Coronavirus latest: update from the LGA's Chief Executive

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From the LGA's Chief Executive

1 June 2020

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Dear Colleague,

The importance of each and every one of us doing all we can to defeat this virus had even more significance for me this weekend, as we heard the incredibly sad news that one of our colleagues has passed away after contracting COVID-19. Mark Radford, the Chief Executive of Swale Borough Council, sadly died after contracting the virus while undergoing treatment for cancer. Mark was a dedicated public servant, having worked at Swale for over thirty years, and I know will be forever missed by his family, friends and colleagues alike. Our thoughts and condolences are with everyone who knew him.

As we seek to do our utmost to stop the spread of infection, this week will be a significant one for local government given our dual responsibilities as leaders of place and in public health. As you will know, further measures to ease the restrictions facing society have come into effect across England today. This includes the reopening of outdoor markets and car showrooms, the return of more pupils from reception, year 1 and year 6 classes to schools and children to early years settings, and allowances for up to six people to meet outdoors. To reflect the latter, the Government's guidance on safely accessing green spaces has been updated today.

In addition, following the announcement late on Saturday evening, the advice for the group of clinically extremely vulnerable people in England who have been asked to ‘shield’ by remaining at home since March has also been eased today. While they, of course, remain vulnerable, they will be allowed outdoors once a day with members of their household, or those living alone will be able to meet one other person from another household while maintaining social distancing. The Government’s guidance has been updated accordingly.

Of course, we know councils across the country are going above and beyond to ensure this group of people continue to be well supported during this time. The Government has confirmed that the change in guidance does not impact this, with the support package of food parcels, access to medicine and other support continuing. With the shielding programme originally planned to run until the end of this month, we are pushing for councils to be fully engaged in decisions about the future of the programme beyond that point, and for councils to have clarity on this as soon as possible.

If you are able to share any examples of your work to ensure the ‘shielded group’, and others, have access to food and other essential supplies, please email coronavirus.enquiries@local.gov.uk. We are keen to promote your efforts to Government, and in our wider communications if you are willing for us to do so.

Finally, my thanks to the LGA’s Deputy Chief Executive, Sarah Pickup, for holding the reins of these communications and much of our other work while I took the opportunity to take a break last week. In such pressured times I can vouch for the benefits for ourselves and those around us of some time for rest and reflection.

Below is our usual round up of the key developments since her last update to you on Friday:

The Number 10 Press Conferences

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 John Newton, Coordinator of the National Testing Effort. The Health Secretary began the press conference by encouraging people to come forward to be tested, saying there is additional testing capacity available. Mr Hancock thanked key workers, including social workers, and said significant progress has been made to tackle COVID-19. Today’s daily fatality figure was the lowest for more than two months, he added, with a further 111 deaths confirmed across the UK taking the total to 39,045. Finally, on contact tracing, Professor Newton said figures on the number of people who have been contact traced will be published “soon”.

Sunday’s Press Conference was led by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick. He confirmed that in England as of today, people who have been shielding at home are allowed outside once a day. They can go out with people from their household or, if they live alone, they can meet one person from another household while remaining two metres apart. Turning to rough sleeping, he stated that the work of local councils, charities and central government means accommodation has been offered to over 90 per cent of rough sleepers. At the conference, he was joined by Dame Louise Casey who also thanked those in local government for protecting this vulnerable group of people during the pandemic. Both also spoke about the £433 million fund to provide 6000 new homes to be made available for rough sleepers, with access to specialist staff who will offer health support. Mr Jenrick also updated that testing capacity is now over 200,000 tests a day.

Saturday’s Press Conference was led by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden. He used the opportunity to update on the next steps for sport. Mr Dowden updated that each sport will decide when it is safe to return, with safety being a priority and the Government having provided guidance for venues on measures such as screens and one-way systems. Horse racing will be one of the first sports to return, from this week, and football, tennis, Formula One, cricket, golf, rugby, snooker and others returning to our screens in the coming weeks.

