Thursday 25 November 2021
Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
Liverpool City Council: Commissioners' First Report
On 10 June 2021 the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), updated the House that he had appointed a team of four commissioners to Liverpool City Council. The commissioners’ responsibilities are set out in directions1 made under section 15(5) and (6) of the Local Government Act 1999 and include oversight of the council’s highways, regeneration and property management functions together with the associated audit and governance arrangements. The original best value investigation was initiated following a police investigation into allegations of fraud, bribery, corruption and misconduct in public office which involves a significant connection to Liverpool City Council. The wider criminal investigation into corruption is ongoing.
The commissioners submitted their first report to me on 5 October 2021 and I have discussed it with them. I was pleased to hear about the steps the council has taken to expose and stop wrongdoing. It is vital for Liverpool’s transformation that a clear line is drawn between the council of the past and the council of the future. The commissioners recognise the hard work, ambition, and determination of the Mayor and her cabinet, as well as the corporate leadership team. The commissioners have met dedicated and talented staff across the council who are working hard to deliver vital public services.
The commissioners have outlined to me, as they have stated clearly in their report, that the council is at the beginning of a long improvement journey and has a great deal to do in the next three years. In addition to the precise functions listed in the directions, the commissioners have encouraged the council to take a whole-council approach to improvement, with an expectation that the plans being developed will reflect this position. The commissioners are working with the council to develop their strategic improvement plan so they can focus on setting a sustainable long-term financial plan, improve corporate governance, deliver basic services well and meet the requirements of the statutory directions.
The commissioners shared with me their concerns about the council’s financial resilience and have outlined these in their report. I welcome the forthcoming review of the council’s financial resilience being conducted by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) at the request of the commissioners. This review is expected to be completed before Christmas.
Given the circumstances of the intervention and legacy of the previous administration, it is not surprising that commissioners have found that the council’s approach to regeneration and property management lacks rigour and commercial awareness. I welcome commissioners working with these teams to embed strong commercial principles in these functions. Commissioners are also working with the planning team to address the lack of strategic policy frameworks and the significant backlog of planning applications which are constraining development in the city. It is likely to take another 12 to 18 months to fully stabilise the highways and transport functions in order to provide a firmer foundation for onward improvement.
Electoral reform in Liverpool is an important part of the intervention. On 22 September, in line with the terms set out in the statutory direction, a submission to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) was approved by full council. In this the council proposed a reduction in the number of councillors from 90 to 85; and on 1 October, the LGBCE announced it was “minded to” accept the proposal. The council is due to submit its ward pattern proposal in December 2021. In addition, the intervention package includes the use of powers in the Local Government Act 2000 to provide for full council elections for the City of Liverpool from 2023. An order which delivers these electoral changes was laid before Parliament on 27 September and came into force on 29 October 2021. It provides for all Liverpool City Council councillors, and the directly elected executive Mayor of the City of Liverpool, to be elected and retire together every four years, starting in 2023.
I am mindful of the recent terrorist incident which took place in Liverpool on 14 November and commend the council for its response efforts. No one can doubt the professionalism and public service shown in the response by local government, the NHS and emergency services. I know that going forward, the Council will draw on the expertise of the commissioner team as needed as the community pulls together from this event over the coming weeks and months. I am however clear that the parameters of the intervention have not changed, and I expect the council to continue to prioritise the intervention and transformation work.
The council has a significant challenge ahead of it to provide the services that the residents of Liverpool City Council deserve. My Department stands ready to support commissioners in any way needed to secure this transformation and enable the council to contribute to our levelling-up agenda.
The commissioners have agreed to provide their next report to me in April 2022 and I will update the House on further progress with the intervention at that time.
A copy of the commissioners’ first report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Tax Credits, Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance Update
The Government will bring forward regulations that will increase most tax credits rates, and thresholds, and will increase the child benefit and guardian’s allowance rates in line with the general rise in prices as measured by the September 2021 consumer prices index (CPI). CPI has been the default inflation measure for the Government’s statutory annual review of benefits since 2011.
The annual uprating of benefits will take place for tax credits from the start of the new tax year and for child benefit and guardian’s allowance in the first full week of the 2021-22 tax year. In 2022, this will be 6 April for tax credits and 11 April for child benefit and guardian’s allowance.
The annual uprating process includes the following measures:
The majority of elements and thresholds in working tax credit and child tax credit will be increased by September’s CPI figure (3.1%) from April 2022. In line with established practice and the Office for Budget Responsibility’s expectations in their welfare forecast, the maximum rate of the childcare element, the family element, the withdrawal rate and the income disregards will remain unchanged.
The 3.1% increase will be applied to the rate of the working tax credit basic element announced by written ministerial statement on 4 November 2020 (£2,005).
