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LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION REACHES OUT TO CHIEF EXECUTIVES IN ENGLAND AND WALES

Mark Lloyd, CEO, LGA

LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION REACHES OUT TO CHIEF EXECUTIVES IN ENGLAND AND WALES

Mark Lloyd the Chief Executive of the Local Government Association reaches out to local authority chief executives during this challenging time of COVID-19. He underlines the vital role that local government is playing and thanks local authority chief executives for everything their teams are doing.

As we start a new week in such a turbulent and fast-moving environment, many of our residents and businesses will understandably be feeling unsettled about what may lie ahead. For our own councillors and staff who are undertaking the mammoth task of supporting our communities during these unprecedented times, while balancing priorities in their home life that we are all learning to deal with, the challenge will be equally as daunting. But the nation knows they can always rely on their local councils. In the Prime Minister’s press conferences, the leading role local government is playing has been made clear time and time again. We have always been a highly trusted part of the public sector and we will now clearly demonstrate why we’re worthy of that trust. Thank you for everything you and your teams are doing – I’m so honoured to work alongside you.

Many of you have been in touch with positive feedback about our guide for councillors , and I’m pleased that so many of you have found our advice helpful as our elected councillors lead and protect our communities. We will update our guidance as further information becomes available, as well as sharing examples of good practice that you may find useful.

Some of you are receiving this email for the first time today. I hope you find these updates helpful as we seek to collate all the latest developments in one place and provide an update on our engagement on your behalf. You will receive them late into the evening, due to the nature of the Government’s business whereby departments work to develop statements and guidance during the day ahead of the Prime Minister and his team announcing them in the evening. We are keen to get the information to you as soon as we can.

Throughout the day we will continue to put out updates on Twitter - @LGAComms and @LGANews  - and on our COVID-19 web hub - https://www.local.gov.uk/our-support/coronavirus-information-councils The Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) also has a landing page for local government https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-local-government that is continually updated.

Below are some of the key developments from today. As ever, it’s not an exhaustive list but just a few of the headline issues on the Government and councils’ agendas. These have been grouped by ‘theme’ to allow your councillors and officers to see the relevant bits of interest to them in one place – please do share this note with your teams.

Update from the Prime Minister

This evening the Prime Minister made an announcement as part of efforts to slow down the spread of the virus. As of this evening, people are being told to stay at home, with instructions that we can only leave our homes in very limited purposes. These are shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible; one form of exercise a day; any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home. All gatherings above two people will be banned, excluding gatherings of people in a household. All shops providing non-essential goods will be closed, including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms. To confirm, parks will remain open for exercise but gatherings will be dispersed. All social events including weddings and baptisms will be stopped, with the exception of funerals. The police will have powers to enforce the new measures with fines and to disperse gatherings. 

The Prime Minister has confirmed these restrictions will be kept under constant review. They will be looked at again in three weeks, and relaxed if the evidence shows they are able to.

Meanwhile, the Government confirmed that it has brought forward an amendment to the Coronavirus Bill (more below) to protect commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent from eviction. It also announced that, as of tomorrow, reviews and reassessments for disability benefits are being suspended for the next three months.

Hubs

You will have seen the guidance from the Government to the people at extreme medical risk from Coronavirus which came out yesterday.

We are expecting guidance to councils very soon on this issue, which will set out arrangements for supporting those people, and give clarity about the role of councils and other organisations. As we understand it, councils will not need to oversee the distribution of medicines or basic food parcels to people who do not have help from friends, family or others. That will be organised through Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) in collaboration with community pharmacies and food wholesalers. But you may be asked to check data, and will have a role to support people in the case of missed deliveries, and to follow up to check what wider support those individuals may need. We are also aware that although the food deliveries will be free, there will be very little if any flexibility in the short term to tailor food parcels to individual dietary or religious needs, so they will be a limited part of the solution.

More widely, we know that there are many more people in each of our communities who are self-isolating and may need to seek support from their councils. Support for that group will not be covered by the official guidance in detail, though we expect it will ask local authorities to make sure there is a clearly publicised telephone number which those people can call for help. We have been stressing the need to build on existing arrangements which are already in place in many areas, including through district councils as well as those with social care responsibilities, and with the voluntary sector and parish and town councils in many areas. It will be for councils in two-tier areas will to work together to agree the most appropriate arrangements for local support arrangements and communications with the public. We are also working with Government and food retailers to ensure sustainable food supply for this wider group of vulnerable people.

