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We are a cross-party, member-led network, providing a single voice for our member councils

District Bulletin for November: DCN spoke and the Chancellor listened

Published: 30 November 2023

In this bulletin:

CLLR SAM CHAPMAN-ALLEN: DCN spoke and the Chancellor listened

MUST-READS: Our round-up of media and policy highlights for DCN councils

SCOTT LOGAN: We’re taking a systemwide approach to tackling the skills gap

NOTICEBOARD: Essential diary dates and opportunities for you and your council

DCN EXECUTIVE BOARD UPDATE: What our leaders discussed on 15 November


DCN spoke and the Chancellor listened

The Autumn Statement offered action on many areas on which we’ve campaigned

Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen, Chairman, DCN

The Autumn Statement’s positive measures for our member councils stemmed from our collective efforts in campaigning, lobbying and sharing our case studies. This is testament to the effectiveness of DCN’s advocacy and strength, as well as the fact that we spoke with one voice.

While we recognise that not all our asks were fully met, our influence has been pivotal in securing additional Government support to address some of our most pressing challenges.

It was notable that the Government addressed the issue of temporary accommodation, with the struggle against rising demand and costs having been a major concern of many councils. Our work, alongside that of charities, has demonstrated to ministers and civil servants the scale of the problem and what needs to happen for the essential lifeline that we offer vulnerable people to continue.

The Chancellor’s announcement that he will increase Local Housing Allowance rates to cover 30% of local market rents, along with an additional £120m to combat homelessness across the UK, is a significant step forward. Although these measures don’t completely resolve our difficulties, they will alleviate some of the burden for a short period of time.

However, it’s clear that there’s more work to be done. The absence of long-term support beyond next year is a gap we must continue to address. We aim to collaborate with the Government to develop sustainable solutions for affordable housing and to address the root causes of homelessness and that wider preventive work.

Another area of progress is the response to the nutrient neutrality regulations that have slowed development. The Autumn Statement’s allocation of £110m to pollution offset schemes, which could unlock 40,000 homes, is a move in the right direction. It aligns with our need to facilitate housing development in an environmentally responsible manner.

Furthermore, the confirmation that councils can recover full costs for processing major business planning applications is welcome news, though the requirement to refund fees for missing deadlines is a consideration we must manage carefully. While we support measures to expedite development, the ongoing shortage of planning officers remains a challenge for most of us.

DCN asked for action in the Autumn Statement and we’ll be doing likewise for the Local Government Finance Settlement. Member councils’ underlying financial position continues to be unsustainable and we will seek extra freedoms and extra resources when Michael Gove announces our provisional budgets for next year.

The message from us is clear: investment in our preventative services helps potentially vulnerable people avoid crisis and saves other parts of the public sector, most notably the NHS, from having to undertake more expensive interventions later on. I firmly believe that it’s in the Treasury’s own interests to be receptive to this message, Districts Deliver.

I do want to thank every one of you who has made a case for action to support member councils. I know that so many of you have engaged with your MPs on the big financial challenges we face.

This all just shows how by working together – sometimes publicly and sometimes behind the scenes – we can achieve results.


MUST-READS: Our round-up of media and policy highlights for DCN councils

The Guardian: Councils in England facing bankruptcy as lack of housing pushes up costs

The Guardian: England’s ‘broken’ housing system is now a problem no council can avoid

The Guardian: English councils seek £100m to avert collapse of homelessness services

BBC News: Homelessness: Calls made for government action on temporary accommodation

ITV News: Councils demand ‘immediate intervention’ by government to tackle the homelessness crisis

The Financial Times: English councils warn of soaring cost of preventing homelessness

The New Statesman: The housing battle of Hastings

Sky News: Temporary accommodation spending ‘threatening to overwhelm council budgets’

Adam Hawksbee, Deputy Director, Onward, in The Times (£): Seaside towns hold the key to solving our housing crisis

Government response to Liaison Committee report: Future of seaside towns

Cllr Elizabeth Dennis, Finance Spokesperson, DCN and Leader, North Herts Council on cost pressures in The MJ (£): Districts face unpalatable choices

Institute for Government and CIPFA analysis of public services’ performance: Performance Tracker 2023: Cross-service analysis

Local Government Information Unit: Are we living in an age of post-trust politics?

