first magazine: COVID-19 bulletin

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First logo 2019

'first' is the LGA's monthly membership magazine for our 18,200 councillors and local authority chief executives in England and Wales

Dear Reader

It’s been another very busy week for all of us in local government as the Government published its COVID-19 recovery strategy and a flurry of related guidance, including on spending time outdoors, safety on public transport, extending the jobs retention 'furlough' scheme to October, planning (see below) and restarting the housing market. We have updated our own guidance on the furlough scheme and summarised the latest guidance on safe working in one place on our website.

I know many of your councils have been working hard to prepare for people taking advantage of the new travel freedoms to visit parks, beaches and other beauty spots. So it’s been great to see how the availability of car parking, public toilets, refuse services and social distancing measures are being communicated at such a fast pace.

After much good work by the LGA on lobbying government, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced another £600 million for infection control in English care homes (see below). We continue to press for the additional resources councils and care homes need to tackle the outbreak.

The latest figures on community deaths from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that while deaths linked to coronavirus in care homes have started to fall, there were still 8,312 registered up to 1 May. Other ONS figures show that social care workers are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than healthcare workers. Every death from this virus is a tragedy, and the LGA continues call for up-to-date contact tracing data to be shared with councils and for the Government’s online personal protective equipment (PPE) ordering system to be fully operational as soon as possible.

It is vital that measures to relax the restrictions in society are done carefully. The protection of our most vulnerable residents, and the frontline workers who look after them and keep our services running, must be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

As always, if you have any issues facing your services or wider community please do continue to email us on, highlight them in your conversations with our regional principal advisers, follow @LGAComms and @LGAnews on Twitter for daily updates, and check our coronavirus hub for the latest government and LGA guidance.

Councillor James Jamieson is LGA Chairman


Roadmap out of lockdown

The Government has published a 60-page recovery plan setting out how and when the UK will adjust its response to the coronavirus crisis.

Changes implemented this week include allowing people to spend more leisure time outside, encouraging those who cannot work from home to return to work, and allowing retailers such as hardware stores and garden centres to re-open. From 1 June at the earliest, there could be a phased reopening of shops and some primary aged pupils and children in early years settings could return to school (see below). From 4 July, some hospitality businesses and other public places could reopen. The LGA has highlighted once again how councils’ role as leaders of place during this pandemic has been vital, and how they continue to work day and night to protect the most vulnerable, help local businesses, keep important services running and support national efforts to defeat this disease


Infection control in care homes

The Prime Minister has announced an additional £600 million in funding for infection control in care homes. The LGA has continued to lobby for additional resources for councils and care homes, and this now takes the total funding to local government to £3.8 billion. In our media response we said this will help councils’ public health teams in their efforts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, and that the Government now needs to share up-to-date data with councils, as part of any contact tracing programme, to understand where outbreaks are happening and be able to act quickly to contain them. Ministers have also asked local directors of public health to take charge of COVID-19 testing in English care homes.


Council CX leads tracing programme

The Government has added two new members to the team of experts working on the coronavirus test and trace programme. Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, will be leading on tracing. He's joined by Sarah-Jane Marsh, Chief Executive of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital, who will be the lead on testing.


PPE quality concerns

Councils have recorded a 40 per cent increase in reported scams since the start of the national emergency, with officers continuing to seize illegal personal protective equipment (PPE) – including more than half a million substandard face masks by one council alone.

The Government has issued an urgent alert to recall 15.8 million protective goggles due to safety concerns.


Virtual planning

The Government has set out its expectations for how the planning system should be operating during the COVID-19 emergency in a written ministerial statement and updated planning guidance.

It considers that online inspection of documents should be the default position across all planning regimes, and it is actively exploring all options to achieve this. Importantly, councils and developers can now publicise planning applications through social media, using digital channels in place of letters and leaflets. The updated regulations suggest a council could also be discharged of its obligation to publish notices in a newspaper if it is not reasonably practicable to do for reasons related to COVID-19. Relaxing these rules is something the LGA has pushed for, for many years, and it is good news that councils will be given flexibility during this time.


Funding for cycling and walking

A £250 million emergency active travel fund will help encourage cycling and walking through new infrastructure such as pop-up bike lanes, protected space for cyclists, wider pavements, safer junctions and bus-only corridors. The Government will fund and work with local authorities on the measures, with the aim of encouraging more people to walk or cycle to work to relieve pressure on public transport. It has also issued guidance for councils on reallocating road space for cyclists and pedestrians in response to COVID-19.

The LGA is making the case for long-term certainty of infrastructure funding to ensure a sustained increase in active and cleaner travel.


School opening concerns

The Department for Education has published an initial planning framework to help school leaders and trusts in England to start thinking through the steps they might need to take to open their schools for more pupils. The department has emphasised the need for all schools to work with their councils to determine what services they require and agree on any specific arrangements during this period.

Education unions have published a joint statement calling on the Government to push back the 1 June date for inviting reception and year 1 children back into primary schools.


£9 billion paid out to businesses

As of 10 May, £9.1 billion in support for small and medium-sized enterprises had been paid out to more than 742,000 properties by councils, according to government figures. This represents 74.1 per cent of the total allocation and 77.6 per cent of the total number of properties identified by councils as eligible to receive the grants.


UK furlough scheme extended

The UK scheme to pay wages of workers on leave because of coronavirus will be extended to October, the Chancellor has said. Rishi Sunak confirmed that employees will continue to receive 80 per cent of their monthly wages up to £2,500 but said the Government will ask companies to start sharing the cost of the scheme from August. Some 7.5 million people are now covered by the scheme which has cost £14 billion a month.



The LGA continues to update responses to your most frequently asked questions, with topics covered including PPE, finance, children and young people, homelessness and housing, social care, and management of deaths.


Local coronavirus data

The LGA’s LG Inform reports include the latest COVID-19 data from Public Health England, showing the current position for councils and changes over time. The local authority report shows a map of English authorities over time, and the England overview report contains details of the top 10 councils for lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases.


Councillor guidance

The LGA has published guidance for councillors on community leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, and on how they can help with their council’s response. ‘COVID-19 outbreak: councillor guidance’ highlights the role that individual ward councillors can play in supporting their communities through these difficult times.


Economy shrinks

The UK economy shrank by 2 per cent in the three months to the end of March, according to recent Office for National Statistics figures – the biggest economic decrease the UK has seen the since the financial crash of 2008. Gross domestic production (GDP) contracted 5.8 per cent in March alone. 


Mental health and wellbeing

Next week (18-24 May) marks Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme this year is kindness. To celebrate the week, the LGA is promoting examples of kindness that councils have seen and been involved in during the coronavirus pandemic. Please email with any relevant stories and photos of your local heroes, whether residents or council colleagues.