We will want to support you as you develop your arrangements to support people who are having to self-isolate. Please let us know what if any guidance would be helpful, and do share your best practice through us to help others.

We are also expecting action to make data sharing easier and more practical to help save lives in this emergency. We have already seen a wide range of relaxations of previous requirements to enable councils to prioritise this crucial work and continue to press for changes in the law where necessary.
 

Adult social care

On adult social care, providers continue to share with us concerns about workforce issues, cost pressures and personal protective equipment (PPE). We know that many councils are engaging with social care providers and considering how their COVID-19 funding allocations can be used to  help retain and increase capacity both homecare and care homes. Nationally, the LGA and ADASS have put in place twice-weekly calls with provider associations to help identify and resolve issues. 

The availability of PPE continues to be a big issue for providers. Initial deliveries have started to arrive, but some providers have not yet received a delivery. Availability of PPE for council workers is also an issue in some places. We continue to escalate this issue with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). The NHS England press release also covers supply to social care providers and guidance on supply and use of PPE has also been issued.

Now that guidance on hospital discharge has been published the focus will shift to implementation. It is expected that in most places Directors of Adult Social Services will lead on the commissioning of additional services to support discharge and costs will be reimbursed by Clinical Commissioning Groups. Close working between the NHS and councils will be vital. We have worked with the Better Care Support team to arrange a series of webinars to help with delivery.

Work is also underway to design a way of reporting on capacity in social care. It looks like the NHS Capacity Tracker will be used for care homes with more local arrangements for homecare as capacity is harder to assess.
 

Children and education

The Department for Education (DfE) has now published operational guidance on school closures . This guidance stresses that councils share responsibility with central government to support schools and also references the role of Regional Schools Commissioners. We anticipate similar guidance for early years settings imminently.

New guidance on vulnerable children and young people as also been published over the weekend, as has guidance for educational settings to record attendance whilst closed .

The full suite of guidance published by the Department is designed to help schools and other educational settings provide advice for staff, parents and carers, pupils and students on topics including exams.  

Also released this weekend was guidance on isolation for residential educational settings , including children’s homes and special schools. This clarifies action to be taken should a child or member of staff show symptoms of coronavirus.

In particular, we have been highlighting the need for guidance on flexibilities in regulations to allow councils to prioritise activity and effectively safeguard children, alongside the need to keep our workforce safe and to build capacity. Other issues we are raising include support for kinship carers, protecting children who are vulnerable but who do not have a social worker and difficulties finding placements for children, in particular unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

Rough sleeping

We welcome the £1.6 billion of funding announced for council services last week, and are calling for government to recognise particular funding pressures for homelessness services. In particular, We know that councils are facing pressures as they seek to find a safe place to stay for people unable to self-isolate, including those currently sleeping rough or in hostels. We are awaiting detailed government guidance for accommodation providers and councils, which will add to the guidance published for hostel providers last week and guidance for domestic abuse safe accommodation providers published this week.

We have asked government to ensure that new guidance clarifies the role of local housing authorities in procuring accommodation, ensuring safe isolation, and providing support for people in isolation. We have also asked that similar guidance is issued to enable councils to support people in other forms of temporary or shared accommodation.

Economy

The Government announced on Friday a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme whereby employers will be able to claim a grant of up to 80 per cent of the wages of furloughed employees up to a cap of £2,500 per month. Further guidance for employees has been published today. Staff will remain employed while “furloughed”. This is where employees are kept on their employer’s payroll, rather than being laid off. The employer can choose to fund the differences between this payment and the employee’s salary, but does not have to.

The new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme opens today (23 March) and supports SMEs with access to working capital (including loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance) of up to £5 million in value and for up to six years. The Government will pay to cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender-levied fees, so smaller businesses will not face any upfront costs and will benefit from lower initial repayments. The Government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80 per cent on each loan (subject to a per-lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs. This scheme is being delivered through commercial lenders, backed by the British Business Bank. 

The Government is also deferring VAT and Income Tax payments for three months. If you’re self-employed, Income Tax payments due in July 2020 under the Self-Assessment system will be deferred to January 2021. For VAT, the deferral will apply from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020.

