Coronavirus latest: update from the LGA's Deputy Chief Executive

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From the LGA's Deputy Chief Executive

27 May 2020

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Dear Colleague,

As Mark continues to enjoy a well-earned break, today’s bulletin is again brought to you by our Deputy Chief Executive, Sarah Pickup.

Thank you to colleagues who were able to join the confidential briefing this afternoon with Nadine Dorries, the Minister of State and Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council and National Test and Trace Advisor. 430 council leaders, mayors, chief executives and directors of public health joined us. This is an incredible turnout, at such short notice, and demonstrates local government’s appetite to utilise our unparalleled experience and expertise to fully play our role in stopping the spread of infection. I hope you found it helpful to discuss local government’s role in the new testing and tracing programme, ahead of today’s launch.

At this evening’s Number 10 Press Conference the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, launched the rollout of the new ‘NHS Test and Trace’ programme for England. This follows on from Friday’s announcement of a new funding package of £300 million for councils to support their role at the heart of the new service in England.

As part of the new measures, councils are being asked to develop and implement tailored outbreak control plans to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in their area. The plans will focus on identifying and containing potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, housing complexes, care homes and schools, ensuring testing capacity is deployed effectively and assisting those self-isolating in their area who need help. In his media interviews this morning, Mr Hancock spoke positively about the role of local government stating that local directors of public health will play an “absolutely crucial role” in decision-making as part of these plans. The Prime Minister, appearing in front of the House of Commons Liaison Committee, also stated that local expertise will be crucial in the success of the new system.

In our media response to today’s announcement, we said directors of public health need to have the necessary powers and authority to lead the response locally and tackle outbreaks early and aggressively. We also emphasised the role of the public in making the programme a success, and how they can be reassured and encouraged if the roll-out of the service is underpinned by the leadership of their local council. In addition, we reiterated the need for councils to have the capacity and necessary data to play our full part in this national programme, so we can understand where the outbreaks are happening and be able to act quickly to contain them.

We are seeking to understand urgently how ‘localised restrictions’ will work in practice, and are raising a range of queries about local powers to enforce lockdown arrangements. We will, of course, keep you updated as we find out more. If you have any particular concerns, insights or queries please let us know by emailing so we can share these with colleagues in central government.

Below is our usual round up of the latest developments from the past 24 hours:

Today’s Ministerial updates

This evening’s Number 10 Press Conference was led by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. He was joined by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer and Baroness Dido Harding, Chair of NHS Improvement and the Test and Trace programme.

Mr Hancock announced that the Government’s NHS Test and Trace service will launch at 9am tomorrow in England. He said the service means the national lockdown can start to be replaced with isolation for those who have been in contact with the virus, and local action where necessary to respond to a flare up.

On testing, he announced that eligibility for a test now extends to include under-fives, so everyone can now get tested if they’re symptomatic.

The Secretary of State said that the contact tracing app being piloted on the Isle of Wight will be rolled out once the Test and Trace service is “embedded”. He said that the app is only one part of the testing and tracing system.

Baroness Harding emphasised that for the system to work, the public need to follow three steps:

  1. If you have one or more symptoms of coronavirus you must immediately self-isolate.
  2. You then must book a test using or call 119
  3. If you test positive, you will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace who will help you identify who you have been in contact with and will gather their contact details. You then must isolate for 14 days.

She finished by thanking local authorities, Public Health England, the NHS and other partners for their hard work throughout the crisis.

Journalists asked how local lockdowns will be implemented. Mr Hancock said that it would be Directors of Public Health who will play a key role, as well as NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England. Baroness Harding added that it will be locally led, with local authorities playing a key role due to their statutory duty to public health. She noted that the £300 million provided to local authorities last week will help councils manage local lockdowns.

