Memorandum submitted by LGA Group (FW 12)


 

 

Introduction:

 

The LGA Group is made up of six organisations: the Local Government Association (LGA); the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA); Local Government Employers (LGE); Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS); Local Partnerships and the Leadership Centre for Local Government

 

Our shared ambition is to make an outstanding contribution to the success of local government. Together we work with and on behalf of councils to lobby for changes in policy and legislation, build a strong and positive reputation for local government and support them and their partnerships to continuously improve and be innovative.

 

We provide services at the national level which support and are complementary to the regional and local support provided to councils, as well as the work councils themselves undertake. We work with authorities across England and in some activities across Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland too.

 

The 423 authorities who make up the LGA Group cover every part of England and Wales. Together they represent over 50 million people and spend around 113 billion a year on local services. They include county councils, metropolitan district councils, English unitary authorities, London boroughs, shire district councils and Welsh unitary authorities, along with fire authorities, police authorities, national park authorities and passenger transport authorities.

 

 

Contents:

 

Page 2 - Summary

 

Page 3 - Funding of the Lead Local Flood Authority Role

 

Page 4 - Training and Skills

 

Page 4 - Funding for the Adoption and Maintenance of SUDS

 

Page 5 - Charging System for SUDS

 

Page 5 - SUDS Approval Process

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

The LGA welcomes the introduction of the Flood and Water Management Bill. Local authorities are ready and willing to take on the lead role for local flood risk management that the Bill proposes for them.

 

However, when the Bill underwent pre-legislative scrutiny by the EFRA Select Committee the LGA highlighted several areas of concern that we wished to see addressed prior to the Bill being presented to Parliament. While some efforts have been made to resolve our concerns there are still some key issues that we would like the Government to address with urgency.


 

1. DEFRA have said that they will monitor costs of councils taking on the lead role in local flood risk management and meet any net new burdens if they emerge. But this is not in the spirit of the New Burdens Doctrine which requires that new burdens on councils be identified and accurately costed in advance. The LGA is therefore calling for DEFRA to undertake an urgent reassessment of the expected costs of the lead authority role and to ensure that new costs are met.

 

2. While the LGA welcomes new flexibilities in the Bill in terms of consultation and information-sharing, we are disappointed that the provisions defining "lead local flood authority" and other key terms were passed in secondary legislation on 10th December. We hope that these aspects of the Bill will receive appropriate scrutiny as the Bill progresses through Parliament.

 

3. We are aware that there is likely to be a shortage of skills and capacity across local government when councils take on the lead role. We therefore strongly recommend that a working group, consisting of local authorities, universities, training providers and professional institutes should be set up as a matter of urgency to make recommendations to the Government on skills and training issues that will need to be addressed as a result the new role to be taken on by local authorities.

 

4. DEFRA has stated that the creation and maintenance of SUDS will be funded in part through the transfer of private sewers to water and sewage companies. The LGA rejects DEFRA's assumptions on the costs of private sewers. These assumptions are based on 7-year-old data garnered from only 12% of local authorities and create fundamental weaknesses in the impact assessments. The LGA is calling on DEFRA to undertake an urgent reassessment of authorities' current expenditure on private sewers so we have a more robust evidence base on the expected costs of the adoption and maintenance of SUDS.

 

5. The LGA is concerned that provisions in the Bill to make county councils the approving bodies for all SUDS will, in many cases, create an unnecessary level of bureaucracy. District councils make decisions about every other aspect of a planning proposal, so moves to force county councils, who don't typically get involved in approving developments, to set up a separate approval system would seem to be both wasteful and overly complex. The approvals process for SUDS should lie at district level in two-tier areas.

 

Funding of the Lead Local Flood Authority Role

 

 

Part 1, clause 9 of the Bill defines the role of the lead local flood authority. This includes the duty to "develop, maintain, apply and monitor a strategy for local flood risk management in its area" (Clause 9 (1))

 

We appreciate DEFRA's commitment to fund any new burdens faced by councils as a result of their lead role in local flood risk management. However, while we do not doubt the Department's commitment to funding the lead role, we are concerned that they simply do not have a full grasp of what this commitment will mean for local authorities in financial terms. We think DEFRA does not have a full picture of the issues faced on the ground at local level. We further believe that their stance is not in the spirit of the New Burdens Doctrine, which we understand means that new burdens on councils be identified and accurately costed in advance.

 

Following pre-legislative scrutiny DEFRA has revised its impact assessment but the LGA is still concerned that their funding model continues to use the concept of "future savings" which is money that local authorities might save in future as a result of undertaking flood prevention measures, which can therefore be used now to put those measures into place.

 

Despite the new work DEFRA has undertaken with their revised Impact Assessments, the Select Committee's conclusion, that: "...the impact assessments are insufficiently precise and provide meagre evidence to support their cost and benefit calculations" still, in our opinion, stands.

