Coronavirus latest: update from the LGA's Chief Executive

Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.


LGA Logo with padding 2019

From the LGA's Chief Executive

18 May 2020

Twitter IconLinkedIn IconFacebook IconYoutube icon

Dear Colleague,

I hope you enjoyed a restful weekend and you are feeling refreshed ahead of what will inevitably be another busy week for local government.

Thank you to colleagues who responded to Tom Riordan’s call over the weekend for councils to assist with the early development of “local outbreak management plans”, as part of his new role as the Senior Responsible Officer for COVID-19 tracing. I've written today to the significant number of colleagues who showed an interest regarding next steps. We really appreciate local government’s commitment to getting this right, so we can slow down the spread of infection and move towards a ‘new normal’. Things have progressed with “test, track and trace” today – with all symptomatic people over the age of five now eligible for testing and a loss of smell or taste being added to the list of COVID-19 symptoms which send a signal to people and their household to self-isolate. You can read more about this below.

As COVID-19 is best understood as a pattern of local outbreaks, rather than a national pandemic with a similar impact in every community, councils are uniquely placed to help ramp up the testing and tracing needed to defeat the virus. We continue to call for the Government to make use of the local knowledge and expertise we hold, to share vital and up-to-date data with us, and to accompany this with consistent and ongoing funding. It was therefore good to hear the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, state that working with local government is incredibly important to getting the response to COVID-19 right in his update to the House of Commons this afternoon.

The Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG’s) May financial survey closed on Friday evening. I hear unofficially that the response rate has exceeded last time's 97 per cent so big thanks for participating. We expect the data returns to show the impact of a full month of cost pressures and income reductions and of lower council tax and business rates collection rates.

With this in mind, you may have seen coverage over the weekend of our call on your behalf for councils to get all the resources you need to cope with this pandemic. This included featuring in a lead article in the Sunday Times. We continue to reiterate, both in public and private, the spiralling costs, demand pressures and huge drops in income you are facing. We are calling on the Treasury to build on the billions of pounds in funding already secured by making good on the Government’s promises that councils will receive the support needed.

As part of our work to keep the issue of local government funding as high up the busy news agenda as possible, we are talking to BBC Radio 4 Today, You and Yours and Channel 4 News – who have been out filming in sunny Somerset today – as they look to develop news stories this week. We are also aware that ITV News has sent out a survey to your press teams, with a deadline of Thursday, on the financial pressures you are facing. The LGA media team are in touch with ITV producers so we can help steer their coverage in the right direction. As ever, if your councils is keen to take part in any filming or interviews please let know.

We know that many of your councillors have benefited from and enjoyed taking part in our development programmes. We have been reshaping our Leadership Support and today launched a new two-part webinar on the role of the ward councillor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please do share with your councillors. 

With thanks to all who have contributed, our collection of good practice examples continue to grow. The most recent additions fall under the categories communicating to your residents, distributing food, providing emergency housing, educating primary school children remotely, civil resilience and more. As we move toward through the phases of the pandemic, this week we are calling for ‘recovery’ related examples, including steps being taken to stand up services, maintain employee safety and reduce anxiety as more people begin to return to work. We'd love to know more about the things you think are going particularly well. Please email to let us know.

As usual, below is an update on the latest developments of interest to councils:

Ministerial updates

Today’s Number 10 Press Conference was led by First Secretary, Dominic Raab. He was joined by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer.

Mr Raab ran through the current Government advice and the steps that will be taken over the coming months to slowly reduce social distancing measures. He highlighted the Health Secretary’s announcement than anyone in the UK aged 5 and over who has symptoms will be able to be tested for coronavirus. He also announced that 21,000 people had now been recruited as contact tracers and call handlers as part of the test and trace programme.

Professor Van-Tam highlighted that the number of cases and the number of people dying of the disease are slowly declining.

