Coronavirus latest: update from the LGA's Chief Executive

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From the LGA's Chief Executive

15 June 2020

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Dear Colleague,

From today, some secondary school pupils in England who have exams next year will return to school for face-to-face time with their teachers. The Government’s guidelines allow a quarter of the chosen year groups, 10 and 12, to be on site at a time.

We know councils’ absolute priority is the education of our children and young people, alongside their safety and wellbeing, and of their families and school staff. With the summer holidays rapidly approaching, we have been calling on the Government to urgently provide clarity on what it is proposing to help children to catch up on any schoolwork they may have missed out on during the stay at home period. This would help ensure children do not fall further behind in their development.

Today the Department for Education (DfE) has published updated guidance on bringing back more primary school children before the summer holidays. In addition, guidance for secondary schools who may wish to invite pupils from other year groups to return and updated guidance for further education and skills providers have also been published.

While there is no expectation on schools to welcome back additional children where they do not have the capacity to do so, the primary schools guidance, in particular, aims to help support schools which have identified capacity to welcome more children, in group sizes of no more than 15, before the summer holidays. This may be because take-up amongst eligible children is lower than expected, or because there is additional space still available within the school and available staff to teach and supervise. The guidance is clear that it is up to schools to decide which pupils to prioritise, based on their knowledge of their children and communities. This recognition of flexibility based on local circumstances is positive.

There has been some interest in a suggestion that schools use nearby vacant buildings and community spaces to increase their capacity. We have promoted councils’ efforts to look at innovative opportunities to support children’s education during this time, including using cultural spaces such as museums and natural settings for much-needed teaching space. The new guidance permits other school sites to be used to increase capacity at a primary school level (such as local secondary schools) but other community buildings (such as village halls) cannot be used.

Today’s Ministerial updates

This evening’s Number 10 Press Conference was led by Dominic Raab in his role as First Secretary of State. He began by reminding people of the measures that have been introduced over the last few days. He said that new “support bubbles” and re-opening high streets and outdoor attractions were positive steps, but recognised that the country should continue to comply with social distancing rules to ensure the rate of infection continues to fall.

Mr Raab said the Prime Minister has commissioned a “comprehensive” review of the two-metre rule, and that the Government has “no magic” number in mind. The Government will set out the results out its review in more detail in the coming weeks, he added.

Mr Raab concluded the press conference on schools re-opening for pupils over the summer holidays. He said that on top of the additional funding the Government has already provided, it is working closely with schools, adding that re-opening schools “will be difficult" and that there will be "more challenges than we normally have".

Local government finances

At Housing, Communities and Local Government oral questions in the House of Commons today, the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, Simon Clarke, stated that the Government was working on a “comprehensive plan to ensure financial sustainability of councils this financial year”. This was in response to a question which highlighted our analysis of the MHCLG financial information returns that councils could need up to £6 billion to cover the cost of coping with the pandemic. This confirmation of a comprehensive plan is a positive indication that the Government is planning to address the ongoing financial challenges councils face this financial year as they lead communities through the COVID-19 crisis.

The Government has shown a commitment to fully understand the financial pressures facing local services, with this month’s financial management survey being circulated by MHCLG last Friday with a deadline of 11pm on Friday 19 June. We know that councils are providing robust evidence each month on the scale of the challenges faced and will be doing the same in response to this latest survey. This will help us to develop a strong case to central government, who we know are hearing our calls for certainty on further funding and financial flexibilities following the billions of pounds we have already secured to assist with the initial response phase. We are clear that this should compensation for all lost income as a result of the pandemic alongside extra cost and demand pressures.

Other topics covered at these oral questions included towns and high streets, housing, planning and homelessness, building safety and licensing.

The re-opening of the economy

Today non-essential shops in England have been allowed to open for the first time since the pandemic hit. I went for a run at lunchtime through my local shopping area and saw at first hand all the measures put in places by my councils to create more space for shoppers and to aid social distancing.

Retailers have had to implement strict safety measures and we know the high street experience will be very different. The Government has updated their guidance for those working in shops and branches to help employers, employees and the self-employed in the UK understand how to work safely during the pandemic.

