is an unprecedented five years of council tax freezes worth potentially up to £1,100 for an average band D taxpayer over the lifetime of this Parliament.

From April 2014, funding for 2011-12 and 2013-14 freezes is now in the main local government settlement total for future years. The Secretary of State has also agreed with the Chancellor that the funding for these next two freeze years will also be built into the spending review baseline. We hope this will give maximum possible certainty for councils that the extra funding for freezing council tax will remain available, and there will not be a “cliff edge” effect from the freeze grant disappearing in due course. We have played our part—we now expect councils to play theirs. Today I am publishing a list of the 137 authorities that have already indicated they will freeze or cut council tax, and I encourage all eligible local authorities to follow their lead.

The Localism Act 2011 introduced new protections for local residents against excessive council tax increases. The report on council tax referendums proposes to the House a referendum principle of 2%, with a slightly modified principle for the City of London element of the Greater London Authority precept. This threshold is lower than last year and, I believe, strikes an appropriate balance between direct democracy and representative democracy.

We would expect that most councils will wish to freeze council tax, but any that set an increase of 2% or more will need to arrange for a binding referendum to be held. We are allowing council tax referendums to take place on the same day as the European elections on 22 May, so a council tax referendum can be held at minimal cost. Councils that decide not to freeze their bills should trust the people by holding a local referendum.

Following Royal Assent of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, the referendum principles will include levies and will therefore be based on the level of band D council tax. This will mean the principle will relate to the actual increase which appears on people’s bills— again reducing costs for taxpayers and preventing hikes in bills by local quangos with no democratic mandate.

We have not determined principles for local precepting authorities in 2014-15, but we are putting on notice that we are prepared if necessary to apply the referendum thresholds to larger town and parish councils from 2015-16 onwards to provide protection for local taxpayers and extend the principle of direct democracy.

We have also set out previously that there is some £3.3 billion in the settlement this year for council tax support schemes. There is an element within this national pot that is there specifically to reflect reductions in the parish tax base. We have not separately identified the money because it is not ring-fenced and as case loads change and schemes evolve, the amount that different parishes need will change. It would be wrong to try to manage that centrally. But we have been clear that we expect billing authorities to carry on passing on support to town councils and parishes to help mitigate any reduction in their tax base due to the local council tax support scheme.

Conclusion

This settlement marks the second year of local business rates retention and we have again tried to be fair to all parts of the country whether north, south, rural or urban. Given the local flexibilities and freedoms that we have put in place, local councils should now work to support local enterprise, building more homes and backing local jobs, so that they can then invest the rewards of growth in local services and in lower taxes.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Foreign Affairs and General Affairs Councils

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will attend the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 10 February, and I will attend the General Affairs Council (GAC) on 11 February. The FAC will be chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, and the GAC will be chaired by the Greek presidency. The meetings will be held in Brussels.

Foreign Affairs Council

Eastern Partnership

The FAC will discuss the Eastern Partnership, focusing on the situation in Ukraine and how the EU can encourage all parties to take immediate action to defuse tension and increase trust. Ministers will also discuss how to contribute to finding a long-term solution which addresses the aspirations of the Ukrainian people and provides them with the prosperity and stability they deserve. The UK will stress the importance of the EU supporting Georgia and Moldova in their efforts to sign their association agreements this year.

Syria

Ministers will discuss the latest developments, concentrating on the Geneva II process, and the effects of the conflict on the wider region. The UK will stress the importance of the Geneva II talks reconvening on 10 February, noting that the National Coalition has been the only party willing to engage on the issue of political transition to a democratic and pluralistic model of governance. The UK will argue for the EU to give more political and material support to the National Coalition, and encourage member states to do more to put the Syrian regime under pressure, urging it to engage seriously in the second phase of the Geneva II talks. The UK will also stress the importance of encouraging Russia to use its influence over the Syrian regime to end its appalling violence against civilians and engage on the issue of political transition.