Child benefit will be increased in line with September CPI (3.1%) from April 2021.
As set out in section 49(3) of the Tax Credits Act 2002 (TCA), guardian’s allowance will be uprated in line with prices, measured by September CPI (3.1%).
The full list of proposed benefit and credit rates will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses in due course.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
News UK: Release of 2019 Undertakings
On 1 February 2021 News UK submitted an application requesting the Secretary of State to release in full the undertakings accepted in 2019. The 2019 undertakings were accepted in lieu of the conditions put in place when the newspapers were acquired by News International in 1981.
The conditions included provisions relating to the continued publication of The Times and The Sunday Times as separate newspapers, to the number and power of the independent national directors of Times Newspapers Holdings Ltd, and to editorial control over the journalists working for, and political comment and opinion published in, each of newspapers.
The undertakings accepted in 2019 made changes to the conditions, to allow for sharing of journalistic resources between the two publications and to strengthen the arrangements relating to the independent national directors. News UK now seeks the release of the undertakings in their entirety.
On 24 June DCMS issued a public “invitation to comment”, which included a redacted copy of the application, and the written views received from the editors and independent national directors. On 30 July, DCMS requested Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority to advise by 24 September on the public interest considerations and changes to market circumstances relevant to the case, respectively.
I have now taken into account the reports and all relevant information submitted to the Department. Acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, I am minded to grant the request by News UK and release the undertakings. I am satisfied that there has been a material change of circumstances since the acceptance of the undertakings in 2019 and that, having considered the public interest considerations applying to newspapers, the undertakings are no longer appropriate or necessary for the purpose they were intended to achieve (and so should be released).
In accordance with the Enterprise Act 2002, I will now consult on this minded-to decision and publish the reports commissioned from Ofcom and the CMA. Respondents will have 15 working days to provide representations, after which I will come to a final decision.
Fan-led Review of Football Governance Final Report
Football clubs are at the heart of our local communities. They have a unique social value and many possess great history and legacy. Fans are at the centre of our national game, which is why the Government committed to a fan-led review of football governance in our manifesto.
In April this year, the Government launched that review, led by the chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch).
As the terms of reference set out to this House, the review was a comprehensive examination of the English football system with the aim to explore ways of improving the governance, ownership and financial sustainability of clubs in the football pyramid, building on the strengths and benefits of the game.
Today the Government have published the final report setting out the recommendations of the review. This report is founded on the basis of over 100 hours of engagement with supporters’ trusts, fan groups, women’s football representatives, football authorities, club owners, players representatives, and under-represented interest groups, alongside over 20,000 fans responding to an online survey. The report is extensive, so we will now be considering the detailed recommendations ahead of a full Government response.
All football stakeholders have had the chance to contribute to the review and I am very grateful to all those who have given evidence. Most importantly, fan voices were at the heart of the review and will remain at the heart of the Government’s thinking in responding to the recommendations.
I would like to place on record my thanks and appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford for her tireless work and for delivering her recommendations so swiftly. She has done a superb job in bringing together such a range of views from across football with such credibility and consideration.
The final report is a thorough and detailed examination of the challenges faced by English football. It is a demonstration of the financial problems being caused by incentives within the game and reckless decision making by some clubs and owners, both of which are unsustainable and threaten the future of the game. It is clear that current oversight of the game is not up to the challenge of solving the structural challenges and action must be taken.
To address this systemic challenge, the review presents the following 10 strategic recommendations, which are accompanied in the report by detailed sub-recommendations:
To ensure the long-term sustainability of football, the Government should create a new Independent Regulator for English Football.
To ensure financial sustainability of the professional game, the Independent Regulator for English Football should oversee financial regulation in football.
New owners’ and directors’ tests for clubs should be established by the Independent Regulator for English Football replacing the three existing tests and ensuring that only good custodians and qualified directors can run these vital assets.
Football needs a new approach to corporate governance to support a long-term sustainable future of the game.
Football needs to improve equality, diversity and inclusion in clubs with committed equality, diversity and inclusion action plans regularly assessed by the Independent Regulator for English Football.
As a uniquely important stakeholder, supporters should be properly consulted by their clubs in taking key decisions by means of a shadow board.
Football clubs are a vital part of their local communities. In recognition of this there should be additional protection for key items of club heritage.
Fair distributions are vital to the long term health of football. The Premier League should guarantee its support to the pyramid and make additional, proportionate contributions to further support football.
Women’s football should be treated with parity and given its own dedicated review.
As an urgent matter, the welfare of players exiting the game needs to be better protected—particularly at a young age.
The Government welcome the work of the review and will now consider the detailed recommendations ahead of providing a full Government response in spring 2022.