During an oral statement in the House of Commons this afternoon, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock also provided four key updates on the COVID-19 pandemic. First, he highlighted how the Government is working to protect care homes by providing an additional £600 million, prioritising testing in care homes, ensuring each care home has a named NHS contact, and requiring local authorities to provide daily reviews of care homes to ensure they have the resources they need. Second, he confirmed that the four Chief Medical Officers have updated the case definition of COVID-19 to include a loss of smell and taste. Third, he announced that the Government is expanding eligibility for testing, and everyone aged 5 and over with symptoms will now be eligible for a test. Lastly, he confirmed that Government has recruited over 21,000 contact tracers, which includes 7,500 health care professionals to help with contact tracing. This will be supported by the new NHS app, to enable Government to roll out a national test and trace service.

Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jonathan Ashworth MP, stated that he thinks Government should be making better use of local public health professionals in contact tracing – a point we have been making repeatedly. In response, the Secretary of State said that Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, has been asked to lead a part of the new integrated national and local test and trace programme, and stated that working with local government is incredibly important to getting the response to COVID-19 right.

Sunday’s conference was led by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma. His update focused on the search for a vaccine and treatment. This is being led by Oxford University and Imperial College, two of the world leaders in their field. An extra £84 million has been provided to fund the building of a rapid deployment facility to ensure a vaccine is found and can be made widely available in the UK, with a deal signed with AstraZeneca for 30 million doses to be administered by September (100 million in total) if a vaccine is found. However, he warned that it is always possible that no vaccine is found. Mr Sharma also updated that six drugs aimed at fighting the virus have now entered clinical trials.

Saturday’s conference was led by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson. He stated that the country is moving from level 4 to level 3 in the new alert system devised by the Government. In seeking to reassure parents and teachers about the phased re-opening of schools in England for some year groups potentially from 1 June, Mr Williamson said this would only happen if the Government’s five tests have been met at that point. The children identified as possibly returning had been prioritised "because they stand to lose more" by missing school. He said the Government would be deploying track and tracing in conjunction with the reopening of schools to prevent any dramatic rise of cases. This would involve school children and their families being eligible for testing from 1 June, alongside staff who are already able to access testing. This announcement was made prior to the update today that everyone over the age of five in the UK can now be tested.

The next phase 

Last Friday, our political leaders discussed the LGA’s priorities for the next few months as councils and communities face new challenges. Our leaders were very clear that communities and councils had stepped up during the crisis and that only councils had the legitimacy to pull together partners quickly to reform and create new support and services. They were also clear that, to address the challenges now facing communities, a similar effort was needed over the next few months with place leadership at the centre. The onus is clearly on the LGA and councils to make this case for local leaders to have the powers and levers they needed to address the challenges ahead.

We want to make sure that our lobbying for councils on “recovery” is based on your experience at the front line and we would particularly like feedback on:

  • What are you most proud of in how your council has handled the crisis during the most difficult period for your communities?
  • What are you most worried about in the next few months?
  • What new levers and powers do you need in order to help support your communities into recovery?

We'd be delighted to receive your views. Please send them to

Adult social care

Further to the announcement last week of £600 million in ringfenced support for care homes’ infection control, the Government has released the allocations for each local authority area. These are allocated on a per bed basis, including self-funder beds. Councils and their partners can access support from our Care and Health Improvement Programme to develop their resilience plans including to facilitate the local conversations needed to gather information or agree needs and next steps. Contact your regional Care and Health Improvement Adviser or Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) lead, or email

Today ADASS published the results of their rapid survey which looks at how councils are using the additional funding from the Government to support local care providers to deal with short-term cash flow issues. This survey shows councils are doing all they can to support care providers, despite being under huge pressure ourselves, to combat COVID-19 and protect our elderly and most vulnerable residents. We continue to make the point that, while emergency funding made available to councils and providers has helped during the pandemic, future funding support will be needed to help meet increasing demand and costs. Ultimately, only long-term sustainable funding will future-proof adult social care.

Test, track and trace

This afternoon the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, announced that all symptomatic people in the UK are now eligible to receive COVID-19 tests. Details of this announcement have been circulated in a letter to chief executives, leaders, directors of public health and directors of adult social services. The letter includes a commitment to work closely with local authorities and other partners to continue to develop the test and trace service, and to facilitate more local ownership of testing. The ambition is for a national testing programme, with a local delivery system. 