The advance planning and preparation by councils and businesses meant that today’s re-opening seems to have worked well for businesses, communities and councils given our role enforcing the Health and Safety at Work Act. It would be great to hear your experiences and if there are any issues we need to raise on your behalf with representative bodies of the retail sector such as the British Retail Consortium, the British Chambers of Commerce or with the Government. Please let us know by emailing

This easing of restrictions has brought a renewed media focus on access to public toilets. When asked by journalists, we have made clear that councils will be taking local decisions about public toilets based on a risk assessment and whether social distancing measures can be maintained.

From today, passengers travelling on public transport in England must wear a face covering. The new Regulations are now in force and apply to all forms of public transport including buses, trains, the London Underground, trams and aircraft. They do not apply to school transport services, taxis or private hire vehicle services or any services provided by means of a cruise ship. In addition, they do not apply to all people as children under the age of 11, transport service personnel, police officers and emergency responders are all exempted. More than 3,000 additional staff including police officers are being deployed at stations to ensure people comply. In addition, all staff and visitors in NHS settings must also wear a face covering.

On the next stages, at HCLG oral questions today, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, announced that proposals relating to licensing for restaurants and cafes wanting to expand their outdoor space will be published “very shortly”.

There has been some media coverage of a review the Prime Minister has commissioned into the 2-metre social distancing rule. The review will aim to be completed by 4 July, when further parts of the economy - including pubs and restaurants – could potentially reopen in England. Boris Johnson has indicated there will be no reduction in the rule until that point. The current evidence from SAGE suggests that “1 metre carries between 2 and 10 times the risk of 2 metres of separation”.

Over the weekend the Government updated their guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). In the updated guidance, they announced that from 1 July, employers can bring furloughed employees back to work for any amount of time and any shift pattern, while still being able to claim CJRS grant for the hours not worked. You can read more about this in the “workforce” section below. 

Test and trace

The guidance on the NHS test and trace service for employers has today been updated. If there is more than one case of COVID-19 associated with a workplace, employers are advised to contact their local health protection team to report the suspected outbreak.

This afternoon Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, provided evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee on ‘test and trace’. Ian gave evidence alongside Greg Fell, Director of Public Health for Sheffield, Association of Directors of Public Health.  In the panel that followed, MPs heard from Clare Gardiner, Director General, Joint Biosecurity Centre and Tom Riordan, Chief Executive, Leeds City Council. During the session, Cllr Hudspeth called on Government to ensure that councils are given the powers, granular data and long-term sustainable funding to effectively deliver local outbreak plans.

Supporting shielded people

It is expected that Government will announce the conclusions of the clinical review of the shielding programme this week. Alongside councils on the Shielding Stakeholder Engagement Forum, we have been stressing to the Government the need for both advanced notification to councils and effective communication with those currently being shielded. We will update you as soon as we can.

We have welcomed the commitment to work with councils on the design and delivery of ongoing support for vulnerable people, whatever the future of the shielded programme may be. We have also pushed the need for full funding and shared risk, the need to move away from food parcels to promoting independence and local business, and for closer links to work around financial hardship and local outbreak planning. We also have continued to press for voluntary and proportionate data requests of councils.

On the latter point, today the Public Accounts Committee explored councils’ access to data and with the Permanent Secretary at MHCLG, Jeremy Pocklington, responding that local authorities were being provided real time situational data, particularly on shielded and vulnerable people through the local resilience forums. He did acknowledge that there may have been instances where access to data may not have been as up to date. You can read more about this session, which predominantly focused on council finances, below. 

Loneliness Week

This week is ‘Loneliness Week’ and an opportunity to highlight the many positive ways councils and local partners are supporting people who are experiencing loneliness during the COVID-19 outbreak. Loneliness affects people of all ages, including children and young people. Recent ONS analysis into the emerging impact of COVID-19 on loneliness found that during the first month of lockdown (April to May), the equivalent of 7.4 million people said their well-being was affected through feeling lonely. People who experienced loneliness were more likely than others to be struggling to find things to help them cope and were also less likely to feel they had support networks to fall back on. As more people get back to work and school and other restrictions are eased, important social connections will be re-built. However, the effects of loneliness for some will be longer-lasting, and of course some people who are not yet able to return to their daily lives, or who have to self-isolate, will continue to need support. The LGA and Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) have produced this practical advice note to help local areas think through their response to the loneliness issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2018, we also produced a ‘must know’ guide to support councillors’ role tackling loneliness. 