The review demonstrates that there are fundamental issues with our national sport, and that this merits radical reform. Fans across the country want and deserve that reform. We have seen in the past how football has been unable to reform itself and to deliver changes that stop the likes of Bury FC or Macclesfield Town FC going out of business, or which stop clubs breaking away to set up the closed shop of a European super league.
We are at a turning point for football in this country. The review is a detailed and worthy piece of work that will require a substantive response and plan of action from across Government. But the primary recommendation of the review is clear, and one the Government choose to endorse in principle today: that football requires a strong, independent regulator to secure the future of our national game. The Government will now work at pace to determine the most effective way to deliver an independent regulator, and any powers that might be needed.
This is an important review that we hope will lead to change for good in football. The Government will now work at pace on how to make that happen.
I have today deposited a copy of the report in the Libraries of both Houses.
Early Years Education Entitlements: Hourly Funding Rates
Today I am confirming the hourly funding rates for the free early education entitlements in 2022-23 for each local authority.
We have spent over £3.5 billion in each of the past three years on those entitlements to support nurseries and childminders in England to deliver high-quality care and education.
At the spending review on 27 October the Chancellor announced increases in the funding for the early years entitlements worth £160 million in 2022-23, £180 million in 2023-24 and £170 million in 2024-25, compared to 2021-22. This is for local authorities to increase the hourly rates paid to childcare providers for the Government’s free childcare entitlement offers and reflects cost pressures, as well as anticipated changes in the number of eligible children.
As a result of this additional funding, we will increase the hourly funding rates for all local authorities for the two-year-old entitlement by 21p an hour. Funding for the three-and four-year-old entitlements will also increase by 17p an hour in the vast majority of areas. We are increasing the minimum funding floor for the three and four-year-old offer to £4.61 per hour.
Ten local authorities have had their 2021-22 hourly funding rates for three and four-year-olds protected by the “loss cap” in the early years national funding formula, to ensure that they do not face large drops to their funding rate. Funding for Bristol, Camden, Ealing, Halton, Islington, Lambeth, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Westminster will be maintained in 2022-23. Funding for Rutland will be increased by 13p per hour, in recognition that Rutland’s loss cap protection was only worth 4p per hour in 2021-22.
I can also confirm today that the supplementary funding hourly rate for maintained nursery schools will increase by 3.5%, equivalent to the increase in the three and four-year-old hourly funding rates.
We are also increasing the early years pupil premium by 7p to 60p per hour, equivalent to up to £342 per eligible child per year, to support better outcomes for disadvantaged three and four-year-olds. Funding for the disability access fund—an additional payment made to providers to help to make reasonable adjustments within their provision to support eligible three and four-year-old children with a disability—will also increase by £185 to £800 per eligible child per year.
For 2021-22 we put in place a temporary variation to the way we fund local authorities for the early years entitlements, using a termly rather than annual census, in response to coronavirus (covid-19). I can confirm that, from 2022-23, we will return to the normal process of allocating funding based on the annual January census.
In addition to the increase in funding rates for the early years entitlements, we have also announced £153 million of recovery funding which will be used to strengthen teaching in early years and ensure our youngest children are given the support they need as we emerge from the pandemic. This includes high-quality, online training available to all early years practitioners, access to mentor support for those settings that need it most and opportunities to build innovative practice. We will increase supply of qualified graduates in the sector through a substantial expansion in the number of fully funded early year initial teacher training places, and improve the identification and support of SEND children by increasing the numbers of staff with special educational needs co-ordinator qualifications. Through home learning programmes, early years practitioners will also be better equipped to support parents with their children’s development in their own homes.
Further details and guidance on early years entitlements funding will be published on gov.uk.
Work and Pensions
Statutory Review of Benefit and Pension Rates: 2022-23
I have concluded my statutory annual review of benefit and state pension rates. The new rates will apply in the tax year 2022-23 and come into effect on 11 April 2022.
The consumer prices index (CPI) for the relevant reference period (the year to September 2021) was 3.1%, and I can confirm that benefits will increase in line with that. This is consistent with the use of this index since 2011. The weekly earnings limit in carer’s allowance will also be increased by 3.1%.
In line with the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Act 2021, state pension rates will rise in line with CPI of 3.1%.
I also confirm that the local housing allowance rates for 2022-23 will be maintained at the elevated cash rates agreed for 2020-21. The Office for Budget Responsibility made this assumption too in its expenditure forecast.
All of these matters are transferred in Northern Ireland, and corresponding provision will be made there.
Some benefits are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but there are benefits that are still temporarily being delivered by DWP on behalf of the Scottish Ministers under agency agreements; these will rise with CPI of 3.1%. The Scottish Government will need to bring forward corresponding uprating legislation in the Scottish Parliament.
I will place the full list of proposed benefit and pension rates for 2022-23 in the Libraries of both Houses.