The announcement means that from today, everyone aged over five years old in England, Scotland, Wales  and Northern Ireland who is showing coronavirus symptoms is eligible to book a swab test to find out if they have the virus. People can register for a test at, after checking their symptoms.

People in Wales can ask for a home test kit on that page but. for drive-through appointments at regional test sites in Wales, people should register on the Welsh Government website. A new 119 phone service to book tests will be available in England and Wales for those who do not have any access to the internet, or who have difficulty with the digital portals.

The Government is ensuring that essential workers are prioritised for testing to ensure that those who run our essential services can still access a test when they need one. The existing testing arrangements for care homes in England, and essential workers and members of their household have symptoms, remain the same. 

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the Government announced they will be hosting a large-scale study of COVID-19 immunity. Up to 20,000 people are being asked to take part in a new government-funded study to further track the extent of the coronavirus spread across England, Scotland and Wales.

COVID-19 symptoms

A loss or changed sense of normal smell or taste (anosmia) has been added to the list of COVID-19 symptoms. From today, all individuals should self-isolate if they develop a new continuous cough, fever or anosmia. The individual’s household should also self-isolate for 14 days as per the current guidelines and they should stay at home for seven days, or longer if they still have symptoms other than cough or loss of sense of smell or taste.


The planning guide for primary schools issued by the Department for Education (DfE) on Friday (15 May) is to help school leaders prepare to open their schools for more pupils. We have produced a workforce summary on the guidance to support you as it covers a whole range of topics, from preparing the school site and reviewing staffing plans, to practical steps to reducing risk and managing pupil and staff wellbeing and mental health. The guidance references the need for councils to sign off plans and to be party to the decisions. There clearly is room for local decision making in this guidance and talking the logistics through is a vital part of this process. We are continuing to encourage councils and schools to maintain local engagement with their recognised trade unions.

On Friday the DfE also published an update to the ‘schools Q&A’ document: ‘Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak’ which includes new and updated Q&A’s on a range of issues including schools re-opening, May bank holiday and half term, disciplinary processes and school trips.

You will have seen that the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, intervened into the debate about schools potentially returning from 1 June. She warned that “decisions about returning children to school cannot wait until a vaccine is available” and urged for constructive discussions to take place between the Government and teaching unions. Her office also published research showing nurseries attached to NHS hospitals that have remained open during the past few weeks have not suffered from COVID-19 outbreaks.

Mental health, wellbeing and tackling loneliness

Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme for the week is kindness. The Mental Health Foundation has produced a number of resources to help raise awareness around mental health and what can be done to tackle the issue.

As part of the Government's plan to tackle loneliness during the coronavirus lockdown, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has launched a £5 million to fund national organisations working to tackle loneliness and build social connections. The objectives of this fund are to provide effective, targeted relief for those most at risk of loneliness as a result of COVID-19. The fund will make grants of between £500,000 and £1,000,000. The deadline for applications is 29 May 2020. Further information and details of how to apply are available on the website.

Public transport and street works

Today the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, updated the House of Commons on the Government’s recent transport investment including the new grant and loan funding to Transport for London. Mr Shapps has pledged that his Department will continue to work with metro mayors, local authorities and transport operators to ensure that public transport is available for those who need it, including any ramp up in services required as people start to return to work. If there are any issues you think we should be raising in our own engagement with the DfT please let us know by emailing

The Joint Authorities Group (JAG) UK, the professional body representing Highways Authorities on issues concerning street works, have issued updated guidance on how to proceed with works under current Government social distancing guideline. They have also created an index of all their current guidance notes relating to COVID-19 issues for different areas of street works activity.  

High streets and town centres

With footfall levels 80 per cent below 12 months ago, our high streets and town centre are facing acute challenges. We know councils were already working hard to revitalise town centres and the pandemic will now require a sharper focus on local efforts. In response, the High Streets Task Force, led by the Institute of Place Management, have developed a series of resources to help high streets through the pandemic, including a COVID 19 recovery framework.