The Government has also published guidance and compliance advice for business and other venues subject to further social distancing measures and published regulations . The Government has confirmed that local government environmental health and trading standards teams will be responsible for enforcing the regulations requiring businesses to close. LGA officers have been engaging with councils and the Government to feed in issues for further clarification in the guidance government is developing on this, recognising of course that the announcement this evening is likely to impact the need for work in this area. We expect the guidance to be published shortly. 

Finances

On Friday you will have received notification of your authority’s share of the of the £1.6 billion of additional funding to support local authorities in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. This funding is intended to help you address the pressures you are facing in response to the pandemic, across all the services you deliver. £1.39 billion of this funding has been distributed using the existing Aduls Social Care Relative Needs Formula with £0.21 billion distributed via authorities’ share of 2013/14 Settlement Funding Assessment or overall relative needs. The funding can be spent on any pressures relating to COVID-19.

Guidance on all the recent announcements of business rates relief have now been published.  This includes includes 100 per cent rate relief for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors as well as guidance on the rate relief for non-local authority nurseries .

We are still waiting for the Government to issue guidance on grants to businesses which include a £10,000 grant for businesses currently in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief, and a £25,000 grant for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a rateable value between £15,001 and £50,999. Those businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with rateable values less than or equal to £15,000 will receive a grant of £10,000. The grants will be paid through local government and we are expecting the guidance around the administration of these grants to be published soon.  We understand that the money to pay for these grants will be paid to local authorities towards the start of the 2020/21 financial year.

One of the measures announced last week was an extension to the deadline for publication of local government financial audits from the end of July to 30 September 2020. We have sought further clarification on this and whether this also affects the other deadlines, such as the sign off for the accounts. MHCLG have confirmed to us that they will be amending the whole chain of publication requirements in the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015, not just the final publication date for accounts. The intention is that the date for the public inspection of draft accounts will move to the first 10 working days of July, which will mean that the accounts themselves will not need to be signed off until 30 June. Further information will be made available as it becomes clearer as to the timetabling and implementation of the changes and, ultimately when the legislation comes into force.

As per my update on Friday we are collating information on the issues that will impact on your council finances including those that will lead to additional costs, changes in income or cash flow impacts.  To feed into this or let us know what financial freedoms and flexibilities would help you at this time please send any insights or thoughts to us . 

Supply chain

Two Procurement Policy Notes (PPNs) were issued last week covering urgent requirements for goods and services and supplier relief due to COVID-19. We are helping to develop a list of ‘frequently asked questions’ in relation to the PPNs, which will be published soon. We are also working with MHCLG, councils and our professional buying organisations on matters relating to key suppliers to local government. If there are any specific supply chain issues you think it would be worth us being aware of please contact us.

Workforce

Today our fourth National Joint Council (NJC) circular for local government has been issued, this latest one relates to critical workers. All joint circulars can be found on our website . We continue to liaise with regional employer organisations in relation the workforce and guidance issues facing local government. In the coming days we will be talking to other public sector employers and national trade unions in the public sector in the Public Services Forum, arranged by the Cabinet Office and the Trades Union Congress.

Understandably, many staff in key professions such as public health will be concerned about what is happening with necessary professional registration and other processes. It is our general understanding that most of these processes have now been suspended but employees should be advised to check with the relevant professional body. 

Statutory and administrative duties

I know one of your biggest concerns is the ongoing statutory and administrative duties your council faces, which you will struggle to meet as you seek to reprioritise pieces of work and focus core business on fighting this outbreak. This is an issue we are consistently raising with the relevant government departments and we will provide updates in these regular notes.

To confirm , Ministers have confirmed to us that there will be no GDPR restrictions over data transfers between Government, the NHS and councils. The public interest outweighs privacy concerns at this time . We understand some councils have been approached by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) seeking to continue on-going investigations. We have approached the LGO asking them to suspend any activity that detracts councils from dealing with the current emergency. We are also liaising with central government about a number of ongoing consultations of relevance to local government, that you would usually look to respond to but may now not be able to. Some of these have already been extended into April and we will update on this issue as it develops. In addition, in our engagement on the Coronavirus Bill (below) we have been making this point.

As we all seek to grapple with the democratic and resourcing implications of responding to the virus outbreak, do bear in mind how you can work with your local town and parish councillors, particularly with their links to the very local voluntary and community sector. Chief officers from the County Associations of Local Councils are keen to explore how they can support best support the work of their Principal Authorities.

