D&S column: a busy time as Minister

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in my role as Minister for Local Government.

I’ve been working on initiatives to help people with council tax, ensuring the disabled have better toilet facilities when out and about and making sure our local councils are accountable for the decisions they take.

For the first time the government has produced a practical guide highlighting all the Council Tax discounts and exemptions to ensure families aren’t paying more than their fair share of Council Tax.

Council Tax is a major source of funding for local government, supporting most of the day-to-day services we all use and rely on.

But no one should be paying more than their fair share. I wanted to help people keep more of what they earn which is why my team at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has produced this easily-accessible guide explaining the discounts and exemptions available – many of which people may not know even existed.

Full exemptions include when an entire household are full-time students, if a person has recently moved into hospital or a care home, or if all people in a household have a mental impairment, including conditions like dementia, or are receiving live-in care.

Other advice the guide contains includes family or ‘granny’ annexes discounts, support for those in hardship, the armed forces, if you live on your own and advice when someone passes away. The guide also explains how you can challenge your Council Tax band.

Last week I launched a consultation on how best to make more changing places available for severely disabled people when they are out and about with their family and friends.

I’ve been pushing hard to make this happen ever since a visit to the Dales School at Morton on Swale. A group of parents of disabled children and young adults told me it was almost impossible to enjoy a day out because of the lack of the appropriate toilet facilities – with space, a height-adjustable bench and hoist – at the majority of public attractions they might want to visit.

My department has been working with the Changing Places campaign group and will boost the number of fully accessible changing places by amending the regulations which govern new buildings and major alterations.

It would be a big change to the regulations so the Government has to consult – a process which will take until July. I would urge all interested individuals and organisations to have their say, ideally online. Simply search for “changing places consultation”.

Finally, I recently published an admittedly rather technical document about the way our local councils run themselves. Now, I appreciate “Overview and scrutiny: statutory guidance for councils and combined authorities” is not the snappiest or most exciting of titles but it’s new guidance for councils encouraging them to be as open as possible about the way they conduct their business.

The guidance encourages councils to embrace scrutiny of their spending decisions to achieve value for money, improve services and address any concerns the public might. It stresses the role of their scrutiny committees – made up of councillors – in holding them to account over local decision-making.

The document might not be most people’s idea of bedtime reading but it’s important nevertheless!