I’ve received a comprehensive briefing from the Local Government Association that provides lots of useful information (correct at Friday 8th January) so I thought I would share parts of it here. If you would like to know more about any of the points covered, please do let me know.
The Government has updated the guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) during the national lockdown in England. An update pack sent to councils included a copy of the letter sent to all CEV people providing formal shielding notification; a Q&A document on lines for employers, and guidance and Q&A for councils. The Government has advised that shielding will remain in place until 21 February. If it is to be extended beyond that, a further letter will be sent to the CEV group to notify them.
The expectations of councils in relation to supporting people who are CEV remain the same as in the November lockdown and of those in Tier 4 areas, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) confirming that fortnightly reporting on shielding support will be requested throughout the duration of the lockdown. Returns will be due by 5pm every other Friday.
The Prime Minister said almost 1.5 million people have received a COVID-19 vaccination. Latest figures show that – of those vaccinated across the UK so far – 1.26 million are in England and 49,000 in Wales. Boris Johnson said the Government intends to give everyone in care homes a jab by the end of this month while no-one should have to travel more than 10 miles to receive an inoculation. By the end of this week, more than 1,000 GP-led sites are ready to provide vaccines, alongside 223 hospital sites, seven giant vaccination centres and a first wave of 200 community pharmacies.
On Monday 11 January there will be a Westminster Hall debate on Prioritising teachers, school and childcare staff for Covid-19 vaccination which has received more than 100,000 signatures. It calls for those working in schools and the childcare sector to be added to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s (JCVI) list of priority groups to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
We have seen warnings of the vaccination scam that has been reported across the country. It involves people receiving a text saying they need to book a vaccination appointment before being taken to a fake NHS form which then asks for their bank details to prove their identity.
The Department of Health and Social Care’s latest Coronavirus Social Care newsletter has also just been published, which includes more information on the Moderna vaccine approval and wider vaccination rollout.
NHS Test and Trace
Latest NHS Test and Trace performance figures show that, of the 269,886 people referred to the system in the week to 30 December, 84.9 per cent were reached. This is down from 86.4 per cent in the previous week, and the lowest percentage since the week to 28 October. In comparison, local health protection teams reached 99.8 per cent of contacts of cases managed by them in the week to 30 December, while 92.3 per cent of close contacts of those managed online or by call centres were also reached and asked to self-isolate.
The Education Secretary has outlined government plans to support young people amid the closure of education settings during the latest national lockdown. Gavin Williamson’s speech and the accompanying press notice are available for more information. Updated guidance on actions for schools was published yesterday, while a blog by the Department for Education (DfE) has also been published containing a Q&A on school closures, remote learning, critical workers and nurseries. LGA Workforce issued a round-up gathering the school workforce related issues in one place.
Only children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker and vulnerable children and young people should attend school or college, according to updated DfE guidance. All other pupils and students will receive remote education. The DfE has published a list of critical workers and vulnerable children and young people who can access full-time education provision.
Youth workers have been confirmed as critical workers and fall under the ‘key public services’ and ‘local government’ categories as either charity workers/volunteers or local authority staff/volunteers delivering key frontline services. Further information and a letter detailing this is available on the National Youth Agency website.
Remote learning support
Children without access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home have also been designated as “vulnerable children” and can go to school for face-to-face learning. We are aware that this is creating demand pressures in some schools as they balance the need to have safe numbers in school with the higher expectations on the delivery of remote learning – between three and five hours a day of lessons online. This is an issue we will be raising with government on your behalf.
A government scheme that offers temporary data increases for mobile phone users on certain networks is available so that children and young people can access remote education. Schools, trusts and local authorities can request mobile data increases for children who do not have fixed broadband at home and/or cannot afford additional data for their devices. This scheme was set up for when pupils experience any disruption to their face-to-face education, and with schools remaining closed at this moment in time. This help could be incredibly valuable.
National Tutoring Programme (NTP) Tuition Partners are also offering online tutoring for disadvantaged pupils at home, as well as continuing to offer support to vulnerable pupils in schools. It is also possible for primary, secondary, special schools and alternative provision to book blocks of tutoring to start later in the year.
The guidance related to early years settings has been released. This highlights that all early years settings should be open, including school-based nurseries, and details further information about the rationale for keeping the settings open, the safety elements and that support groups can continue to go ahead for up to 15 participants. We are in discussions with DfE about the concerns that have been raised for funding. Further information about the rationale for keeping settings open is also available.
Today we have urged Ofsted to postpone the resumption of monitoring inspections for schools, either in-person or virtual, until after February half-term at the earliest. We believe that schools and councils need to focus on providing remote and on-site education during the pandemic, without any unnecessary distractions.
Clearly there will always be a need for inspection where serious issues are identified. However, all routine inspection activity was suspended during the last national lockdown, and this should be repeated to avoid adding to the considerable burden of school leaders and staff who are already fully stretched due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic. We have also asked for confirmation that Ofsted has no plans to resume inspections of children’s services during the pandemic.
Rough sleepers and renters
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has today announced that the ban on bailiff evictions – which was due to end on Sunday – has been extended until at least 21 February.
