Coronavirus latest: update from the LGA's Chairman

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From the LGA's Chairman

30 June 2020

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Dear Colleague,

Council leaders, chief executives and every councillor and officer across local government have demonstrated incredible and inspiring leadership over the past four months, proving that councils can be nimble and agile in a way that Whitehall simply cannot. Despite facing longstanding financial pressures, we created new services, pulled partners together and protected our most vulnerable people. Our residents and businesses have looked to us to support them through the hardest of times, and we have delivered. Our latest public opinion survey shows 71 per cent of residents trust their council and 75 per cent are satisfied with the way their local council runs things in their area.

As we move away from the initial response to managing the spread of infection, the nation’s attention is turning to the need to rebuild our economy, help health and social care services recover and get schools back up and running. If we have the powers, flexibilities and funding we need to deliver on our ambitions, we can do so much more to help level up inequalities in our communities and our nation. 

In light of this, the LGA has today launched our virtual annual conference discussion paper, ‘Re-thinking Local’. The paper lays out a series of asks and offers to Government and aims to start the debate on the future shape of local public services. Thank you to the 526 councillors and officers who joined us at our launch webinar this morning, and those who will be joining the discussion at our events over the next fortnight. I’d also like to thank the LGA’s Political Group representatives – Cllr Izzi Seccombe from the Conservative Group, Cllr Nick Forbes from Labour, Cllr Ruth Dombey from the Liberal Democrats and Cllr Marianne Overton from our Independent Group – for offering their insights and perspectives at this morning’s session. 

With the news that an English Devolution White Paper will be published this Autumn (you can read more on this below) and a Spending Review to come, we will be asking the Government to use these opportunities to provide the right fiscal and policy framework to deliver a long-term transformation of the economy. This should facilitate locally-led, sustainable recoveries, enabling councils to invest in green housing, jobs and skills, infrastructure and other environmental measures for the long-term. And to support people of all ages to thrive, we need to find a long-term solution for the future of adult social care, address the wider determinants of health and inequalities, and ensure we can support all children and young people with the right educational and emotional support.

If you have any suggestions on the measures that will help your council, now and into the future, please do let us know by liaising with your Principal Adviser. This will help inform our lobbying work in the run up to the publication of the Devolution White Paper and the Spending Review. 

Devolution White Paper

In a recent response to a Written Question, the Local Government Minister Simon Clarke confirmed that the Devolution White Paper will be published in the Autumn and indicated that it will include plans for the restructuring of local institutions: the establishment of more mayors and more unitary councils, with populations “substantially in excess of 300,000-400,000”.

There are currently 56 Unitary Authorities in England, of these, only five have a population greater than 400,000. The previous round of devolution deals saw the Government express a clear preference for Mayoral Combined Authorities. There are currently eight Mayoral Combined Authorities, with a ninth Mayor (West Yorkshire) due for election in May 2021. This is in addition to the Greater London Authority (GLA), which whilst not a mayoral combined authority is a regional governance body led by an elected mayor. Combined authorities are statutory institutions able to receive functions delegated from national government and established by voluntary agreement between councils to improve transport, economic development and regeneration in a wide area. The average population covered by each of the nine combined authorities is approximately 1.5 million people.

The LGA has long called for greater devolution to councils, for local leaders to have the powers and resources to bring government departments and agencies together to deliver locally determined and democratically accountable outcomes. We have been consistent in our argument that just as the challenges and opportunities of place differ across the country there is no one-size-fits-all model of local governance. This was a message I stressed this morning when launching our annual conference discussion paper, Re-thinking Local. We are advocates for devolution, but not a top down system.

Councils’ success in meeting the scale of the challenge posed by COVID-19 has underlined their role as the pre-eminent leaders of place. It has also highlighted the need to bring forward a recovery that addresses social as well as economic issues in a joined-up way. The LGA has called for the Devolution White Paper to provide the broadest vision possible so that councils are able to determine for themselves how they meet the particular needs of their residents and businesses. Equally, in order to achieve these outcomes, it must be for councils to determine their local governance arrangements and how they organise collaboration with other institutions.

