Gary Porter: It wouldn’t be Christmas…without the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement

It contained a number of positive announcements. The New Homes Bonus is particularly significant for shire districts.

Lord Porter is the Chairman of the Local Government Association.

Alongside the usual seasonal festivities, local government experiences another Christmas tradition each year: the publication of the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement.

Whilst it is fair to say that, due to the very technical nature of the Settlement and the many other distractions at this time of year, this receives relatively little attention beyond the local government sector, it is of course immensely important for councils across the country.

This year’s Settlement, which was presented to the House of Commons last week, contained a number of positive announcements, including extra funding for some councils in 2019/2020 to cancel the “negative Revenue Support Grant” adjustment to tariffs and top-ups, £180 million of surplus on the levy account being distributed to all councils, and an extra fifteen authorities from across the country being selected to pilot 75% business rates retention in 2019/20.

In addition to the above, I am particularly pleased that the Government has decided not to increase the New Homes Bonus (NHB) threshold next year. This is important since the NHB represents a significant source of funding for many councils, particularly shire districts, as well as encouraging sustainable development that has the support of local communities.

I also strongly welcomed the provision of £16 million in additional funding for rural authorities to reflect the particular challenges they face in delivering services to sparsely populated areas.

As important as the Settlement is for councils, it also needs to be viewed in the context of the recent Budget which showed that the Government is listening to the Local Government Association’s (LGA) call for investment in services, with key announcements including an extra £410 million in 2019/20 for adults and children’s social care, £420 million to tackle potholes, £400 million for schools to spend on equipment and facilities, £675 million for a Future High Streets Fund, and a further £500 million for the Housing Infrastructure Fund to unlock 650,000 new homes.

The extra funding across a variety of policy areas that was announced in both the Budget and the Local Government Finance Settlement represents significant lobbying wins for the LGA.

I would like to take this opportunity to place on record my thanks to James Brokenshire and his Ministerial team at the Ministry of Housing, Communities for listening to our concerns.

Whilst welcoming the additional funding, the LGA will be responding to the consultation on the Provisional Settlement by stressing the significant pressures that councils still face whilst also continuing our lobbying work in relation to the long anticipated Social Care Green Paper, which we hope will be published very soon, and the critically important Spending Review in 2019.

The Green Paper and the Spending Review both have the potential to put local government finance on a truly sustainable long-term footing, and I will continue to press the case that local government is an integral part of the solution to many of the challenges that the country faces.

ConHome’s Cabinet League Table. Everyone’s rating is down – and half of the top table is now in negative territory. Worst ever results.

Not for the faint-hearted. Contains intense violence, blood and gore, strong language and Philip Hammond.

 

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

The aftermath of Chequers saw the ratings of every single Cabinet member fall. It was its worst collective performance to date.  But it is a measure of how shocking our latest monthly results are that those members would be justified in tumbling to their knees – and begging for those post-Chequers results to be resurrected.

Then, six Cabinet Ministers were in negative territory: Brandon Lewis, Greg Clark, Julian Smith, Chris Grayling, Philip Hammond…and Theresa May.

Now, they are joined by Jeremy Wright, David Gauke, Claire Perry, David Lidington, Liam Fox, Amber Rudd – on her return to the top table – Caroline Nokes, Andrea Leadsom, Karen Bradley and, on his debut, by Steve Barclay. Unsweet sixteen.

Yes, that’s sixteen Ministers in the red, rather than six – outnumbering the 13 of its members who get into the black, some of them by tiny margins.  No fewer than seven ministers have positive ratings of lower than ten points: James Brokenshire, Gavin Williamson, David Mundell, Alan Cairns, Damian Hinds and, yes, the mighty Michael Gove, who topped the table as recently as June.

Geoffrey Cox led the pack with a 67.5 approval rating last month.  He is still top, but his rating is down by about a third.  Ditto, roughly, the table’s other top performers, if that label can be used in the same sentence as this dismal return.

And never mind the ratings – look at the falls.  Liam Fox was at 35, but is now in negative territory.  Andrea Leadsom’s score follows a similar pattern.  Penny Mordaunt hasn’t publicly defended the deal. Maybe that’s why she’s still in the black. Just about.

So is there any good news for anyone at all?  It depends what you mean.  Theresa May’s rating was actually lower after Chequers, but her scores are still horrible: – 48.1 then, – 42 this month (she was – 42.3 last month, since you ask).  However, Philip Hammond is at -46.7, which must be a new low, even for him.

Ruth Davidson would have cause to think, as she gives Baby Finn a cuddle: what’s the point of coming back?

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The Housing Secretary tells Sophy Ridge how the Government has spent over £4 billion, and issued 106 technical notices, against that eventuality.

William Shawcross: May and Brokenshire must not let Scruton be hounded from his post

His long career evinces both a real understanding of issues such as antisemitism and a philospher’s willingness to change his mind.

William Shawcross is a former head of the Charity Commission and and official biographer of the Queen MOther.

When Sir Roger Scruton was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2016, the official announcement said he was “often described as Britain’s foremost philosopher”. He is that and much more.

His knighthood was for “services to philosophy, teaching and public education”. It could just as well have been for his courageous work during the 1980s, when he travelled repeatedly – and at considerable risk – to communist Central Europe, forging links with dissident academics and students in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere.