Southern neighbourhood: Libya, Egypt and Tunisia

Ministers will discuss the situation in Egypt including the conduct of the recent constitutional referendum and concerns over recent violence. They are likely to touch on the recent terrorist attacks; the closure of political space; political detentions; and restrictions on freedom of expression and of the media. The UK will highlight the importance of the EU providing a full election monitoring mission for the parliamentary and presidential elections. We will also encourage the EEAS and member states to consider how to maximise their influence with Egypt during its political transition. Conclusions are likely.

On Tunisia, Ministers will welcome the significant progress made recently, including the agreement in January on a new democratic constitution followed by the National Constituent Assembly’s vote of confidence for the new technocratic Government after several months of political impasse. Progress reinforces Tunisia’s position as a model for the region. Conclusions will welcome progress in the context of the EU’s “more for more” approach to encouraging reform, and reiterate the EU’s support for tackling the socio-economic and security challenges facing the Government and the holding of new elections in late 2014. The UK will note the importance of concrete support further to incentivise progress.

On Libya, the UK will encourage the EEAS and member states to do all they can to support a lasting political settlement and emphasise the need for the Libyan Government and General National Congress to work together in leading Libya to achieve a stable and democratic political transition. We will encourage member states to support international efforts to respond to the Libyan Government’s request for assistance in addressing the destabilising impact of weapons proliferation.

Yemen

Ministers are expected to discuss the conclusion of the national dialogue conference (NDC). The UK will stress the importance of continued EU support for the next steps of Yemen’s transition. The Council is expected to adopt conclusions on the NDC’s outcomes, urge for their timely implementation, and express concern for both the slow pace of economic recovery, and the security and humanitarian situation in Yemen.

Central African Republic

The 20 January FAC agreed that accelerated planning for an EU military operation in the Central African Republic should continue, subject to a Council decision. We therefore expect the discussion at this FAC to focus on the progress made on planning. There may also be a Council decision to establish the operation. In this context, the UK has been clear to EU partners about the importance it places on parliamentary scrutiny procedures.

General Affairs Council

The GAC on 11 February will focus on preparation for the 20-21 March European Council. The GAC will also hear a presentation of the Greek presidency’s work programme and consider the proposed authorisation of a type of GM maize for commercial planting.

Preparation of the 20-21 March European Council

The GAC will prepare the 20-21 March European Council, which the Prime Minister will attend. I expect a draft agenda to be circulated shortly before the GAC. At this early stage the agenda looks likely to cover: climate and energy, including the Commission’s 2030 framework; and industrial policy.

Presentation of the presidency’s programme

The programme of the Greek EU presidency was published on 8 January, and is due to be presented at the February GAC. The programme is partly shaped by the inherited Lithuanian agenda. Priority areas for the Greeks are the promotion of growth and jobs, eurozone integration, and maritime issues.

There is a good degree of convergence between the UK’s EU priorities and those of the Greek presidency. We welcome areas of the programme that reflect the growth and jobs agenda, such as the focus on deepening the single market, better regulation and trade agreements. We also welcome items relating to further stabilising the eurozone, and achieving a consensus on the 2030 climate change and energy framework. The Greeks also have a natural interest in migration given the pressures they face. The UK is particularly supportive of a focus on tackling illegal migration in countries of origin and transit.

GM maize 1507

The GAC will take a decision on the cultivation in the EU of a type of genetically modified (GM) maize known as 1507. The Government take a science-based approach to GM regulation and, given the scientific evidence in favour of approval in this case, the UK will support EU authorisation.

Home Department

Police Grant Report (England and Wales)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has today laid before the House the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2014-15 (HC 1043). The report sets out my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s determination for 2014-15 of the aggregate amount of grant that she proposes to pay under section 46(2) of the Police Act 1996, and the amount to be paid to the Greater London Authority for the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.

