Further progress for the cause of transparency and accountability. Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis has announced new rules to increase town hall transparency by producing guidance requiring councillors to register trade union affiliations and dealings. This is intended to avoid conflicts of interest when councils consider issues directly affecting trade unions, such as reviews of taxpayer-funded subsidies given to trade unions.
Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said:
"For too long residents have been kept in the dark about what union affiliations their councillors hold. All councillors should disclose all their personal and financial interests on a public register, including registering union interests. Given the public debate about ‘facility time’ and ‘pilgrims’ in local government, it’s vital that conflicts of interest are avoided. These transparency reforms will give local people the confidence that their councillors are putting residents’ interests before their own.
"The new guidance builds on existing transparency measures introduced as part of the Localism Act and is part of the new arrangements for local authority standards that replaced the bureaucratic and controversial Standards Board regime, abolished in 2012, which ministers believe had become a vehicle for malicious, petty and politically motivated complaints."
Councillors in the pay of trade unions should not participate in votes deciding whether or not trade unions should be in the pay of councils.
Canterbury City - Seasalter:
Ukip 644, C 522, Lab 307, Lib Dem 147, Green 54. (May 2011 - Three seats C 1681, 1610, 1538, Lab 773, 707, 698, Lib Dem 353, 292, 275. May 2 2013 by-election - C 789, Ukip 706, Lab 427, Lib Dem 93, Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts 41).
Ukip gain from C. Swing 10.2 per cent C to Lab.
Dudley Borough - Coseley East:
Lab 1053, Ukip 478, C 190, BNP 120, Green 33, National Front 16 . (May 2012 - Lab 1366, C 468, Ukip 430, National Front 177, Green 71).
Lab hold. Swing 3.4 per cent Lab to Ukip.
East Hampshire District - Four Marks and Medstead:
C 749, Ukip 348, Lab 119, Green 73. (May 2011 - Two seats C 1729, 1703, Lib Dem 682, Lab 228, 184).
C hold.Swing 4.5 per cent C to Lab.
Oxford City - North:
Lab 367, Lib Dem 330, Green 262, C 100. (May 2012 - Lab 516, Green 385, Lib Dem 353, C 291).
Lab gain from Lib Dem. Swing 3.5 per cent Lab to Lib Dem.
Woking Borough - Maybury and Sheerwater:
C 1057, Lab 833, Ukip 255, Lib Dem 252. (May 2012 - Lib Dem 1088, Lab 1072, C 685, Ukip 345).
C gain from Lib Dem. Swing 23.1 per cent Lib Dem to C.
The Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles gave a speech recently on Britishness.
Mr Pickles noted that the challenges to British values come from different places:
"Here in Britain tolerance, decency and respect for others are embedded deep within our psyche. Our warmth and hospitality, our willingness to welcome other views and embrace other ways of life are what has made Britain a beacon of hope around the world. Now a few voices from the fringes try and challenge those values:
Each in their own way attempting to corrode and destroy from within with lies, aggression and violence.
These purveyors of hatred are anti-British.
The TUC funded group False Economy has discovered that the cut in spare room subsidy has caused an increase in rent arrears. This is unfortunate but not surprising. The change will be difficult in the short term while the tenants affected make adjustments in their arrangements. Whether taking in a lodger, getting a job, or moving to a smaller property, there will be a period of time before matters are sorted out.
Of course many started planning before April when the changes came in but it is human nature that others delay making changes as long as possible. It is right to offer transitional help.
Labour seems to have shifted towards calling for the spare room subsidy to be restored. The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne says: "This is the final proof, as if we needed it, that the hated tax must be dropped and dropped now."
I suppose at the next election Labour could say: "Yes we did want it dropped in 2013 but it is now 2015 and so it should be kept - the time to drop it has passed." I think that would be a difficult message. Probably we have that rare sighting: a Labour policy.
So how would Labour pay for reinstatement of the spare room subsidy? The Government modestly estimated that it would save about £540 million a year. That assumes that 660,000 households stay where they are, don't change their behaviour, but simply find the extra £15 a week in rent (on average) by cutting their spending on other things.
Cllr David Millican, the Conservative opposition leader on Ealing Council, says something is rotten in his borough
Anyone looking for evidence of the incestuous and murky nature of politics need only look at Ealing Council’s Labour Group.
Recently, the Labour Leader of the Council, Cllr Julian Bell, arranged for the director responsible for planning and other senior planning officers to meet Dr Onkar Sahota, Ealing's Labour London Assembly member, on site to discuss Dr Sahota’s very contentious planning application.
The Leader even continued to add to the grandeur of the event by attending the site meeting as well.
This gold plated service is of not available to ordinary members of the public. In fact, ordinary members of the public find it hard to get through to the Planning Department, whose phones are permanently set to voicemail.
Quietly UKIP are losing councillors who are resigning, being suspended or defecting.