Councils will receive an extra £10 million to help accommodate all those currently sleeping rough and ensure they are registered with a GP so they can be protected from the virus and receive vaccinations.
Since the start of the pandemic and the Everyone In initiative, councils have continued to do everything they can to get people sleeping rough off the streets and into safe accommodation, to minimise the spread of infection. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said councils are also being asked to reach out again to those who have previously refused help, given rising infection rates and the colder winter months.
The Government has announced that the housing market in England will remain open during this national lockdown. This means that people looking to move home will be able to continue with planned moves and be able to view properties to move into in the future and that estate and letting agents will be able to continue working. Guidance has been updated to provide important public health information to ensure that moving home and related activities, such as viewings.
The Government has announced reforms to leasehold laws that aim to give millions of leaseholders the right to extend their lease by a maximum term of 990 years at zero ground rent. It follows a review by the Law Commission on leasehold enfranchisement, Commonhold, and Right to Manage. A cap will also be introduced on ground rent payable when a leaseholder chooses to either extend their lease or become the freeholder. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will also now establish a Commonhold Council – a partnership of leasehold groups, industry and government – that will prepare homeowners and the market for the expected widespread take-up of commonhold.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has written to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Victims Commissioner about the Government’s response to COVID-19 and has reminded victims of domestic abuse that they do not have to observe lockdown restrictions if they need to leave home to seek refuge or help.
The Government’s #YouAreNotAlone campaign, raising public awareness of domestic abuse issues and signposting victims to sources of support, has been extended to cover the winter period. Government is also preparing to launch a codeword scheme in conjunction with retailers, as well as working with businesses to explore opportunities to further promote information on domestic abuse through their outlets and online services.
Around a third of £76 million in government funding allocated to charities supporting victims of domestic and sexual abuse, vulnerable children and their families and victims of modern slavery, has now been distributed to domestic abuse organisations.
The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) has circulated updated template prohibition and fixed penalty notices following the introduction of the new lockdown regulations. These have been shared directly with Heads of Service although officers can also sign up to receive business restriction update emails from the OPSS by completing an online form.
All passengers arriving in England from international destinations will need to present a negative test before entry from next week, the Department for Transport has announced. The test will need to be taken by those arriving by boat, plane and train within 72 hours of departure and failure to comply will result in a £500 fine.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has published updated transport guidance related to the coronavirus restrictions in England. This includes information for public transport passengers and operators, as well as for travel involving taxis or private hire vehicles, and air travel.
- Safer travel guidance for passengers
- Safer transport guidance for operators
- Guidance for drivers, operators and owners of taxis and private hire vehicles
The DfT has also updated its guidance on walking, cycling, and travelling in vehicles or on public transport during the coronavirus outbreak in the light of the national restrictions. It has also updated its safer transport guidance for public transport operators. The joint British Parking Association, London Councils and LGA Local Authority Parking and Traffic Management Operational Advice during COVID-19 has also now been updated.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are running a number of webinars to support businesses as they prepare for importing and exporting goods in the new UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Please highlight these to any relevant businesses in your area. The various resources the Government has published, including training, may be helpful for your regulatory services teams.
Yesterday, the Government published additional guidance for public sector contracting authorities on the domestic public procurement policy.
The Government has set up interim arrangements for a UK environmental watchdog due to the delay in passing legislation to establish the new Office for Environmental Protection. The Interim Environmental Governance Secretariat became operational on 1 January and provides a route for members of the public to register a complaint if a public authority has failed to comply with environment law. There is a wide definition of public authorities that includes local government and government agencies. The complaint must have gone through the complaints process of the relevant authority before it can be registered with the interim body.
Access to fast and reliable broadband is more important than ever, so it was concerning to read that business and homes in rural areas could be locked out of gigabit broadband for years to come, according to a report by the Public Accounts Committee. As we said in our media response, councils are committed to working closely with the Government to help deliver on its nationwide gigabit-broadband and mobile coverage ambitions. We are pleased the Committee has backed our call for councils to have the funding they need to play a role in accelerating and co-ordinating local broadband delivery.
The flood and coastal erosion resilience innovation programme will allocate £150 million of government funding to 25 local areas. The deadline for submitting an expression of interest has been extended from 15 January to 29 January due to pressures on councils in dealing with COVID-19 and flooding over the festive period.
In a virtual briefing to councils this week about distribution of the new package of support for businesses affected by the lockdown announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the then-Business Secretary Alok Sharma said councils should receive the funding to distribute the new grants within the next week and urged all councils to get the money to eligible businesses as quickly as possible. Mr Sharma said the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) intends to publish statistics on distribution by local authority area again.
This afternoon Kwasi Kwarteng has been appointed as the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as Alok Sharma becomes full-time COP 26 President. Anne-Marie Trevelyan takes over from Kwasi Kwarteng as Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth.
This year’s local elections on 6 May will see everyone in England having a ballot of some kind, with many places having multiple ballots taking place at once – this is unprecedented. The Government has this week said the intention is for these elections to go ahead as planned but that this “will be kept under review”.