Further formalising the requirement for a particular form of governance in order to access local devolution risks repeating a process that previously left large parts of England unable to access vital powers over skills, transport and housing and kick-starting a distracting and time-consuming debate when councils up and down the country are keen to focus on the prosperity and well-being of their communities and businesses.

The LGA is not an advocate of any particular governance model, but we will continue to press for greater clarity on these issues and to argue for genuine devolution led by local councils and driven by the priorities of residents.

Prime Minister’s New Deal announcement

Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a 'New Deal' which puts jobs and infrastructure at the centre of the Government’s economic growth strategy. In his speech, the Prime Minister laid out his plans to ‘build, build, build’ in order to upgrade Britain’s infrastructure and skills to fuel economic recovery across the UK after COVID-19. The Prime Minister announced that £5 billion of capital investment projects will be brought forward, supporting jobs and the economic recovery.

Yesterday, we heard the details of the £1 billion funding for a new schools building project. Today, the Prime Minister announced £1.5 billion for hospital maintenance, eradicating mental health dormitories, enabling hospital building and improving A&E capacity, £100m for 29 road network projects and £900m for "shovel ready" local projects in England this year and in 2021. The Prime Minister’s announcement also included between £500,000 and £1 million for each area in the towns fund to spend on improvements to parks, high street and transport, £83 million for maintenance of prisons and youth offender facilities, and £60 million for temporary prison places.

We are pleased the Government has pledged to invest in local priorities such as building homes and infrastructure. Investment in public services to support and fund local priorities is critical for helping our communities and helping support a national recovery. We continue to advocate for planning powers to remain at a local level, to enable councils to deliver resilient, prosperous places that meet the needs of their communities. Councils should also be given the powers and tools to resume their role as major builders of affordable housing and deliver a programme of 100,000 social homes a year. We have also called on the Government to work with councils to secure a green economic recovery, a radical change to skills and employment provision as well as bringing forward investment programmes across a number of local government funding streams. 

Weekly death figures

Today, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released the weekly number of deaths related to COVID-19 in England and Wales. The number of weekly deaths has fallen below the five-year average for the first time since March. It is positive to see that the number of deaths attributable to the virus in care homes continues to fall, with deaths involving COVID-19 as a percentage of all deaths in care homes decreased to 12.9 per cent in the week to 19 June, compared with 17.3 per cent in the previous week.

In our media response, we welcomed these encouraging signs. However, it is clear that social care remains on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19 and our older people and most vulnerable continue to be at risk. It is worrying that the number of people dying at home is still higher than the five-year average, which could suggest that some are choosing not to go to hospital or receive help elsewhere.

We are asking the Government to ensure that councils and social care services have all the resources they need for the weeks and months ahead. The LGA is working closely with the new National COVID-19 Social Care Support Taskforce to tackle these issues and help guide social care through this current crisis and beyond.

Test and trace

Thank you again to everyone who joined our webinar with Tom Riordan, Leeds City Council chief executive, who has been working hard with Government on the NHS Test and Trace programme. I know that Tom is grateful to all of you for your support and input in recent weeks, ensuring that local knowledge and expertise will remain at the heart of our fight against COVID-19.

Some very impressive plans are coming through, and we are also hearing the issues you are facing, with data being the biggest one. As Tom mentioned yesterday, this is being worked on and whilst significant progress has been made, they know they must try to go further.

Support materials for communications and engagement will have been shared today with all your heads of communications. For most these will just be a prompt to ensure everything is covered. We will of course keep you up to date on further developments.

Local lockdowns

With these Local Outbreak Plans published today being a milestone for many of us, the first real test of the effectiveness of our planning and how that translates to this new reality will be in Leicester and the surrounding areas.

