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

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From the LGA's Deputy Chief Executive

29 May 2020

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Dear Colleague,

The need to provide councils with long-term, certain and sustainable funding is something that has always been central to our lobbying efforts on your behalf. This is especially necessary during the current climate, as councils are balancing your legal obligations to set financially sound budgets alongside the commitment to do our utmost to keep supporting communities and local economies through the pandemic.

Our analysis of your latest monthly return to MHCLG show that the extra costs and losses of income incurred by local government, as a whole, over the past three months amounted to £3.2 billion, which, at a national level, has been met in full by the two tranches of vital emergency funding provided so far. This is positive and a testament to councils’ campaigning efforts – and to the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, for listening to us.

However, given that councils need to know they can balance their budgets this year if they are to avoid the need for in year savings and cuts to services, we are seeking an assurance that all additional costs and losses incurred as a direct result of COVID-19 will be funded by the Treasury. According to our analysis of the returns to MHCLG, councils could need as much as £6 billion more to cover the costs of coping with the pandemic during this financial year.

This further funding will not only help councils support our communities to beat this virus now, but also to help support the nation as we tackle the unprecedented social and economic task ahead and move into the next phase. These are all points our Chairman, Cllr James Jamieson, made in his interview with Channel 4 News today which we hope will air this evening.

If you have any particular concerns or issues you think we need to be aware of – on finances or elsewhere – as we raise local government’s priorities at the highest levels, please email us on coronavirus.enquiries@local.gov.uk or liaise with your Principal Adviser.

Next week will be another busy one for local government, as we continue to balance our role as local leaders providing highly-valued services that support our communities with our public health responsibilities. From Monday, groups of up to six people from different households will be able to meet outside in England, as long as households adhere to strict social distancing guidelines, open markets and car show rooms can reopen schools and early years settings will begin to welcome to more children. On the latter issue which I know is a priority for councils, you can read more below.

Next week is also National Volunteering Week, which provides an opportunity to highlight the phenomenal work councils have been undertaking over the past few months to work with the voluntary sector, and coordinate volunteers, in order to provide the best possible support to those in need. We are keen to promote what you have been doing on social media, so please do encourage your council to tag us (@LGAComms) in your posts and use the official hashtag: #VolunteersWeek

Below the usual round up of the latest developments from the past 24 hours, and at the bottom of this email are some non-coronavirus items from across the week which may be of interest to your teams:

This evening’s Number 10 Press Conference – Jobs Retention Scheme

This evening’s Number 10 Press Conference was led by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak. He was joined by Professor Stephen Powis, the National Medical Director for NHS England. Mr Sunak outlined changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme that will be introduced in the coming months.

From 1 July the furlough scheme will enable employers to decide the right arrangements for them and their furloughed staff, meaning furloughed staff could return on a part-time basis. From August HMRC will not reimburse any pension or national insurance costs. From September employers will start being required to pay a proportion of furloughed workers' wages (10 per cent) and this proportion will increase in October (to 20 per cent). Mr Sunak confirmed the scheme will continue to operate until the end of October. The LGA’s guidance on the scheme will be updated on Monday when all the new government publications on the scheme have been reviewed.

The Chancellor also announced that the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will also be extended. As many as 2.3 million people in self-employment have already benefited from the scheme, and applicants will receive 70 per cent of the average monthly trading profits from their business – paid out in a single instalment covering three months' worth of profits.

Finally, the Chancellor was asked about the impact of the pandemic on the public sector, which is not eligible for the furlough scheme. In his response, Mr Sunak said that many organisations in the sector are in "multi-year" pay deals which will be reviewed in the normal way.

Schools and SEND

From Monday, schools and early years settings will be permitted to re-open to more children. We continue to push for decisions on school reopenings to be made locally. As there are different COVID-19 infection rates around the country, we are making the case that schools and councils must be able to work together to decide how and when schools open to more children. Some areas may want to work faster than others. We are also pushing for crucial testing data to be shared with councils, to help enable greater confidence for teachers and parents around school openings, and powers to manage outbreaks in places like schools, care homes, businesses and communities if new COVID-19 clusters emerge.

