In London yesterday, principally for a meeting of the Local Government Association Executive Committee. The main items on the agenda were connected items of local government finance and welfare reform. The item of most immediate concern is reform of Council Tax benefit where government is planning to hand it over to local authorities lock, stock and barrel. Just the sort of devolution we've been looking for you might say. Well yes but unfortunately they are only going to provide 90% of the current funding and still expect a large number of recipients to be 100% protected. One of the London boroughs ( A conservative one ) has crunched some numbers on this which suggest that almost 4000 of their 20,000 Council tax benefit claimants will receive a cut of 49.5%.
Coming down the road after that are the universal credit and the benefits cap. Clearly the idea of the benefits cap is popular with the public as is the notion of dealing with " benefit scroungers " but unfortunately the cap as currently envisaged is a very blunt instrument and it's families with children that are most likely to be bludgeoned with it.
A special meeting of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority( CA ) and AGMA Executive today but I can't tell you a great deal about it because, unusually, all three items discussed were held in part B, ie with press and public excluded. I can however tell you the subject matter. The CA discussed where we are up to with our Deal for Cities negotiations, an attempt to get more devolution for the Manchester city-region particularly around economic development and job creation. As a subset of that we had a more detailed look at a Greater Manchester bid to the Urban Broadband Fund which if successful would be a step to ensuring that all businesses and homes in the city are within reach of higher speed broadband services than those now commonly available. AGMA Executive, as a body that brings together all the shareholders in Manchester Airport Group, was looking at airport strategy and how in the medium to long-term we maximise both the financial and economic benefits to the city-region and get the best value for money for our Council tax payers.