The Housing Minister has announced a £500m package to fast-track house building for first-time buyers and young families and also proposed financial incentives for town halls that increase development targets, identify new land for housing and produce plans to speed up delivery. Millions of pounds have been allocated to local authorities affected by the summer floods. The New Local Government Network has come out against the idea of extra charges for rubbish collection. Councils issued a record number of fines for littering last year and collected nearly £1m.
Under new proposals to be published by the Communities Secretary to devolve power to voters, town halls could be forced to take action over petitions with more than 200 signatures. A scheme has also been announced under which residents in ten pilot areas will set their own priorities for spending budgets of up to £23m. The Local Government Association has pledged to fight a Whitehall proposal to stop them setting up their own business support schemes.
The London Borough of Newham has chosen GeoWise InstantAtlas for a new local information system; Congleton Borough Council has gone live with a new Voice over Internet Protocol communications system from NEC Philips; and Civica, a software and services vendor, has won contracts with Sheffield City Council and Essex County Council.
The University of Exeter Science Park is set to benefit from a £1.75m investment from Devon County Council. The Audit Commission has awarded Hampshire County Council a maximum of four points in its 2007 corporate assessment.
The housing minister, Yvette Cooper, has announced a £500m package to fast-track house building for first-time buyers and young families. Cooper also proposed financial incentives for town halls that increase development targets, identify new land for housing and produce plans to speed up delivery. Councils will be required to locate at least five years’ worth of sites ready for housing and a further ten years’ worth for future development. The grants will be targeted at areas where there is a shortage of housing, including four existing major growth areas – Ashford; Thames Gateway; London, Stansted, Cambridge and Peterborough; and Milton Keynes and South Midlands. An additional 49 towns and cities that have already proposed extensive housing growth are expected to bid for the cash.
In late August the floods recovery minister, John Healey, allocated £1.2m in funding to 39 local authorities that were worst affected by the July floods. The money was on top of £6.2m distributed to 36 local authorities the previous week. Local authorities will decide how best to spend the money to help those people in the greatest need. In July £8m was released to help 34 local authorities hit by flooding. The largest sums went to Kingston upon Hull, Doncaster and the East Riding of Yorkshire.
The New Local Government Network, a Labour think tank, has come out against the idea of extra charges for rubbish collection. The proposal to charge those putting out too much rubbish, while giving rebates to those who recycle more, will not work. The think tank says the reward for reducing the amount of non-recycling waste of less than £30 a year would not be enough to alter behaviour.
Councils issued a record number of fines for littering last year and collected nearly £1m. Since 2003 the number of penalties has risen by more than 300% as local authorities have intensified their efforts to reduce the amount of litter on the streets. Councils are using new powers to get tough on the minority of people who litter. Fines are likely to increase over the next few years as councils exercise their right to impose £80 fines on people caught dropping litter. Southwark, in south London, levied the most penalties in 2005-06 (£70,000) followed by Leeds (nearly £65,000) and Westminster (£58,250). Local authorities are under pressure from the government to improve street cleanliness, with annual borough assessments performed by independent organisations such as ENCAMS (Environment Campaigns), the charity that runs the Keep Britain Tidy campaign.
Under new proposals to be published by Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, to devolve power to voters, town halls could be forced to take action over petitions with more than 200 signatures. Blears wants to consult about the type of response a petition would trigger. She believes that new petition powers would be an important opportunity for people to influence and play a part in local decision-making. Council leaders insist that they already respond to thousands of petitions every year and gave warning that more bureaucratic rules would not improve local policy. More than 20% of people sign petitions to councils and the Government but most feel their views are ignored. Petitions have statutory significance in a number of countries, including Germany, the US, Sweden, Italy, Canada and New Zealand. Blears has also announced a scheme under which residents in ten pilot areas will set their own priorities for spending budgets of up to £23m. The idea is that local people should decide whether, for example, to recruit more police, increase the number of children’s play areas or improve services for the elderly.
The Local Government Association has pledged to fight a Whitehall proposal to stop them setting up their own business support schemes. The proposal, in a Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR, formerly DTI) consultation paper, sets out plans to reduce the total number of business support schemes from more than 3,000 to fewer than 100. The Department wants to set up a central government-run oversight body, which would include representatives from local government, to ensure that when the support schemes are rationalised, the initiative is not undermined by subsequent proliferation of local authority pet projects. The Small Business Council is also critical of the proposal.
The London Borough of Newham has chosen GeoWise InstantAtlas for a new local information system. The council’s Neighbourhood Information Management System provides access to current local neighbourhood data on areas such as the economy, education, crime, benefits and population. Data can be viewed at different geographic levels and time periods. Separately, Congleton Borough Council has gone live with a new VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) communications system from NEC Philips. The new system will initially cater for around 400 members of staff and will lead to significant cost savings and enhanced performance and quality of service. Meanwhile, Civica, a software and services vendor, has won contracts with Sheffield City Council worth £45m over nine years and with Essex County Council worth £3.3m over three years. Civica will provide infrastructure management and support services as part of Sheffield’s Building Schools for the Future programme and develop and implement an IT infrastructure for shared learning services for Essex.
The University of Exeter Science Park, planned for the east of the city, is set to benefit from a £1.75m investment from Devon County Council. The amount will match the investment made by other partners in the project. Between 2,500 and 3,000 jobs could be created by the project in the first 15-20 years.
The Audit Commission has awarded Hampshire County Council a maximum of four points in its 2007 corporate assessment. The report praised the council for being “forward looking with a strong understanding of the challenges that face Hampshire”, such as the demands of growth, demographic and climate change.
The Organisation of American States (OAS) is to help the Guyana Elections Commission to stage the country’s first local government elections in more than 14 years. The OAS help will form part of a broader assistance package that includes technical support for parliament to strengthen democracy in the country.