Ahead of next week, the Department for Education (DfE) has published new guidance for schools on taking the attendance register during the outbreak. This advises schools to resume taking an attendance register, record attendance and absence according to the codes suggested in the document, and submit daily attendance figures using the educational setting status form by midday everyday.

DfE has also published updated guidance for schools and local authorities on free meal arrangements. This includes information on provision of free school meals to eligible pupils where they are staying at home because they, or wider family members are displaying COVID-19 symptoms, or where the school is only open for certain groups. There is also guidance on the temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to some children of groups who have no recourse to public funds, which includes a sample application form councils or schools can provide to carers for assessing eligibility.

The Secretary of State for Education has now issued a second notice to modify section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014 (the duty to secure special educational provision and health care provision in accordance with an EHC plan). This modifies

the duty on councils to secure or arrange special educational provision and on health commissioning bodies to arrange health provision in accordance with EHC plans, so that they can discharge this by using their ‘reasonable endeavours’. The new notice applies from 1 June 2020 to 30 June 2020.

Early years

We know there has been confusion in some areas around the use of community venues and places of worship for childcare provision, as these venues are currently supposed to be closed. We have been working with the DfE to urgently clarify the position and can confirm that as of Monday 1 June, community centres and places of worship will be allowed to open for providers on the Early Years Register which usually use those premises to deliver formal childcare. The relevant regulations are being amended to clarify this position.

Homelessness

We have seen the letter that was sent to council chief executives by the Homelessness Minister, Luke Hall MP, yesterday. This outlines the government’s request that councils – with government support - develop plans for moving the people accommodated in hotels into alternative accommodation with the appropriate support by 11 June. As always, we would like to offer our support to councils with the important task of developing move-on plans. Next week we  plan to publish a briefing for councils on how to procure and finance accommodation and support, to support you in planning for the successful move-on of people accommodated in hotels.

We continue to make the case to government for the additional support needed by councils to ensure that move-on efforts are a success, including lobbying for clarity on future funding, particularly for those with no recourse to public funds. We will be making this case as we attend the Government’s Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel next week, as well as the first meeting of the Local Authority Homelessness Group which has been set up to feed into the move-on workstream led by Dame Louise Casey.

Test and trace

Following the launch of NHS Test and Trace earlier this week, Public Health England (PHE) and DHSC have published a series of new guidance. Some of this was included in my note to you yesterday, but I thought it would be helpful to include it again all in one place.

PHE has now shared guidance for households with possible COVID-19 infection and guidance for contacts of people with possible or confirmed COVID-19 infection who do not live with the person. DHSC has shared guidance how the NHS Test and Trace system works, as well as workplace guidance. There is also a Q&A document on the new system for external stakeholders.

We continue to reiterate the crucial role councils can play in the success of the new service, and the need for the extra £300 million of funding for local outbreak containment plans to reach councils as soon as possible. The Chairman of our Community Wellbeing Board, Cllr Ian Hudspeth, has made these points in an interview with ITV News today, which we hope will feature in tonight’s programme.

Adult social care

We are continuing to press the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on the conditions linked to the £600 million Infection Control Grant, particularly relating to its scope, the reporting requirements and the issues related to state aid. We are currently working with colleagues from DHSC, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and councils to explore the issues and how they might be managed.

Our briefing aims to assist councils with understanding the new grant and its requirements. This has also been shared with councils’ Directors of Adult Social Services.

Mental health

The Department of Health and Social Care has today announced that they have awarded £5 million to local community projects supporting people with their mental health during the pandemic.

