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District Bulletin: With funding and freedom we can end homelessness

Published: 29 February 2024

In this Bulletin:

CLLR SUSAN BROWN: With funding and freedom we can end homelessness

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

SIXTY SECONDS WITH… Robert Weaver, Chief Executive, Cotswold DC

NOTICEBOARD: Essential diary dates and opportunities

DCN EXECUTIVE BOARD UPDATE: What our leaders discussed on 29 February


With funding and freedom we can end homelessness

Urgent action is required to end the temporary accommodation crisis

Cllr Susan Brown, Vice Chair, DCN and Leader, Oxford City Council


The housing crisis is wrecking lives and the recent huge increase in homelessness presentations is in danger of wrecking local government.

Concerns about the shortage and unaffordability of temporary accommodation are by no means confined to district councils. It is having a grave financial impact on all types of council nationwide. All of us want our residents to have a secure home in the first place – rather than having to devote so much resource to supporting people once they have reached crisis point. There is real danger that without extra resources this huge increase will tip our councils into crisis.

Oxford is, according to Centre for Cities, the country’s least affordable city when it comes to housing. Many people here are struggling to find clean, safe homes.

Eviction from the private rented sector is the leading cause of homelessness here. Section 21 evictions must end now.

The high cost of living is another. Many people who may previously have ‘sofa surfed’ now tell us that their family and friends reluctantly feel it’s unaffordable to support them.

Meanwhile, domestic abuse forces many people from their homes. Councils are seeing increased numbers of domestic abuse victims thanks to a welcome change in the law which helps people leaving abusive relationships to access help – but we do need the resources to help them.

And the asylum system’s shortcomings are adding to the problem. I welcome asylum claims being processed more rapidly and it’s good if people are moved out of inappropriate hotels. But it’s no good getting people out of hotels and telling them to present to their council as homeless with no support for them or to us. The end result is likely to be that they end up being still accommodated in hotels at the taxpayer’s expense.

My council, Oxford City, has been working flat out to support vulnerable people and to ensure housing is built.

We are proud of our universal private rented sector regulation scheme designed to improve the standards of housing to reward the best landlords and tackle the worst housing. We are ourselves leasing housing from the private sector and block booking hotels – which brings the cost of rooms down. And we are building more council houses and allocating more of our stock to homeless households. We also work hard on prevention, helping families to hold onto their housing, preventing homelessness through advice and support.

We estimate that we are saving the taxpayer over £2 million a year through the measures we are taking. But we face an uphill struggle. Even the tireless work of our dedicated officers cannot bring numbers down: the numbers of people that we accepted as homeless increased by 141% over the last year.

So what can we done? The Chancellor could use his Budget next week to increase the Housing Benefit subsidy that councils can claim for temporary accommodation – which is still tied to 2011 rental costs. This is clearly ridiculous and needs to be upgraded to reflect the very much higher costs we face today.

We also need some changes in approach from the Government – closer co-operation with us on homelessness, in particular on asylum seekers, would help the system function far better for everyone. And we need a real focus on improving the rights of tenants in the private rented sector.

We are doing a lot but we want to be working differently. By funding us properly now and giving us the freedom we need to tackle homelessness in our areas we can help people to have the security in their own homes that everyone deserves in the interests of a healthy and happy life.


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

MJ article on local government spending: 14 years on: the ‘winners’ and the ‘losers’

Levelling Up Select Committee report: Financial distress in local authorities

Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) report: State of Local Government Finance in England 2024

LGIU report: Learning from local government finance across the world

Jonathan Werran, Chief Executive, Localis, in The MJ (£): Where is fiscal devolution?

Michael Burton in The MJ (£): Lyons: Where are we now?

Institute of Economic Development manifesto for giving local councils statutory powers over economic development: Grow Local, Grow_National

New Local report: Place-Based Public Service Budgets: Making Public Money Work Better for Communities

DCN Chairman letter to the Chancellor covered by The MJ (£): Call for Hunt to lift benefit subsidy cap

Cllr Sam Chapman-Allen, DCN Chairman, in The MJ (£): The threat from bank and building society closures

UCL Bartlett School of Planning report: Local authority direct provision of housing

Shelter and National Housing Federation: Report on economic benefits of social housing

Strong showing for DCN members in LGC Awards: Shortlist for 2024 LGC Awards revealed


60 seconds with… Robert Weaver

Robert is Chief Executive of Cotswold District Council and a member of DCN’s Chief Executive Group



What was your first job as an adult?

I trained as an environmental health officer (EHO). My first role was as a technical officer for housing and pollution, the role that in the old days supported EHOs in complaints investigations, and setting up noise monitoring equipment. I loved it and it was a great way to make a start in my local government career.

What’s given you the most satisfaction in your career?

Developing others – I love to see others grow. I have always been keen to ‘talent spot’ and develop individuals within the teams I’ve worked with, and am now a mentor on several of the Solace and DCN development courses. This is incredibly rewarding.

What’s the most exciting thing your organisation is doing?

Building mosaics. Really! We are redeveloping part of the public realm in Cirencester with modern mosaics based on ancient roman designs. It’s part of a much larger strategic Cirencester Masterplan, seeking to make sure the town remains attractive, economically vibrant and sustainable in every sense of the word.

What single thing – not money or devolution – could most improve local government?

Adopting technological advancements often seen in the private sector, to maximise efficiency of service delivery.

What is your biggest local government annoyance?

It has to be not having sufficient funding to deliver the best for our residents and businesses. We know we have the drive, determination and tenacity as a sector to achieve great things, but ultimately we are limited by the lack of funding – especially single-year settlements that make strategic planning difficult.

What keeps you up at night?

The difficulties we often face in attracting the best talent. Local government unfortunately isn’t seen as sexy as ‘tech’ or some corporate careers. This is a real shame as there are some great opportunities that are often overlooked, especially by new graduates.

Tell us something surprising about yourself 

For a couple of years I was a cameraman for Springwatch, Autumnwatch, and Countryfile, getting to travel to some amazing parts of the UK to film wildlife. One of the best trips had to be to the Isle of Mull to film rutting red deer. Long days, but some great local whisky in the evenings!


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

Local Authority Draft Nature Recovery Toolkit In-Person Roadshow Three events will be held in March by the Planning Advisory Service for officers to learn more about its draft nature recovery toolkit and how to use it. Events will take place in Manchester on 12 March, Birmingham on 14 March and London on 21 March. More details can be found here.

Planning Recruitment and Skills Survey Public Practice is running its annual survey designed to build an understanding of the recruitment challenges in council planning or placemaking teams. The five-minute survey is open until the end of Monday 4 March.

Pathways to Planning graduate programme The LGA and Planning Advisory Service are recruiting for the latest cohort of graduates to join the Pathways to Planning programme, who will be placed with local planning authorities. The scheme offers a bursary of £5,000 per graduate which can be used to cover costs associated with the RTPI accredited Level 7 apprenticeship or as a contribution towards part-time Masters fees. There are 120 places available and the deadline for councils to sign up is 31 March. Please click here for more information or contact anna.buttenshaw@local.gov.uk. You can also join one of the upcoming workshops by contacting pathways.planning@local.gov.uk and sign up for the scheme by completing a brief form.

Transformation capability framework The LGA is seeking feedback by 4 March from councils on its framework which identifies what good transformation looks like. Feedback can be sent to: transformation@local.gov.uk.


DCN EXECUTIVE BOARD NEWS: What our leaders discussed on 29 February

  • Councils’ role in electrifying the economy and enabling low-carbon technology
  • Retrofitting housing
  • Simpler Recycling
  • DCN’s parliamentary engagement strategy

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