Cllr Dave Whittingham of Fareham Borough Council has returned to the fold as a Conservative - after a spell as an independent and then a UKIP councillor. Welcome back.
Brian Hawes, who was a UKIP town councillor in Haverhill in Suffolk has resigned after saying: "We don't give leaflets to black people."
Lincolnshire county councillor Cllr Chris Pain, who was the UKIP group leader has been suspended from the party. He has some dispute with the UKIP national chairman Steve Crowther the details of which have not been disclosed.
They have had some seats they gained in May already lost in byelections. Eric Kitson resigned as UKIP councillor in Worcestershire after making anti semitic posts on his Facebook page. UKIP lost the byelection to an Independent and Health Concern candidate. In Norfolk Labour gained a byelection from UKIP in Norfolk when a UKIP councillor resigned after admitting to shop lifting.
David Skelton is the Director of Renewal, a campaign organisation aiming to broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party. Follow David on Twitter.
Devolving power further needs to be at the core of a future Conservative offering. And cities need to be at the core of this new wave of devolution. ‘Trusting the people’ and empowering cities will be a fundamental element to balanced economic growth and urban revival over the next few decades. A devolution of power to cities must be a fundamental part of the Tory agenda for the next decade.
Most of the high growth during the Blair years benefited only the South East of England and failed to reach the low-paid. Although economic growth was over 11 per cent between 2003 and 2008, real incomes actually stagnated and the North-South divide widened. That can’t be allowed to happen again and empowering our cities is a real way of delivering economic growth that benefits everybody.
Edward Glaeser, in his superb ‘Triumph of the City’ has set out why the city will be at the core of economic growth in a globalised economy. And the more autonomy and power a city has, the more likely it is to pull in talent and investment and to become a thriving centre of regional economic growth. The Government’s ‘City Deals’ represent a great start to making that happen and they provide a real platform to Government should be ready to devolve powers over planning and welfare to work to cities, in a way that will give our great cities the ability to innovate and promote job creation.
After a split in the Labour Party the Conservatives have now formed a minority administration on Harrow Council. Congratulation to Cllr Susan Hall, the new Conservative leader and the first woman leader in the history of the authority.
Cllr Hall was elected the new Leader last night by 31 votes to 24 after a number of Independent Labour councillors abstained or voted for her.
It will certainly be a challenge to achieve tangible results between now and the elections in May. However Cllr Hall and her team are capable and determined and well aware of the need to apply strong Conservative principles to achieve better value for money for local residents.
Cllr Hall says:
“We are obviously delighted with the result of the vote, and I’d like to thank each and every councillor who voted for me. It is an honour and a privilege to become Leader of Harrow Council, and my colleagues and I are looking forward to getting to work straight away.
"We know that the task facing us is daunting, and that the Council faces many challenges. But as I said at the Council meeting, our priority will be to make Harrow cleaner, safer and fairer – and we hope to enshrine these principles into everything the Council does. We want a Council which does what our residents want, which looks out for them, and which is on their side.
"In the coming days I will be appointing a Cabinet, and focusing on problem areas where we need to take action straight away – such as the appalling cuts Labour made to public realm services. The budget process for 2014-15 is also just getting underway, so we will be turning our attention to that. It’s an exciting time, but we are very much aware of the challenges which confront us.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government are pressing ahead with changes that will end the "check off" system - this is the arrangement where instead of trade unions collecting their own subs the Government does it for them via the payroll system. The Public and Commercial Services Union, led by their Trotskyist General Secretary Mark Serwotka, challenged the plan and won on a technicality involving the staff handbook terms agreed by the last Labour Government which will now be changed.
The Mirror has triumphantly reported that the legal action would cost taxpayers £90,000. However they did not report that the PCS still owes the Government money - due a larger unpaid bill from two years ago for costs awarded to the Government after PCS's failed judicial review of the Civil Service Compensation scheme reforms.
There is also good progress being made on cutting "facility time staffing costs" - this is the scandal where staff are paid by the taxpayer by spend their time working as union officials, the "Pilgrims." The saving for the DCLG and it's various agencies will come to £400,000 a year as these posts are phased out.
Hats off to Elizabeth Truss for her riposte to the collection of early years specialists, academics and pundits who have tried yet again to persuade us that the root cause of educational failure is too early a start to school.
As Ms Truss points out, the seeds of educational failure for poor children are sown early, and the later education starts, the more they will lose out. One of the ironies of the letter is that so many signatories are connected with the Montessori movement, whose key idea is to create a highly-structured environment that builds an educational outcome into whatever a child chooses to do.
Play it may be, but it is play on adult terms, and could not be further removed from the neglect that seals the fate of too many children before they have started school. Montessori, moreover, was an early and effective advocate of phonics as a means of teaching reading, and English Montessori schools were active in the phonics revival of the early nineties. Maria Montessori would probably have had more in common with the government than with its critics.