National Learning Disability Week

This week is also National Learning Disability Week and this year's theme is the importance of friendships during lockdown. We know that many people with a learning disability are feeling isolated, as they have been unable to see their friends and families. We will be sharing information and resources through these daily bulletins all this week. We are keen to hear about local innovative practice, to share examples of how you are supporting people with a learning disability and/or autism. If you have examples please contact

Today we wanted to focus on the human rights of people with learning disabilities. On Friday the Joint Committee on Human Rights published Human Rights and the Government’s Response to COVID-19: the detention of young people who are autistic and/or have learning disabilities. The report highlights the risk of infringement to a number of human rights, including the right to life, freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment, liberty and security, respect for family life and non-discrimination. The British Institute of Human Rights has released a helpful booklet about human rights in learning disability settings. Learning Disability England also recently held a Human Rights: How can we unlock them? webinar, the recording of which can be viewed on YouTube.   

Children and families

The “See, Hear, Respond” programme, being provided across England by Barnardo’s in partnership with the Department for Education, has gone live today. This programme aims to support vulnerable children and young people who are not currently receiving support from statutory organisations. It will focus on under 5s (and particularly under 2s), those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities where there are concerns about their welfare, and children who may be at increased risk of abuse. It will also support Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee children experiencing barriers to accessing services, and young carers.

The service is not intended to replace existing statutory support. Rather, it is aimed at those who do not meet thresholds but who would benefit from immediate help in the short-term as a result of COVID-19 and wider issues. All councils with children’s services responsibilities will be contacted in due course to ensure a join-up between the programme and children’s services. 

Fostering and adoption

We continue to track legislative changes brought about by the Coronavirus Act and report on any new powers and duties or amendments to existing legislation that have been introduced for councils. We have been aiming to summarise the changes, to help you navigate these complex pieces of legislation as they come into force. Our latest document explains the recent changes in fostering and adoption. This has also been added to our useful subscription service LG Inform Plus, which maintains lists of primary legislation covering all the powers and duties English and Welsh local authorities are responsible for. This system also provides councils with more than one billion data values to help you understand your local areas, make better strategic decisions, streamline resources and improve governance. 

Beach safety

Over the weekend, we warned against people flocking to the beaches to enjoy the sun. We are also calling for the Government to set out clear guidance for the public about visiting beaches and access to fast-track funding to help pay for beach patrols, additional toilets and prominent signage, to improve safety at beach beauty spots. We are also advising the public to think carefully before travelling to beaches and to get in the habit of checking they are open and safe to visit.

Economic impact of the pandemic

The House of Commons Treasury Committee has published a report on the Economic impact of coronavirus: gaps in support. The report notes that the Treasury's interventions have been welcome but rolling out financial support at pace and scale has inevitably resulted in some critical gaps in provision. The Committee calls on the Government to act to provide further support to those that have lost livelihoods and locked out of support during the pandemic. The report states that many people continue to endure financial hardship whilst being unable to benefit from the Government's support schemes and calls on Government to provide more support, particularly for those newly in employment or self-employed and those on short term contracts.

Business support

Over the weekend, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) released their report which examines the design of the business rates reliefs and grant schemes in terms of how eligibility for support varies across England, and how quickly, and how much, different councils are providing support. We responded highlighting the great work councils have done to distribute more than £10 billion of this funding, with almost nine in 10 eligible small businesses now having been paid. We are also calling for any potential underspend from the scheme to be redistributed to councils so they can further support local businesses and economies.

Building safety

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the appalling fire which unfolded at Grenfell Tower and resulted in 72 unnecessary deaths. In Housing, Communities and Local Government oral questions today, LGA Vice-President and Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, Mike Amesbury MP, highlighted that if work to remediate buildings with dangerous cladding continues at the pace it is now, it will take 39 years for the work to be completed. The Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts, also highlighted that the remediation funding available will only remediate 600 out of 2000 blocks with dangerous cladding on. He reiterated our point that the funding does not include low-rise residential buildings or buildings with other fire safety defects. Responding, the Minister for Housing, Christopher Pincher MP, highlighted the £1.6 billion of remediation funding and noted that 40 per cent of private high-rises have begun their remediation or have already had their cladding removed. We continue to urge the Government to address the inadequacies in our building safety system.