Coronavirus Bill

Emergency legislation for COVID-19 is, as I write, being debated in the House of Commons. The Coronavirus Bill will have all its stages in the Commons this evening, before going to the Lords on Tuesday – it is expected to be agreed by both Houses on the Thursday at the latest. On Friday we published a briefing on the Bill , pointing out where we would like amendments bought forward to enable councils to design new ways of supporting our communities by reprioritising certain services.  The Government has listened and tabled amendments to the Bill to deal with our proposals around the holding of council meetings. We will, of course, continue to work with Ministers to encourage them to bring forward the other changes as the Bill, such as those needed to grant flexibilities on FOI and GDPR, as the Bill passes through Parliament - we will keep you up to date.

Wellbeing

Many chief executives will recall the moving LGA conference session in which Joanne Roney and Charlie Parker talked about their experiences managing councils in the responses to 2017 terror attacks . Few of us would have thought that, just a few years later, all of us would be managing the response to a national emergency. A reminder that a key part of their advice was for ‘chief executives, political leaders and other senior managers to plan how to look after their own and staff wellbeing. This means being willing and able to share the load, and ensuring that there is sufficient capacity to enable staff and councillors at all levels to have some downtime.’ This feels especially important for what will clearly be a prolonged emergency response. 

As civil liberties are curtailed to manage the virus, councillors, as the most accessible level of government, will inevitably be the ones in the front line discussing the implications with our communities. And emotions will be running high. We are developing resources for members on councillor wellbeing, mental resilience and managing complex issues. Also do take a look at our guide for councillors on handling intimidation , which includes useful pieces on managing your safety online, in case emotions start running too high. 

Parks and green spaces

Councils know that parks are a lifeline for residents needing to get their one form of exercise per day, and great for physical and mental wellbeing, but people need to follow the new measures and advice. This is a national emergency and people need to change their behaviour to keep us all safe, not least because of the new police powers. Councils are constantly monitoring the situation regarding our parks.

Leisure centre trusts, community managed libraries and other cultural organisations will also be under great financial pressure in the coming months and councils will need to ensure they are checking in with local providers to identify what support they might need to remain financially viable during the closure period. The procurement policy notes referenced earlier in this bulletin will be helpful, and councils may wish to consider upfront annual payments for key providers, instead of quarterly instalments.

Transport 

We continue to liaise with councils and Department for Transport (DfT) on access to public transport, particularly for critical workers and on support for the longer-term viability of local bus services. Bus operators have been announcing timetables changes in response to falling demand, the government's measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to provide vital access for critical workers. Operators in north-east England have said they will reduce services from Monday, while there will be fewer services in the West Midlands from Wednesday. Of course, bus services in England outside of London are deregulated. If there are any specific transport-related issues facing your areas please let us know by emailing coronavirus.enquiries@local.gov.uk

Testing

Public Health England (PHE) is warning against using tests at home and in community settings that claim to be able to diagnose coronavirus. Some manufacturers are selling products for the diagnosis of COVID-19 infection in community settings. The current view by PHE is that use of these products is not advised. They have stated that such tests are very rapid and can work on a range of specimens including serum, plasma or finger-prick whole blood. There is little information on the accuracy of the tests, or on how a patient’s antibody response develops or changes during COVID-19 infection.

Communications resources

In order for people to understand their role in tackling the spread of COVID-19, we need consistent messaging across authorities. The Government has been clear that to minimise the transmission of the coronavirus people should stay at home and avoid travelling unless it is essential - including visits to second homes, camp sites and caravan parks.

We would encourage council communications teams to utilise Government resources and link back to Government guidance where possible, to keep messaging consistent and to ensure we make the biggest impact on the greatest number of people. The hashtag #StayHomeSaveLives has been adopted by Government, the NHS and Public Health England and has helped to ensure that the Government’s message is continuously amplified on social media. Public Health England has also created a Campaign Resource Centre , which will be updated regularly, to support more consistent communications. 

I hope this note was helpful. As always, the LGA is always here to support councils and act as your voice on the national stage. We will continue to update you in the coming days and weeks so you have as much as information at your fingertips as you lead the collective fight to minimise the spread of this infection.

Category: Local Administration and Management