NALC Chief Executive's bulletin

NALC urges the government to strengthen the standards regime
The NALC chairman, Cllr Sue Baxter, has written to Robert Jenrick MP, secretary of state for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to renew the call for changes to the current standards regime. Sue's letter urges him to respond to the Committee on Standards in Public Life review of local government ethical standards, to support its recommendations and to introduce more robust sanctions such as suspension or disqualification for serious and repeated misconduct. You can read more in our news story here.

Simplify your AGAR documentation process
At the end of each financial year, local (parish and town) councils prepare an Annual Governance & Accountability Return (AGAR) subject to audit. It can be an incredibly stressful time of year for councils, especially for councillors or clerks who are new to their roles or without a financial background. Preparing all the documentation for Year-End using manual processes and multiple spreadsheets can be time-consuming, and many councils find themselves working overtime to get it complete. Read BHIB Councils Insurance's latest blog on how to remove the stress, allowing you to generate your Year-End Statement in just a few clicks or email them at insurance@bhibcouncils.co.uk for more information.

Smaller Authorities Audit Appointments Limited (SAAA)
Staying on the subject of the local audit, an important part of NALC's work is helping the sector discharge its financial responsibilities through the work of SAAA and Joint Panel on Accountability and Governance (JPAG). This week they agreed on final touches to this year's AGAR return which will be distributed by the audit firms to councils in March for completion by 31 August.

Final local government finance settlement
Among NALC's campaigns is ensuring local councils are not subject to council tax referendum principles; this was a key ask for the submission to the government's Spending Review and NALC's associated lobbying. The final local government finance settlement for 2021/22, debated and approved by MPs on 10 February, confirmed this successful outcome.

New legal guidance on procurement
This week NALC updated Legal Topic Note 87 on procurement to take account of procedural procurement changes post-Brexit and includes links to government guidance and a summary of the new advertising requirements. You can access this briefing in the members' area of the NALC website (login required).

NALC Smaller Councils Committee
NALC's Smaller Councils Committee met remotely on 9 February, here's a summary:

  • The committee welcomed new members Cllr Bob Blezzard (Isle of Wight) and Cllr Mike Scott (Northamptonshire)
  • It was agreed county association support for smaller councils declaring a climate emergency, would be raised at the next meeting of National Assembly
  • The committee shared NALC's urgency on ensuring remote meetings are extended beyond 7 May and were keen to emphasise the inclusivity benefit of holding meetings online
  • Feedback was provided on NALC's guidance on preparing for a return to face to face meetings and consequences of any delay to May's local elections
  • An update on the Star Council Awards was given and the committee made suggestions on how to attract applications from smaller councils

Meeting with Defra
Colleagues from the policy and communications team this week met last week with officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the Environment Bill and several linked issues such as tree planting and local nature recovery strategies, and to follow up the recent meeting with rural affairs minister Lord Gardiner. Among the reasons this Bill has been delayed is ensuring it doesn't run out of time in this session of Parliament and NALC anticipate Committee Stage in the House of Commons being in May where NALC will be pressing changes to bill around powers, funding and the role of local councils in nature recovery and tackling climate change.

Governance review working group
Along with many of you, we are beginning to think about how the pandemic experience will affect local council's working practices in the longer term such as office space and developing IT and web systems to better support on-line and digital working. A small task and finish group was set up by the National Assembly who have already met, concluding that in future we should continue with a mix of face to face and remote meetings and also make greater use of remote meetings to engage with networks of councils and councillors.

Changes to the Local Council Award Scheme
Last year saw the scheme reach its five-year milestone and provided NALC with an opportunity to instigate an evaluation and improvement process. This review looked at the criteria and evidence required for all three levels of Foundation, Quality and Quality Gold, followed by consultation with the sector on proposed changes. These came into effect on 8 February 2021 and new applications will need to meet the updated requirements. You can read more about the review in news story and information on the scheme including helpful resources are on the scheme's page on the NALC website.

Media coverage
Many of you will have been following the extensive media coverage triggered by recent events. To hear NALC's chairman Sue plus Cllr Eartha Pond, Queen's Park Community Council, Cllr Donna Fuller, Woughton Community Council and Cllr Emma Benner, Croxley Green Parish Council give a really positive interview (01:06:32 to 1:29:39) on Times Radio about why they got involved in their community and the great work of their councils.

The Guardian editorial wrote that "civil parishes should receive more attention, especially from anyone who has an interest in the politics of place or – less abstractly – in the public realm in the area where they live".

The Local Government Chronicle were in praise of parish councils in their story by their features editor who said "parish councils have been for me the most enjoyable level of government to report on, largely because this was the tier that felt most human and grounded in community. It was where people came together to make decisions about issues they all personally shared in common in their day-to-day lives".

Posted: Mon, 15 Feb 2021 13:45 by Alison Robinson

Tags: AGAR, Annual Governance and Accountability Return, DEFRA, LCAS, Local Council Award S, NALC, National Association for Local Councils, News, Standards regime, climate change, financial settlement, procurement legal guidance. procurement LTN, smaller councils committee