You will have seen last night that Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave an oral statement on local action to tackle outbreaks of COVID-19. He addressed the situation in Leicester, where he confirmed the steps that would be taken to support the local councils to manage the recent outbreak, including closing non-essential retail and schools except for vulnerable children and key workers.

Government at all levels is learning from every local outbreak about the most effective means of limiting the spread of COVID-19. This learning process will continue and there will be a growing understanding of the effectiveness of powers and what may need to change further. The powers available to both national and local government, as well as the gaps in them, will need to be constantly reviewed in the light of this learning. We are working with council colleagues on the whether we need further local powers.  We also understand the Government plans to introduce urgent secondary legislation to support the measures announced in greater Leicester.  We will continue to work to support the Mayor, Leaders of the councils and officers across Leicester and Leicestershire, and other areas that are affected by further outbreaks.

New Regional Support and Assurance Teams are being established by Government to help with outbreak management at a local, cross-boundary and national level.  They are intended to act as a link between local and national government to escalate critical issues, feedback, share learning and provide local outbreak readiness assurance.  They will work in partnership with local authorities and Public Health England (PHE) and be staffed from a range of areas including the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) and the contain team within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). As part of this, each region now has a ‘regional convenor’ who are all experienced senior leaders from within local government.  A list of these convenors and their contact details has been produced, although we know many of you will already have already had contact from your respective convenor.  

Personal protective equipment

We are aware of some concerns from social care providers and councils about the authenticity of the email invitation to the Government’s online personal protective equipment (PPE) Portal. We can now confirm the PPE Portal invites come from All alerts for the portal will be sent out from this email address, including reminders, increase in order limit notifications and the email address will remain the same.

We ask that you only share this email with relevant adult social care providers and partners as it is important to maintain the confidentiality of this email to reduce the likelihood of it being used fraudulently.  


Luke Hall, Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing, last week (24 June) wrote to all councils in England on the announcement of additional funding to support people placed in emergency accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and support for European Economic Area (EEA) rough sleepers. This letter has now been made available online. The letter confirms the announcement of an additional £105 million to help local authorities implement a range of support interventions for people placed into emergency accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes supporting moves into the private rented sector, helping people to reconnect with friends or family, and extending or procuring interim accommodation. The Minister also announced that a further £16 million will be made available this financial year, to tackle the substance dependence treatment needs of people.

The Minister also addressed the concerns of many councils around EEA nationals in emergency accommodation who are not in employment, many of whom have limited move on options. The Government has now temporarily suspended an EU derogation to enable councils to offer up to three months of emergency accommodation, alongside floating support, to a specific group of rough sleeping EEA nationals for up to 12 weeks. This measure had already been applied in September 2019 in Greater London, Luton, Bedford and Milton Keynes, and has now been extended nationally from 24 June 2020.  It will apply until 31 December 2020, at which point new rules will apply under the new immigration system. This approach does not extend to statutory services or welfare benefits. In practice it means that job seeking, EEA national rough sleepers who meet the criteria will be eligible to access basic non-statutory homelessness services.

Housing and planning

New analysis published today by Shelter predicts that 84,000 fewer homes will be built this year as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. Research carried out for the charity by Savills, found 318,000 new homes will be lost over the next five years. In our response we said this showed the need for a genuine renaissance in council house-building. We reiterated our calls for councils to be given the powers and tools to deliver a programme of 100,000 social homes a year, as outlined in our recent report Delivery of Council Housing – Developing a Stimulus Package Post-Pandemic. 


Guidance to help libraries to reopen has been published by Libraries Connected, with input from the LGA, PHE, HSE and DCMS. It covers issues such as risk management, who should return to work, social distancing, behaviour management, cleaning and hygiene and communication to staff and users.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) guidance on how DCMS interprets their superintendence role includes a comment at the top about how COVID-19 is affecting their interpretation of compliance. However, library services are encouraged to contact DCMS on about any potential changes so they can informally discuss the proposals in the first instance. A key consideration will be any equalities impacts and mitigations proposed.