Late on Friday the Government published its latest update on the Job Retention Scheme, primarily focused on ‘flexible furloughing’ where employees will be able, from 1 July, to return to work part time while employers receive a contribution from HMRC for the cost of the salaries for the periods employees are not working.  This is aimed at assisting employers who are preparing to reopen premises etc.  The LGA guidance has been updated today to reflect the changes.

Local supply chains

The Government’s guidance notes to improve how all parts of government delivers public services has been updated. Known as the 'Outsourcing Playbook’, this document includes guidelines and rules setting out how the public sector should approach outsourcing projects. It was originally launched in February 2019 to improve the way the public sector works with private companies following the collapse of Carillion in 2018. After being strongly supported by the private sector and charities, it has now been updated to highlight the importance of continuing to drive forward innovation in public sector projects. Please note, this document is only advisory for local authorities but may be of interest to your teams working on contracts and local supply chains.

Parliament this week

Local government is well-represented in the virtual parliamentary committee corridors this week, as our councillors give evidence at two hearings.  Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chair of LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, has given evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry on test and trace this afternoon (more above) and Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of LGA's Children and Young People Board, will be speaking to the Education Committee's inquiry on COVID-19 and education and children's services on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Transport Committee will be hearing from three Metro Mayors on the impact of COVID-19 on transport, and the Permanent Secretary for MHCLG, Jeremy Pocklington, has appeared before the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee to give evidence on the whole Government response to COVID-19 (summarised below). 

Following our Deputy Chief Executive, Sarah Pickup's evidence to the Lords Public Services Committee inquiry on lessons from coronavirus last week, the County Council Network (CCN) and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) will be appearing before the committee on Wednesday. The Committee is accepting written evidence until Monday 29 June, and is a great opportunity for councils to set out how you would like to see public service delivery change.

Elsewhere in Parliament, there are questions on many of the priorities of councils including the implementation of the test and trace system and preventing an increase in child poverty.

Government response to COVID-19

The Public Accounts Committee heard from officials today as part of its ongoing inquiry on the whole of Government response to COVID-19. The Committee heard from a variety of senior civil servants, including Jeremy Pocklington, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Alex Chisholm, Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office, as well as officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and HM Treasury. The session covered a range of issues related to the Government’s pandemic planning, including its general preparedness, track and trace, procurement of PPE, the impact of school closures and implications for the care sector.

MPs paid tribute to local government’s response to the pandemic, particularly local authority staff working on the frontline. In a series of questions about council finances which explored if any councils were at risk of issuing Section 114 orders, Mr Pocklington said he was not aware of any councils imminently planning on issuing Section 114 orders and encouraged councils experiencing significant financial constraints to contact his Ministry. Mr Pocklington said the Ministry was continuing to monitor the financial reports provided by councils and highlighted the Government’s £3.2 billion funding for councils, as well as a range of further funding that had been brought forward. He also confirmed they are considering a more comprehensive package for councils this financial year.

LGA Annual Conference webinar series

Many of us would have been heading to Harrogate in a fortnight for this year’s Annual Conference and Exhibition. But while it is disappointing we had to cancel the conference, we will be hosting a series of virtual annual conference webinars during June and July (30 June-9 July), featuring keynote speakers from local and central government. We will also launch our new discussion paper, ‘Re-Thinking Local: A Vision for the Future. And although we can’t quite recreate our Innovation Zone hub, we will be hosting ‘spotlight’ sessions to share your good practice.

​​​​​​​We have already secured some great speakers including Robert Jenrick, Sir Keir Starmer, Sir Ed Davey and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. More details are available on our website, where councillors and officers can sign-up to the events you are interested in.

LGA webinar: International lessons on tackling COVID-19

A quick reminder that we are also hosting a webinar next Wednesday (17 June, 9.00am – 10.15am) on tackling COVID-19: lessons from Europe and internationally. This webinar is an opportunity to hear about the experiences, successful practices and recovery strategies being followed by local governments across Europe and the OECD, with specific examples from Germany and New Zealand.

I hope this summary of some of the key developments from today, and over the weekend, has been helpful.

Best wishes,

Mark Lloyd
Chief Executive
Local Government Association

Mark Lloyd