Earlier, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson gave evidence to the Liaison Committee, the committee of Select Committee Chairs in the House of Commons. Mr Johnson’s evidence follows the COVID-19 related inquiries organised by the individual select committees, to which we have been giving evidence on behalf of local government. During the session, the Prime Minister discussed a range of issues relating to the Government’s response to the pandemic, including the situation in care homes, the re-opening of schools, the skills system and the economic impact of the pandemic. The Prime Minister confirmed that the NHS test and trace system would launch tomorrow. He said that as the nation progressed to the next phase of the Government’s strategy, the new track and trace system would require a great deal of thought and compliance from the public. In an exchange with LGA Vice-President and Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts, about the involvement of Directors of Public Health in the new system, the Prime Minister said that local expertise was crucial and that it was important that local tracers understood their communities. The Prime Minister said the Government would be working with local outbreak committees and with Local Resilience Forums as part of this.

NHS Test and Trace

The aim of NHS Test and Trace is to control the rate of reproduction (R) and reduce the spread of infection. The service will include 25,000 dedicated contact tracing staff working with Public Health England. It will have the capacity to trace the contacts of 10,000 people who test positive for coronavirus a day, with the potential to be scaled upwards if needed.

The contact tracing service will go live tomorrow. In practice, this means that those who test positive will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and asked to share information about their recent interactions, so those most at risk can be asked to self-isolate. This could include household members, people with whom they have been in direct contact, or within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes. People identified as having been in close contact with someone who has a positive test will need to stay at home for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms. If those in isolation develop symptoms, they can book a test at or by calling 119.

Personal protective equipment

At the Government’s press conference yesterday, the Secretary of State for Health and Adult Social Care, Matt Hancock announced that the Government has signed contracts to manufacture two billion items of PPE in the UK, as well as an additional 3.7 billion gloves.

To help increase the supply of PPE the Government has also signed deals with more than 100 new global suppliers. The NHS Supply Chain now delivers PPE to 58,000 settings including care homes, hospices and community organisations.

This progress of manufacturing PPE within the UK is welcome, as we know the supply of appropriate PPE is one of the biggest limitations to ensuring all relevant staff have access to the equipment they need to safely undertake their jobs.

From this week, GPs and small residential and domiciliary social care services will be invited to register for the online PPE ordering system. A small residential social care provider is defined as one with 24 beds or fewer, while a small domiciliary care provider has 99 clients or fewer.

We have been calling for the online ordering system to be fully operational as soon as possible, as its delayed launch is impacting on councils and care providers’ ability to make sure critical protective equipment gets to the frontline where it is most needed. We are pleased to see small providers prioritised for the online portal, however the current plan will still take several weeks before all small residential social care providers are included. The online portal has been significantly delayed from its original planned launch of 6 April and we continue to lobby government to achieve a sustainable supply for all staff who require PPE, as set out in the latest guidance.

Adult social care

We have been raising your concerns about the delivery of the Care Home Resilience Plans at such short notice. Following this feedback, Ros Roughton, Director General at the Department for Health and Social Care, has confirmed that, while councils still need to submit their plans on Friday as set out in the initial request, these would be regarded as a “first cut” and might not be the final published plan. The plan could continue to be worked on over further days, and be informed by any feedback from the regional review process.

Ros Roughton stressed their two key priorities are to ensure there is data (70 per cent of care home providers have already filled in the Infection Control Fund return, and that local authorities are looking at the position of their care homes on a daily basis so as to know where support or intervention is needed.

Local authorities will need to review care homes’ responses to the 13 questions as part of the Infection Control Fund return to inform completion of your templates for care home support planning. The latest returns are now available on a real-time basis in Capacity Tracker – see Adult Social Care Infection Control Fund Return listed under ‘reports’. Anyone with existing access to the Business Continuity reports in Capacity Tracker will be able to see the new report.

These can be also be seen in the COVID-19 Adult Social Care Tracker tool hosted on LG Inform. To access this system, if your council has not done so already, please ask your Director of Adult Social Service or suitable alternative to email detailing ‘Approved users for COVID-19 reports’ in the subject heading and who they would like to approve within their council for access to these reports. If you are not already registered with LG Inform you will also need to register. The Adult Social Care Tracker tool on LG Inform is updated each morning with an export from Capacity Tracker taken at around 8pm the previous evening.


The Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb MP gave evidence to the Education Committee today as part of their current inquiry on the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services. The Minister was asked a range of questions about the reopening of schools, PPE, vulnerable children and supporting children and young people’s mental health. Responding to a question about some councils not reopening local schools, the Minister said most authorities were ready to open in the week of 1 June.  However, DfE regional teams would continue to engage with and support those authorities experiencing any issues to work through them. David Simmonds MP also asked about the insurance and risk management support available to councils as employers of staff in maintained schools and whether the Government was discussing with insurance companies. Andrew McCully, Director General for Early Years and School Groups at the Department, said that there had been no direct conversation with insurers, but schools would carry out their own risk assessments.

We are finalising our written evidence to the Committee this week, which will highlight how councils have continued to ensure that vulnerable children and the children of key workers are able to remain at school during the pandemic. Our submission will also reiterate our call that Government must ensure there is a clear national message about the safe return of children to schools and that the scientific advice is accessible to parents, in order to support efforts by schools and councils.

Shielding outcomes data

Last week, MHCLG circulated draft guidance to councils proposing to collect a range of data, including retrospectively, on shielding outcomes. The proposal had not been discussed with the Shielding Stakeholder Engagement Forum or the LGA. Following significant concerns raised by the LGA and councils, including in two support sessions arranged to discuss the draft guidance, MHCLG has today written to councils to confirm that it is no longer expecting councils to submit test data by Friday 29 May, nor submit data against their local shielding populations by Friday 8 June. MHCLG intends to draw on the feedback received from councils and come back with a revised proposal, updated guidance and timelines as quickly as possible. This is a positive decision, and we will work with the Forum to seek to shape this proposal as it is refined.

Access to food

As previously mentioned, today the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) launched a toolkit of communications resources. Of course, councils are already doing great work locally to communicate the support available to the clinically extremely vulnerable group of people who are ‘shielding’, and the wider vulnerable group of people who need assistance too. The DEFRA toolkit may help complement councils’ work in this regard. The toolkit includes a template press release, template media Q&A, draft web and print copy and sample graphics, videos and posts for social media.

‘Recovery’ planning

To support you in your local planning of the next phase, you may be interested in the weekly Manchester Briefing on COVID-19, produced by the University of Manchester’s Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute. The briefing is aimed at those involved in planning and implementing recovery from COVID-19. It brings together international lessons and examples, as well as other information from a range of sources, including focusing on one key topic each week.

Business support

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published their weekly update on the amount of funding distributed through the Small Business Grants Fund scheme and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Business Grants Fund by each council. As of 26 May, councils’ efforts mean that £9.9 billion has been paid out to businesses in relation to more than 804,000 properties. This represents 80.2 per cent of the total allocation and 84.2 per cent of the total number of properties identified by councils as eligible to receive the grants.

Local government finances

A survey by ITV News has found that councils across England and Wales will need further funding to prevent the need for in-yea reductions to services. More than 200 of you responded to the survey. The report features our own view that councils need ongoing funding to meet the full cost to councils of COVID-19 cost pressures and lost income. We continue to reiterate, both in public and private, the spiralling costs, demand pressures and huge drops in income councils 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.

To help us build our case, we have received the returns from the survey MHCLG circulated earlier this month and we are analysing what you have said about the pressures your council is facing. We will keep you posted on our plans to discuss future funding in the media and more widely this week.

Webinar on COVID-19 and ethnicity

A Public Health England Review on the impact of COVID-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, led by Professor Kevin Fenton, will explore the data which points to people from BAME backgrounds being disproportionately affected by the outbreak. Next week, Professor Fenton will join us in a webinar on COVID-19 and ethnicity to talk about the review outcomes and discuss the important role of local government in mitigating the disproportionate risks posed by the pandemic to our BAME communities. The webinar, free to councils and Government departments, takes place on Tuesday 2 June at 9.30 – 11.00am and you can sign up on the LGA website.

I hope you found this update helpful.

Best wishes,

Sarah Pickup
Deputy Chief Executive
Local Government Association

Sarah Pickup