Multi-use community buildings

Community centres, village halls, and other multi-use community facilities support a wide range of local activity. Of course, their communal nature also makes them places that are vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has today published guidance for those managing multi-use community facilities to prepare for re-opening when restrictions have lifted. It signposts to relevant guidance on a range of different activities that can take place in these spaces.

Currently, community centres are closed except where they are used to provide permitted activities as set out in the premises closure guidance. Many community facilities are also workplaces and those responsible for the premises should therefore be aware of their responsibilities as employers. This guidance will be updated as we move into the next step for easing restrictions and when other guidance relevant to multi-use facilities are produced.

Places of worship

MHCLG has published new guidance designed to assist places of worship to prepare to open for a broader range of activities on 4 July. This sets out how the further reopening can be done in a manner that is COVID-19 secure and in line with social distancing guidelines, in order to minimise the risk of exposure to infection.

Business support

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published its 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 29 June, councils’ efforts mean that £10.57 billion has been paid out to businesses in relation to over 861,000 properties. This represents 85.7 per cent of the total allocation and 89.9 per cent of the total number of properties identified by councils as eligible to receive the grants.


The Department for Education (DfE) has published updated guidance on the provision of technology support for children and schools during the outbreak. This is aimed at local authorities, academy trusts and schools.

The latest information on the school workforce in England has now been published. This information is critical in the development of national workforce planning policy in respect of teaching staff.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

The Secretary of State for Education announced yesterday that the temporary changes to the law on the provision that has to be made for children and young people with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans has been extended to 31 July. The Department has also updated the guidance on temporary changes to special educational needs and disability legislation during the outbreak.

LGA Annual Conference webinars

Today’s first Spotlight Session focused on ‘Learning Through Crisis’ and the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic so far. Cllr Neil Prior, Cabinet Member for Transformation at Pembrokeshire Council and a lead member on the LGA's Improvement and Innovation Board, chaired the session which highlighted just a few examples of innovative work councils have done in responding to the coronavirus crisis.

Speakers included Laura Fisher, from Shropshire Council, who discussed how her Housing team worked with local partners to provide safe and stable accommodation through the crisis and the inspiringly positive outcomes for those residents, and how they plan to take this approach forward.

Donna Nolan, Managing Director at Watford District Council spoke on the meaning of leadership through crisis, mobilising the workforce and community in a united front, and using the learning from this to underpin a new corporate strategy.

Gail Teasdale talked us through Hull City Council's role in developing the website with a local charity, to give young people access to a range of targeted guidance and support around issues they may be experiencing as a result of coronavirus.

Finally, Liz Harrison outlined Hackney Council's use of data and insight to identify those most vulnerable in the community and target support, and where the increasing demand for data and insight across the sector can lead to better outcomes for residents in the future.

We have another exciting day lined up tomorrow. With the COVID-19 pandemic presenting an opportunity to advance some climate change goals for councils, at 10.00am – 11.30am, our second spotlight session will focus on a ‘green reset’. We will look at what steps local government could take to ensure the short, medium and longer-term responses to the pandemic all correlate with our sustainability goals.

At 2.00pm, we’ll get to hear from Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, as he presents his vision for the future. Sir Keir Starmer will be joined by Councillor Nick Forbes CBE, Leader of the LGA Labour Group. I do hope you can join us. You can find the full programme of events on our website.

Recovery briefings

A reminder that the University of Manchester’s Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute is developing a weekly briefing for local resilience forums, councils and others on a range of recovery issues, including highlighting emerging practice from around the world. For ease of access, the previous briefings have been collated on the University’s website; if you would like to receive the weekly briefing directly, you can sign up online.

I hope that you found this Tuesday update useful.

Best wishes


Councillor James Jamieson
Chairman, Local Government Association

Cllr James Jamieson