On mental health, a reminder that we have collated a range of resources on promoting good mental wellbeing and tackling isolation on our COVID-19 web hub (the ‘mental health’ drop down). This includes the guide we have jointly produced with the Association of Directors of Public Health on the public mental health and wellbeing issues arising from the outbreak, and our pack of wellbeing information to support the wellbeing of social care staff during this time, produced jointly with NHS England. There is also a range of resources from the Government and organisations including Carers UK, the Children’s Society, Mind, Age UK and the Alzheimer’s Society.

The LGA also held a very successful webinar on 21 May on supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our communities during COVID-19, and the presentations and a recording are available in our past events sections of the website.   

NHS Seacole Centre

Today, the first hospital dedicated to helping coronavirus patients recover from the long-term effects of the illness has received its first patients. The NHS Seacole Centre in Surrey is operating out of Headley Court, a former rehabilitation centre for injured soldiers.

Smoking cessation

There has been praise for councils’ public health teams today in a press release from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). This comes as Public Health England has published new advice for people who smoke or vape during the outbreak, recommending that they quit. The ASH survey found that councils have “risen to the challenge” of providing these people with support, as within a month of lockdown most councils had services in place to help smokers quit, and around a quarter reported an increase in smokers seeking help to quit. As Cllr Ian Husdpeth, Chair of our Community Wellbeing Board, said in his response, we are enormously proud of the teams around the country who have radically altered their services to tackle a leading cause of poor respiratory health in the midst of a respiratory pandemic.

ASH are encouraging people looking to quit to visit todayistheday.co.uk, which includes information on the health and financial benefits of stopping smoking as well as the support available to achieve that aim.

Dentistry

This week NHS England and Improvement wrote to dental practices setting out the next steps for delivery of NHS dental services in England, as the NHS moves into the second phase of the COVID-19 response. The letter asks all dental practices to commence opening from Monday 8 June for all face to face care, where practices assess that they have the necessary infection prevention and control and PPE requirements in place.

NHS Volunteer Responders scheme

The NHS Volunteer Responders scheme has recently completed 210,000 tasks. NHS, social care, and council professionals in England can continue to refer any vulnerable people who are self-isolating to NHS Volunteer Responders for help with tasks such as collecting shopping and prescribed medicines or driving people to medical appointments or for a friendly ‘check-in and chat’ call. Referrals can be made through the NHS Volunteer Responders referrers’ portal or by calling 0808 196 3382. The scheme is also open for self-referrals for people who have been advised to shield or are self-isolating.

A factsheet has been published for volunteers who are helping homeless people and NHS England and NHS Improvement is currently exploring how volunteers could help with this over the longer term, for example by signposting NHS Volunteer Responders to more specific homelessness volunteering opportunities. Additional training resources for NHS Volunteer Responders have also recently been published.

Financial hardship

A new report from the Children’s Society warns that some families, including those affected by the pandemic, have nowhere to turn in a financial crisis. We continue to highlight the vital role of the local safety net in providing timely, targeted and effective support to households at risk of financial hardship. We have also promoted councils’ efforts in rapidly expanding existing support to the meet the needs of low-income households who are struggling financially, or who have become economically vulnerable. As many councils will find it hard to sustain the levels of support that people are likely to need, we are calling for councils to have the funding and flexibilities to better support low-income and disadvantaged households.

Public transport

The Department for Transport (DfT) has written to all local transport authority transport officers outside of London with further information on the COVID-19 Bus Services Support Grant (Restart) Funding. This follows the Secretary of State for Transport’s announcement on 23 May 2020, that an additional £254 million will be provided to support bus services. If anyone would like access to the letters and further information then please contact Kamal Panchal at kamal.panchal@local.gov.uk.

Business support

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have today published a press release encouraging eligible small and micro businesses that are not eligible for other grant schemes to apply for the Local Authority Discretionary Grants Fund. This directs businesses who think they may be eligible, based on the criteria outlined by BEIS, to visit their council’s website to find out how to apply. It then goes on to explain that councils will run an application process and decide whether to offer the businesses a grant.