LGA/Empty Homes Network report: A practical approach for councils on dealing with empty homes

National Audit Office: Levelling up funding to local government

Sheila Oxtoby, Chief Executive, Great Yarmouth Borough Council, on finance in the MJ (£): Challenging times

Jonathan Stephenson, Chief Executive, Brentwood Borough Council and Rochford District Council, in the MJ (£): Climate action’s delicate hire-wire act

We’re taking a systemwide approach to tackling the skills gap

By partnering with neighbouring councils and the private sector Basildon is bringing about new higher education opportunities

Scott Logan, Chief Executive, Basildon Council

Basildon has long been a place that global organisations come to do business – Ford UK, Costa Coffee and Leonardo all base their operations here. However, there is a significant skills gap preventing local people from filling local jobs, particularly those roles in vocational fields such as engineering and advanced manufacturing.

In the 2021 Census, 21% of Basildon residents reported having no qualifications – a figure as high as 28% in wards with higher deprivation. This is significantly above the England-wide level of 18%.

Realising the council was unable to impact these stats by itself, Basildon Council pitched the idea of an employer-led not-for-profit organisation, supported by the local authorities of South Essex. This would establish new higher education opportunities, providing local people with a clear route into high-skilled employment.

That new organisation is called South Essex Advanced Technical Skills (SEATS), and it has been designed as a collective, industry-based training organisation. DP World, Southend Airport and Ford UK all joined the project to lead the way as founding partners of SEATS – addressing the skills gap head on and sharing in the ambition to invest in local people as their workforce of the future.

By joining forces with other locally based companies, and with the support of local authorities, SEATS has been able to share resources and scale its ambition to bring university partners to South Essex, creating opportunities for local people and leading to a higher skilled workforce. Recently it was announced that Coventry University would be the first higher education provider.

In autumn 2023, 16 young people in Basildon and South Essex began the first skills-based, degree-level apprenticeships with top locally-based firms. We plan to scale this up as the project grows each year.

This collective approach to training, of partnering the public and private sector with the same ambition, is truly innovative and will support the economic growth of the area. Local authorities and businesses have come together to tackle a systemwide issue, leading to an outcome where they and local people all benefit.

Now up and running, The SEATS project will look to engage with schools, colleges and other education providers to promote opportunities within the scheme. Coventry University has also pledged additional support to encourage growth across the region. SEATS founding directors are eager to engage with even more of our businesses to ensure long-term growth for the scheme.

I am extremely proud that this unique concept, first put forward in 2019, is creating prosperous opportunities for local people and employers. It’s especially gratifying that global brands and educators have recognised the importance of the challenge we face here in South Essex and are supporting our cause.

It is testament to the dedication of public and private sector partners working together – building strong relationships over the last four years to create something truly innovative to tackle the regional skills gap together. By doing so we have been able to bring forward new opportunities that will benefit the people of South Essex for generations to come.


NOTICEBOARD: Essential diary dates and opportunities for you and your council

Local Government White Paper As part of its work to devise a white paper which will be presented to the Government after the next General Election, the Local Government Association has launched a survey, the deadline for which is 15 December. This asks councils for their priorities and about the policy changes they seek. It can be taken here.

The National Graduate Development Programme Councils can sign up here to participate on the 26th NGDP cohort and take on the very best graduate talent, helping build crucial capacity within their organisations whilst providing a platform for motivated trainees to kickstart their careers as future leaders local government. The deadline for applying is 29 February.

Climate Action Scorecards Climate Emergency UK assessed all councils on the actions they have taken towards net zero. If your council has any concerns or suggestions for improvement about the scorecards released last month, there is an opportunity to feedback until 8 December and to fill in the feedback survey.

DCN EXECUTIVE BOARD UPDATE: What our leaders discussed on 15 November

  • The homelessness challenge
  • Affordable housing
  • Simpler recycling

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