Schools and early years

With primary schools and early years settings asked to prepare to open to a wider group of children from today we know there is a different picture across the country, with some areas wanting to move faster than others. Weekend surveys suggest that the majority of primary schools were preparing to open to new groups today, but only about half of parents were planning to send their children in. The Department for Education (DfE) collects attendance figures from schools but is not currently planning to publish figures for the numbers of pupils returning until next week. It would be really helpful for us to get a picture of what’s happening on the ground.  Any intelligence you can share with us would be gratefully received. Please email coronavirus.enquiries@local.gov.uk with details for your local area.

Ahead of today’s reopening to more pupils, DfE has updated guidance on critical workers who can access schools or educational settings and implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings.

Supply of PPE for schools

The updated PPE guidance for schools and early years settings clarifies the procedure schools and childcare providers should follow. If education or childcare settings cannot obtain the PPE they need, they should approach their local authority. Councils are being asked to support them to access local PPE markets and available stock locally, including through coordinating the redistribution of available supplies between settings according to priority needs.

If the local authority is not able to meet the PPE needs of education and childcare providers, they should approach their nearest local resilience forum (LRF) which will allocate stock if it is available once the needs of other vital services locally have been met. If neither the council or LRF is able to respond to an education or childcare setting’s unmet urgent need for PPE, they will need to make their own judgement in line with their risk assessment as to whether it is safe to continue to operate.

Adult social care

I know many councils remain concerned about the conditions the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has linked to the £600 million Infection Control Grant which mean the new money cannot be spent on PPE or deep cleaning, and claims cannot be made retrospectively. We are continuing to press DHSC, 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.

A reminder that our briefing aims to assist councils with understanding the new grant and its requirements. If you have any particular concerns you wish to share with us please email coronavirus.enquiries@local.gov.uk.

A letter from Ros Roughton, Director General of Social Care at the Department of Health and Social Care, was shared with the National Adult Social Care Covid-19 Group on Friday 29 May. This provides information on how the test and trace guidance about isolating after ‘close contact’ with someone with symptoms or COVID-19, will apply to care settings.

Health inequalities

We know that all the data points to people from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. To help shine a light on this worrying trend by investigating the impact of race and ethnicity on people’s health, the NHS Confederation and NHS England have confirmed the creation of a new centre. The NHS Race and Health Observatory, which will be hosted by the NHS Confederation, will identify and tackle the specific health challenges facing people from BAME backgrounds.

Meanwhile, Public Health England’s own review of the health outcomes of various communities continues and we are engaging with this programme of work. The hope is that, the more we know about the virus and its impact on people and communities, the more we can collectively do to protect lives and minimise the spread of infection.

Heatwaves

The Heatwave and Summer preparedness programme becomes operational today to raise both public and professional awareness of the health impacts of hot weather, including severe heat. New resources and a slide pack outlining the risks of COVID-19 and hot weather have been published on the Government’s Heatwave Plan for England collection page.

An episode of hot weather represents a concurrent risk to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic due to the following:

  • many people at high risk from heat are also at risk of severe illness if infected with COVID-19
  • more people will need to stay at home and potentially be exposed to high indoor temperatures 
  • capacity across care services (e.g. domiciliary care, care homes) may be further stretched by increased need for those who are dependent on others

Those with a role in heatwave planning and response are being asked to consider the implications of hot weather on vulnerable groups including those who may be at greater risk because they are shielding or self-isolating, and the impact of public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on local heatwave plans and workforce planning. I know supporting our communities through periods of extreme weather is something councils take incredibly seriously, and you may wish to forward this latest guidance to your relevant teams.

Homelessness

Tomorrow I will be attending a meeting of the Government’s Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel where I will be making the case for the additional support councils need to ensure that efforts to move people on from hotels to suitable accommodation are a success. This will include lobbying for clarity on future funding, particularly for those with no recourse to public funds. We will also be pushing councils’ priorities at 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, on Thursday.

If there are any particular issues that you think we should be making on your behalf please do let me know by emailing mark.lloyd@local.gov.uk – the meeting tomorrow is taking place at 12.30pm. 

Housing

The updated landlord and tenant guidance was published this morning, alongside updated guidance to local authorities on enforcement action and a minor change to the technical guidance on eviction notices.