Over the coming weeks the LGA will be working again with the People and Places Partnership to update our own guidance on revitalising high streets and town centres – until then, councils may find this draft manual useful. 

Children's services

Today we have responded to a report by Barnardo’s on the impact of COVID-19 on councils’ children’s services. We raised our concerns about the potential ‘hidden harm’ among children and repeated our call for children’s services to be properly funded by Government to tackle this.

Social housing

The Minister of State for Housing, Christopher Pincher, has published a letter to social housing residents in England setting out all the measures that are in place to support social housing residents during the next phase in the fight against the virus. This includes information about maintenance and repairs, gas safety checks, remediation works, home moves, support for domestic abuse victims and anti-social behaviour.

Culture, hospitality, tourism and leisure

The LGA has been invited to represent councils on several of the sub-groups supporting the Government's new recovery taskforces, including those on libraries, museums and galleries, sport, and young people. Please send any thoughts on the roles of these services in the economic recovery, and what is needed to maximise their contribution, to

Armed Forces

The COVID-19 Impact Programme is a £6 million Ministry of Defence fund for charities to ensure that people from Armed Forces communities can keep accessing important services, where resources for these services have been impacted by the pandemic. It will be administered by The Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust. The £6 million fund is available as grants of up to £60,000. In exceptional circumstances, grants of up to £125,000 or more may be awarded. To apply, charities must be working in one of nine key areas. These are support to the elderly (including care homes), mental and physical health, welfare, domestic violence, housing, the criminal justice system, service families (including childcare), bereavement and employment. The deadline for applications is 29 May 2020.

Access to food, vulnerable people and shielding

The Ministry for Communities, Housing and Local Government will be issuing guidance to inform a ‘soft launch’ of a data collection from councils to shape the work of their Shielding Programme. Outcome-based data on three key areas – food, basic care, and those the national shielding website/helpline have not been able to contact or successfully register – will be tested. We will be keen to feed views from local government during the next two weeks as part of ongoing engagement with council representatives and central government. We will also continue to raise issues around the need to support local solutions for both the shielded and non-shielded vulnerable people, including effective data sharing by government.

Council workforce

In the light of the current challenges the public sector is facing due to COVID-19, the deadline for reporting trade union facility time data has been extended from 31 July to 30 September 2020. The online reporting service will launch on on 3 June.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

You will be aware that the investigatory work of the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has been suspended in recent weeks, following lobbying from the LGA for councils’ capacity to be freed up to focus on the emergency response. Following consultation with councils, the LGO has agreed a modest return to their casework where councils’ have capacity to engage. For now, they will only be working on limited numbers of pre-existing cases which are in the system, many of which will already be near to resolution. This initial phased return will inform the LGO’s plans. Of course, we continue to make clear that councils’ take complaints and feedback incredibly seriously and will be listening to, and responding to, pressing concerns from the public during this time.

Parliament this week

Our Parliamentary engagement this week will focus on building consensus for the powers, flexibilities and funding councils needed to support communities through the emergency response, and the next stages of tackling this pandemic. On Wednesday I will be joining our parliamentary Vice-Presidents via Zoom to highlight the outstanding efforts of councils and our shared priorities going forward. Our Public Affairs Team will also be briefing parliamentarians ahead of key debates and statements. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will be in front of the Lords Economic Affairs Committee on Tuesday. We will be submitting written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into online harms, the Education Committee inquiry into adult skills and lifelong learning as well briefing ahead of a House of Lords debate on museums, galleries and historic buildings in the House of Lords where we will highlight the loss of income councils are facing.

LGA events and conferences

This week we re-launch our conference and events programme – albeit virtually. The first event is on Thursday 21 May, when we will host a webinar on supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our communities during COVID-19. You can book your place on the Zoom webinar, which is free to all councils and government departments, via the LGA website. Look out for further virtual events over the coming weeks which we will promote through our bulletins, on our website and through first magazine.

Best wishes,

Mark Lloyd
Chief Executive
Local Government Association

Mark Lloyd