The Government is working with business and trade associations to draw up a code of practice to support high street businesses through the pandemic. In particular, this aims to provide businesses with clarity and reassurance over rent payments, arrears, the treatment of sub-letters and suppliers.

Public toilets

In a BBC article on the reopening of public toilets today, a quote from MHCLG states that the Ministry is “strongly encouraging” councils to open wherever possible, while recognising that this is a decision for individual authorities.

Of course, in our own media activity, we are making clear that councils are taking individual local decisions about public toilets based on a risk assessment and whether social distancing measures can be maintained. We are also advising that people should not assume toilets will be open and plan their journeys and outdoor activities accordingly.

To help councils undertake risk assessments, the Government’s official guidance on safer public places advises on configuration of toilet facilities to ensure they are kept clean with social distancing achieved as far as possible and with best hand washing followed. The same guidance also advises minimising the use of portable toilets and undertaking enhanced cleaning for facilities that are heavily used. Risk assessments are also required to ensure the risks to staff responsible for cleaning and maintaining public toilets are probably managed.

Good practice

We continue to be impressed by the incredible work being done by councils to respond to COVID-19 and its consequences, including steps to make life easier for residents throughout lockdown measures. We are continuing to capture these efforts on our good council practice webpage, which this week offers new examples including mental health Q&As for residents, virtual access to museums and libraries, links to community support strategies and more.

As ever, we hope you find these case studies helpful and if you are involved in work contributing effective response to COVID-19, including renewal or recovery work, please email CoronaVirus.Enquiries@local.gov.uk to let us know.

I hope you have a restful weekend. Next week, Mark will be back and will be sending these regular communications to you as usual. Before then, keep an eye on @LGAComms and @LGANews where we will be pushing out information and resources as well as our communications activity on your behalf.

Best wishes,

Sarah Pickup
Deputy Chief Executive
Local Government Association
@SJPickup

Sarah Pickup

Round up of the non-coronavirus activity from the week

Building safety

On Tuesday the Government announced a lowering of the height at which sprinklers are required in new buildings, which will be effective from November. The lowering of the trigger height for sprinklers in new buildings is something we have previously called for, having been pressing the Government to address both the danger posed by flammable cladding, such as high pressure laminate (HPL), and the financial misery inflicted on leaseholders in buildings with dangerous cladding for well over two years.

The Government also launched the prospectus for the £1 billion fund for the remediation of buildings over 17.7 metres with dangerous non-ACM cladding. This was originally announced in the Budget. While we are pleased the Government has listened to us, we do not believe the funding announced is going to be enough to solve the problem of dangerous cladding. These measures announced also do nothing to address the many other building safety failures posing a threat to resident safety, or take action to remediate buildings under 17.7 metres.

The Government has announced that, although it will cover any costs that would have been passed to leaseholders, it will only pay the full cost of remediation to councils where they can demonstrate that remediation costs threaten the financial viability of the Housing Revenue Account. Councils who think this may be the case will need to supply MHCLG with a declaration from a section 151 officer by 31 July. We are concerned that the failure of the Government to fund the costs to councils and housing associations will have a significant impact on the Government’s ambitious plans for a national housebuilding programme that we stand ready to help deliver, alongside improvements to existing social housing. Of course, we will continue to press the Government to cover the costs of building safety failures.

Green energy

Local Partnerships are finalising a new Renewable Energy Good Practice Guidance, on behalf of the LGA, which we hope to be able to share with you next month. They are also undertaking a piece of work which aims to enable local authorities to take the most effective financial decisions around energy and renewables, in light of the best available commercial data. A webinar on 5 June 2020 aims to explore this project further. It is open to all local and combined authorities and will focus on information from the Good Practice Guidance, as well as discussing future energy pricing and the importance of understanding likely revenue streams. For information on how your councillors and/or officers can sign up please visit the registration page.