Sam’s blog – April 2022
With Easter just around the corner, I hope you’re all looking forward to some well-earned down time with friends and family.
Reflecting on the first quarter of this year, none of us could have envisaged the terrible scenes we’ve seen unfolding in Ukraine. All our members councils have stepped up in the early weeks of the crisis to mobilise our communities and support the humanitarian response. Families who’ve been tragically forced to flee Ukraine have started arriving in our communities. The critical role of our housing and community services now comes to the fore, particularly in making sure the Homes for Ukraine scheme provides a safe and supportive environment for the families who need our help. But, to do our job properly, we need much greater clarity from the Government. We’re continuing to work with the LGA to push DLUHC and the Home Office for clearer guidance in terms of districts’ role, and to make sure that we have access to the funding and data we need – for all the Ukrainian visa schemes, not just Homes for Ukraine. If there are particular challenges you’d like us to raise with the Government, please let the DCN team know: firstname.lastname@example.org
The biggest policy development of the year has been the Levelling Up White Paper. It was great to see many of you at our recent conference in London to explore some of its implications and debate how districts can lead on levelling up. We shared some of the highlights on Twitter which you can find here, and the link to the recording can be found here – it is well worth a watch. I really enjoyed hearing some of our member councils talking about exciting projects to regenerate their town centres. I visited Woking earlier this week to see how they’re transforming the town centre, building strong partnerships with private investors and hardwiring health, wellbeing and leisure into their plans for place shaping across the borough. If you’d like me or the DCN Team to come to visit your council, please drop me a line.
One of the positives of the White Paper was the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) and the decision to allocate funding directly to district councils. We expect the allocations and guidance for the UKSPF to be launched imminently, with investment plans expected to be submitted later in the summer. Rest assured we’re continuing to push DLUHC for as much local discretion as possible so that this funding can smoothly work for us all. And, in county deal areas, we’re pressing for certainty that the funding will be allocated to district councils for the full three-year period. The bid process for Levelling Up Fund Round 2 is running to a similar timeline. I’m sure you’ll all have seen the prospectus published last month. If you’d like to discuss any further support you think DCN could offer on current funding opportunities then please do let the team know.
Looking ahead, it’s time to grasp the nettle on climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its latest report last week. The IPCC once again laid bare the urgency of taking action – but also gave reasons to hope we can turn the tide. The DCN’s Greener Communities strategic group is developing a range of projects to help deliver on this agenda and to demonstrate the need for the Government to give councils better support and tools to make it happen. After Easter, we’re embarking on a ground breaking research project with the thinktank Localis to analyse how the economy can be restructured to deliver clean growth and green jobs, and the vital role local councils have to play in delivering net zero.
In the meantime, DCN has responded to Defra’s consultation on Biodiversity Net Gain consultation. While we agree with the aims, we’re calling for Defra to provide the resources and clear guidance that will be crucial to all of us implementing the requirements successfully.
Of course, we all take seriously the imperative of adapting to climate change and protecting our natural environment. But sometimes this will bring difficult implications and trade-offs. I know many of you are affected by Natural England’s new advice on mitigating nutrient pollution. In the affected areas, this has had an immediate and serious impact on our ability to grant planning permissions and to continue growing our places. I’ve written to the Housing Minister to underline the extent of the impact and the urgent need for solutions to allow us – in conjunction with water companies and developers – to put in place mitigations without blocking up the local planning system. We’re also working closely with RTPI and the Planning Advisory Service on solutions. This is a really important issue to fix.
I’ll finish with some positive news. I’m delighted to congratulate all of our member councils who’ve been shortlisted as finalists in the forthcoming LGC Awards and MJ Awards. Kudos in particular to Great Yarmouth and North Kesteven who have both been shortlisted for the prestigious Council of the Year Award at the LGC Awards. North Kesteven also picked up a nomination for MJ Council of the Year. For anyone who’s not yet had the chance to check out the full list of nominations – the LGC Awards shortlist can be found here, and those for the MJ Awards here.
I’m really pleased to say that by the time I next write to you, we’ll have hosted our first 2022 Staff Development Programme in-person event. The agenda’s packed full of sessions and workshops from some of our fantastic Chief Executives, Leaders and partners across the network. It’s set to be an excellent event. I’m really looking forward to being there myself and meeting some the rising stars from our member councils!
All that remains if for me to wish you a lovely break over the Easter period. It’s been another tough few months but, as we move into our first summer free of Covid restrictions, we have a lot to look forward to!
Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen,
Chairman of District Councils’ Network and Leader of Breckland District Council