The LGA rejects DEFRA's funding model on two fundamental grounds:

 

i. Councils don't budget for contingencies like flooding. Response and recovery costs are funded from reserves and other budgets.

 

ii. Any 'savings' made at some point in the future don't mean funds are available for building up the flood risk management role now.

 

Most clearly, DEFRA's Impact Assessment assumes that the cost efficiency for councils will be from reduced flood risk many years into the future and in many cases savings on expenditure which local authorities do not presently have burdens for (e.g. transfer of private sewers, current assumed significant spending on flooding). However, the costs to local authorities rising from the Bill will be real and immediate through the provision of services which, in the long term, will only be part of the measures required lead to the reduction in flooding in the future. This also fails to take into account the effects od climate change.

 

We echo the recommendation of the Select Committee that DEFRA undertake an urgent reassessment of the expected costs of the lead authority role on the basis of evidence submitted by councils and to ensure that new costs are met.

 

Training and Skills

 

Many local authorities are worried that they have severe skills and capacity shortages which could affect their ability to deliver the functions of the lead local flood authority role effectively. This shortage also recognisably affects the wider water industry, including consultants and water companies.

 

We believe that much more needs to be done to address potential shortfalls in skills and provide training for the new roles that could come as result of the Bill passing into law.

 

While councils are already working to address this issue, we strongly recommend that a working group, consisting of local authorities, universities, training providers and professional institutes should be set up as a matter of urgency to make recommendations to the Government on skills and training issues that will need to be addressed as a result the new role to be taken on by local authorities.

 

 

Funding for the Adoption and Approval of SUDS

 

Schedule 3 of the Bill deals with Sustainable Drainage and proposes a duty for local authorities to adopt and maintain sustainable drainage systems for new developments.

 

Local authorities are keen to take on the responsibility for the adoption and approval of SUDS. There needs to be a mechanism in place keeping control of these systems and that the local authority should have control.

 

However, DEFRA has stated that the creation and maintenance of SUDS will be funded in part through the transfer of private sewers to water and sewage companies, alleviating local authorities of the responsibility for investigating and dealing with potential problems. The LGA rejects the assumptions on the costs of private sewers. The assumptions used by DEFRA are based on 7-year-old data garnered from only 12% of local authorities and therefore create fundamental weaknesses in the impact assessments. The transfer of private sewers to water companies will also not 'free up' existing resources within some Local Authorities.

 

In their report the EFRA Select Committee stated: "We are not convinced that local authorities will benefit from the transfer of sewers to the degree anticipated in the impact assessments. There remains some uncertainty about the cost of adopting and maintaining SUDS - until these questions are answered doubts remain about the impact assessments' robustness." We believe this uncertainty still exists.

 

DEFRA therefore needs to undertake an urgent reassessment of authorities' current expenditure on private sewers so we have a more robust evidence base on the expected costs of the adoption and maintenance of SUDS.

 

The definition of SUDS incorporates anything from a ditch to a reservoir. There are clearly vast differences in the levels of responsibility, and therefore workload, that different SUDS will require and it is unclear exactly what level of responsibility local authorities will be required to undertake. Add to the list of SUDS lakes, ponds, soakaways, wetland areas, swales and you get some idea of the massive variation in size, shape and situation that SUDS can entail.

 

There is no clear indication of how many SUDS will need to be adopted and maintained in the future. Increased housing targets, new retail areas and other developments may all require SUDS to be adopted and maintained which will bring with them attendant costs for local authorities.

 

We need to see a far clearer indication of exactly the taking on of the "lead role and responsibilities" will actually entail. Local authorities are still unclear as to what their role will be and what they are actually being asked to do. Until this is made clear by DEFRA then they are going to be rightly worried about cost and capacity.

 

The Charging System for SUDS

 

We believe that the model for charging people for SUDS is unfair. DEFRA themselves have stated that it is time-limited and will need to be revisited in 8 years time. Sustainable drainage needs to have a sustainable funding system behind it if it is to be successfully taken up by local authorities. This issue needs to be addressed now or the Government runs the risk of undermining the implementation of SUDS as authorities would legitimately worry about not having the income stream necessary to maintain them in the future.

 

SUDS Approval Process

 

Schedule 3, Clause 6 (1) defines the approval body for drainage system as being either a) a unitary authority or b) a county council in two-tier areas.

 

We believe that placing the SUDS approval process at county level in two-tier areas will create an unnecessary level of bureaucracy. District councils make decisions about every other aspect of a planning proposal, so moves to force county councils, which don't typically get involved in approving developments, to set up a separate approval system would seem to be both wasteful and overly complex.

 

This situation also means that developers who normally apply to district councils for planning permission could be forced to seek a separate approval for developments from county councils. This would create a further complication for the recovering property market as well as additional wasteful bureaucracy.

 

We would therefore seek an amendment to the Bill that would allow for the SUDS approval process to lie at the district level in two-tier areas.

 

January 2010