This statement also includes details of other funding streams that the Home Office, the Department of Communities and Local Government and the Welsh Government intend to provide to the Police in 2014-15.

The Police Grant Settlement 2014-15

Table 1: Police Revenue Funding – Figures for 2014-15

2014-15

£m

Total General Funding:

Comprising….

Police Core Settlement

4,583

of which Home Office Police Main Grant

4,407

of which National and International, Capital City Grant (MOPAC only)

176

DCLG

2,949

of which formula funding

2,924

of which Ordnance Survey

2

of which Legacy Council Tax Freeze

23

Welsh Government

140

Total Home Office Specific Grants:

728

Comprising….

Welsh Top-up

13

Counter Terrorism Specific Grant

564

Police Innovation Fund

50

National Police Co-ordination Centre

2

Independent Police Complaints Commission (for the transfer of integrity functions)

18

College of Policing (for direct entry schemes)

3

City of London National and International, Capital City Grant

2

HMIC for regular force inspections

9

Legacy Council Tax Freeze Grants*

of which Council Tax (11/12) Freeze Grant

59

of which Council Tax (13/14) Freeze Grant

7

PFI

73

Total Government Funding**

8,479

% cash change in Total Government Funding***

-3.30%

*The police will separately receive £ 434.4 million in Local Council Tax Support Grant. This will be paid by the Home Office.

**Includes a small amount of contingency funding which is not shown in the table.

***This is the difference in total central Government funding to the police compared to 2013-14. The reduction in core Government funding (i.e. funding that is subject to damping) is 4.8%.

Table 2: Division of Police Capital between Funding Streams

2014-15

£m

Capital Grant

109

National Police Air Service

10

Special Grant Capital

1

Total

120

Table 3: Final Revenue Allocations for England and Wales 2014-15

Local Policing Body

2014-15

HO core (Incl. Rule 1)

Welsh Top-up

WG

Ex-DCLG

Formula Funding

Legacy Council

Tax Grants (Total from HO)