For those activities, he was in June 1985 detained, expelled from Czechoslovakia, and placed on the communist government’s “Index of Undesirable Persons” – a badge of honour that saw him feted by Vaclav Havel in the Czech Republic after the fall of Communism.

Yesterday a little-known blog and a few tweeters – including, alas, a couple of Labour MPs who should have known better – tried to place him on their own “index of undesirable persons”. Their reasons for doing so were feeble and their evidence scant. But it seems to be mainly because of a speech that he gave in Hungary in 2016, the same year as his knighthood.

The key passage – which is being selectively quoted – is as follows:

“Many of the Budapest intelligentsia are Jewish, and form part of the extensive networks around the Soros Empire. People in these networks include many who are rightly suspicious of nationalism, regard nationalism as the major cause of the tragedy of Central Europe in the 20th Century, and do not distinguish nationalism from the kind of national loyalty that I have defended in this talk. Moreover, as the world knows, indigenous anti-Semitism still plays a part in Hungarian society and politics, and presents an obstacle to the emergence of a shared national loyalty among ethnic Hungarians and Jews.”

For this, he is accused of being someone who “peddles anti-Semitic conspiracy theories”. His accusers demand that the Prime Minister and James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government who on Saturday appointed him to lead the new Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, drop him. That would be grossly wrong.

The hunt is now on, it seems, to find incriminating remarks in his life’s work. He is the author of more than 50 books on philosophy, politics, the arts and more. He has written thousands of essays and articles and given countless interviews (including those in which he has recanted previously asserted beliefs). For example, one article published yesterday afternoon accused him of “controversial comments” about Islamophobia and homosexuality. These former comments are worth quoting:

“Muslims in our society are often victims of prejudice, abuse, and assault, and this is a distressing situation that the law strives to remedy. But when people invent a phobia to explain all criticism of Islam, it is not that kind of abuse that they have in mind. They wish to hide the truth, to shout ‘lies!’ in the face of criticism, and to silence any attempt at discussion. In my view, however, it is time to bring the truth into the open.”

Some may disagree with these views, but must Sir Roger be silenced for holding them? He seems to be alert to the problem of anti-Muslim hatred, but sceptical about the definition of Islamophobia. That may irritate some, but if philosophers cannot think, write and speak freely, what is the point of them?

Similarly, on homophobia, it is clear that he has revised his views. As he told The Guardian in 2010, referring to an earlier essay about homophobia, “I wouldn’t stand by what I said then.” People’s views – especially if they are philosophers, one hopes – change over time and this is perfectly normal. It is also worth noting that his appointment by the Government relates to the design and style of buildings, a fact which risks getting lost in a blizzard of confected outrage.

Three things are worth adding on the subject of antisemitism – and quickly, because as the saying goes, “falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after it”.

First, I have known Sir Roger for many years and do not believe for a moment that he has an antisemitic bone in his body. Indeed, as the final sentence of the above quotation demonstrates, he is acutely aware of the problem of antisemitism in Hungary. Moreover, as his autobiography movingly explains, he is of German-Jewish ancestry himself.

Secondly, Sir Roger is not guilty by association simply for having travelled to Hungary and for knowing Viktor Orban. The facts are that he helped Orban and others set up an independent law school, the Jogusz-Szakkollegium, in the days of communism. He lectured in the school, as part of his mission to encourage young people to work for the liberation of their countries. The school played a significant role in the collapse of the regime.

Another overlooked fact: Sir Roger also personally lobbied Orban’s government not to close down the Central European University in Budapest, founded by Soros. He is not uncritical of Orban and, like many people in the UK, approves of some his policies and disapproves of others.

The third and final point. Antisemitism is a serious problem in countries like Hungary – but also in supposedly more enlightened places like our own, particularly these days on the left of politics. It is a virus that mutates from generation to generation, and must be dealt with vigorously wherever it emerges. No one should accuse anyone else of antisemitism frivolously or for mere political gain. It is a very serious charge and in this case it is entirely without merit.

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Cox is hoisted shoulder-high to the top of our Cabinet League Table

We have occasionally seen precipitous falls in Cabinet members’ scores. Vertiginous rises are rarer. Indeed, it is hard to think of a jump quite like it.

 

When our last Cabinet League Table was published, Geoffrey Cox had neither made his ringing speech to the Conservative Party Conference, nor yet brought a new clarity in Cabinet to what comes before it from the Brexit negotiations. And though he was sat mid-table, his rating was a modest + 11.

This month, it soars by almost 60 points to take him to the table’s top. We have occasionally seen precipitous falls in Cabinet members’ scores. Vertiginous rises are rarer. Indeed, it is hard to think of a jump quite like it. We may now even get a Cox-for-leader ramp, though our view is that he is well placed to take over, in due course, at Justice.

The Attorney General has clearly raised great expectations among the pro-Brexit generality of party members. But their approval is not confined to those who campaigned for Leave during the EU referendum.  Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt are second and third. The Foreign Secretary’s rating has scarcely moved. The Home Secretary’s has actually risen slightly.

Dominic Raab is now fourth. Esther McVey has slid: that will be the impact of the Universal Credit row. Gavin Williamson is out of negative territory. We suspect that Philip Hammond’s score would have been higher had the survey gone out post rather than pre-Budget, but the Softer Brexiteers, as usual, take a pasting, with the Prime Minister’s score down on last month.