Councils are increasingly concerned about an increase in eviction notices once the ban is lifted. Following the Secretary of State’s announcement to extend the pre-action protocol on possession proceedings to private landlords – as is already the case for social landlords – the guidance says that Government is working with the Master of the Rolls to encourage landlords and tenants to work together to agree an affordable rent repayment plan. We look forward to seeing the Government’s proposals for strengthening the pre-action protocol to private landlords, adding further protections for private renters.

The Government has also published new guidance today setting how the new Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 will affect landlords, tenants and local authorities. These regulations came into force today and will be effective for all new tenancies from 1 July 2020 and existing tenancies from 1 April 2021. Compliance with these regulations as well as the Gas Safety Regulation 1998 is a requirement and a landlord will not be in breach of their duties if “the landlord can show they have taken all reasonable steps to comply”.

Sport and leisure

Over the weekend, the Government also gave the green light to elite athletes to return to training. Guidance has been provided to assist elite sport organisations to deliver a safe return to organised training for its athletes and staff, while adhering to social distancing guidelines. The Government has now also published guidance on phased reopening of all types of sport and recreation venues. We are working with the Sports Ground Safety Authority and expect to share a guidance note on what councils will need to consider in relation to the stadiums they have regulatory responsibility for within the next couple of days.

Elsewhere, we are working closely with UK Active and the Chief Leisure Officers Association to ready public leisure facilities for reopening when it is safe to do so. Swim England and the Lawn Tennis Association are among several sports associations publishing detailed guidance for their own sports. Councils are being encouraged to think about the role that leisure services can play in aiding a green, more active recovery through supporting people to walk and cycle to work.

Our offer of support from Local Partnerships for councils with contracts with Places Leisure, Greenwich Leisure, Freedom Leisure, or Fusion is still open. Any council wishing to access support with their contracts should email cts@local.gov.uk.

Local government workforce

As mentioned in Friday’s bulletin, the Government updated the rules and guidance in relation to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The LGA’s guidance has been updated to reflect the changes outlined in various government documents. The Government states it will publish more guidance on 12 June but has set out some new provisions for ‘flexible furloughing’. This includes allowing the return of staff part time from 1 July and introducing a deadline of 30 June for any new names to be included on the list of staff furloughed by an employer. This means that the final date by which an employer can furlough an employee for the first time will be 10 June, so the current 3-week furlough period to be completed by 30 June.

As referenced in the schools section above, the Government has today updated the Critical Worker Guidance that expired yesterday, reflecting the changed situation in schools but confirming that access to schools for children of critical workers (and vulnerable children) regardless of year group, remains in place.

Parliament this week

Most MPs are returning to the House of Commons this week after several weeks working remotely. Parliament is due to agree a new system of socially-distanced voting in the Commons tomorrow, as emergency legislation permitting online voting expired last month. There is also speculation in the media that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is working on an emergency budget statement for the week commencing 6 July –  we will keep you up-to-date on any developments relating to these reports. 

The new arrangements for voting mean that Government legislation is now starting to come forward for its parliamentary scrutiny. On Thursday Cllr Simon Blackburn, the Chair of our Safer and Stronger Communities Board, will be giving evidence to the Domestic Abuse Public Bill Committee where he will talk about local government’s support for the new legislation and the important role of councils in tackling this horrendous crime. We will also be briefing ahead of a debate in the House of Lords on the future of the economy and submitting written evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee on adult social care funding and workforce.

Elsewhere, on Wednesday the Treasury Committee will be hearing from three former Chancellors on the economic impact of the pandemic and the Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield OBE, will be in front of the Education Committee to give evidence on the impact of the outbreak on education and children's services.  

Volunteers

Today marks the start of Volunteers’ Week, which takes place 1-7 June every year. It's a chance to celebrate and say thank you for the contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK. Of course, this is even more poignant this year due to all of the great work that has gone on within communities during this challenging period for the country.

I hope this update has been helpful.

Best wishes,

Mark Lloyd
Chief Executive
Local Government Association
@MarkLloydLGA

Mark Lloyd