£m

Avon & Somerset

112.5

-

-

58.7

14.7

Bedfordshire

43.2

-

-

24.3

4.6

Cambridgeshire

52.0

-

-

25.3

6.0

Cheshire

65.9

-

-

46.7

7.7

City of London

19.7

-

-

35.4

0.1

Cleveland

49.4

-

-

40.3

7.7

Cumbria

30.8

-

-

32.3

4.8

Derbyshire

66.6

-

-

39.3

8.7

Devon & Cornwall

110.1

-

-

65.7

15.5

Dorset

44.2

-

-

17.9

7.3

Durham

45.8

-

-

38.7

6.1

Dyfed-Powys

33.2

6.2

13.6

0.0

-

Essex

110.1

-

-

58.1

13.1

Gloucestershire

36.8

-

-

20.3

5.6

Greater London Authority

1,101.1

-

-

782.9

119.7

Greater Manchester

242.8

-

-

189.7

24.5

Gwent

46.2

-

30.7

0.0

-

Hampshire

128.6

-

-

65.6

12.9

Hertfordshire

76.5

-

-

37.7

8.9

Humberside

72.0

-

-

48.6

10.0

Kent

113.9

-

-

69.4

13.3

Lancashire

107.7

-

-

82.7

12.8

Leicestershire

70.0

-

-

41.3

8.9

Lincolnshire

41.1

-

-

21.1

6.8

Merseyside

131.2

-

-

118.2

15.6

Norfolk

53.8

-

-

29.9

9.3

North Wales

47.9

6.9

22.3

0.0

-

North Yorkshire

44.7

-

-

28.2

7.9

Northamptonshire

46.2

-

-

25.1

6.6

Northumbria

118.0

-

-

112.5

7.8

Nottinghamshire

83.5

-

-

50.1

9.7

South Wales

95.8

-

73.4

0.0

-

South Yorkshire

107.8

-

-

81.0

10.9

Staffordshire

71.2

-

-

41.6

10.7

Suffolk

43.6

-

-

23.8

6.4

Surrey

66.6

-

-

30.3

9.2

Sussex

104.8

-

-

56.0

13.2

Thames Valley

151.3

-

-

76.7

15.3

Warwickshire

33.2

-

-

18.1

5.2

West Mercia

71.1

-

-

45.2

12.0

West Midlands

268.7

-

-

188.2

19.0

West Yorkshire

183.8

-

-

135.1

16.7

Wiltshire

40.2

-

-

21.5

5.2

Total England & Wales

4,583.3

13.1

140.0

2,923.5

500.5

Table 4: Capital Allocations for England and Wales

Local Policing Body

2014-15

£m

Avon and Somerset

2.4

Bedfordshire

1.0

Cambridgeshire

1.2

Cheshire

1.5

City of London

0.9

Cleveland

1.2

Cumbria

0.9

Derbyshire

1.5

Devon and Cornwall

2.6

Dorset

1.0

Durham

1.2

Dyfed-Powys

0.8

Essex

2.2

Gloucestershire

0.9

Greater Manchester

5.5

Gwent

1.1

Hampshire

2.8

Hertfordshire

1.4

Humberside

1.7

Kent

2.5

Lancashire

2.6

Leicestershire

1.6

Lincolnshire

0.9

Merseyside

3.2

Metropolitan

29.0

Norfolk

1.3

North Wales

1.1

North Yorkshire

1.0

Northamptonshire

1.0

Northumbria

3.0

Nottinghamshire

1.8

South Wales

2.3

South Yorkshire

2.6

Staffordshire

1.6

Suffolk

1.0

Surrey

1.5

Sussex

2.2

Thames Valley

3.5

Warwickshire

1.0

West Mercia

1.7

West Midlands

5.9

West Yorkshire

4.3

Wiltshire

1.0

Total England & Wales

109.3

Justice

Judicial Review

Today I am publishing the Government response to the consultation “Judicial review: proposals for further reform” setting out the package of reform I intend to take forward. The consultation ran from 6 September to 1 November and attracted 325 responses.

Judicial review is, and will remain, an important means of ensuring that the actions of Government and other public bodies are lawful. But I am clear that a wide-ranging package of reform is necessary to ensure that cases, particularly significant planning cases, are dealt with more quickly and that judicial review cannot be abused to generate publicity and delay perfectly lawful decisions. This is an important part of the Government’s programme to tackle public burdens, promote growth and stimulate economic recovery.

Three of the reforms I am taking forward were previously announced in the national infrastructure plan and autumn statement on 4 and 5 December respectively. These are the establishment of a specialist planning court, with time scales for case progression in civil procedure rules, which will speed the consideration of challenges to planning decisions; changes to the way in which the courts deal with cases raising defects that are highly unlikely to have affected the outcome, so that judicial review focuses on matters of substance and not mere technicalities; and reforms to enable more cases to “leapfrog” directly to the Supreme Court, ensuring they are resolved more quickly.

In addition, I intend to take forward a robust package of reforms which will see claimants carry a more proportionate measure of financial risk when deciding whether to bring or continue weak claims. This package includes limiting the use of protective cost orders to exceptional cases with a clear public interest; ensuring that details of anyone financially backing a judicial review are disclosed, even if they are not named as a party, to ensure that costs can be fairly awarded; strengthening the implications for a legal representative of receiving a wasted costs order on account of their unreasonable or negligent behaviour; and making third parties who intervene in a judicial review case responsible for their own costs and any costs incurred by a party as a result of their intervention.

I will also bring forward changes to restrict payment to legal aid providers unless permission is granted, subject to discretionary payment by the Legal Aid Agency on my behalf. This change will help to ensure that limited legal aid resources are targeted where they are needed most, which is essential if the legal aid system is to command public confidence and credibility.

Clauses in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill being introduced today will give effect to several of these reforms, with the remainder delivered through changes to secondary legislation.