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News Headlines

Power of local government eroded over decades, report concludes

Local authorities have seen a ‘steady erosion’ of their autonomy by central Government over the last four decades, a new report has concluded.

Commissioned by the campaign group Unlock Democracy, ‘Local Government in England – 40 Years of Decline’ looks at the relationship between central and local Government. It also focuses on finance, services and representation.

Written by members of the Local Governance Research Centre (LGRC) at De Montfort University Leicester, the report concluded that the balance between councils and Westminster has ‘increasingly tilted towards the centre, leaving local government and the communities it serves weakened.’

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LGA welcomes Covid-19 grant scheme extension

The Local Government Association (LGA) has welcomed the government’s announcement that a Covid-19 grant scheme providing help with food and bills for vulnerable households has been extended until June.

Work and Pensions Secretary, Therese Coffey, said that an extra £40 million will be available to councils in England through the COVID Local Support Grant, which was previously called the COVID Winter Grant.

It will now run until 20 June, in line with England’s roadmap, which is expected to see final lockdown restrictions lifted on 21 June.

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Pfizer boss says people may need additional vaccines beyond their second dose

People are "likely" to need a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine within 12 months of getting the first two, Pfizer's chief executive has said.

Dr Albert Bourla said a booster jab could be necessary "somewhere between six and 12 months" after the second one - and every year thereafter.

"A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a third dose, somewhere between six and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed," he told CNBC.

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Rapid Covid testing in England may be scaled back over false positives

Senior government officials have raised “urgent” concerns about the mass expansion of rapid coronavirus testing, estimating that as few as 2% to 10% of positive results may be accurate in places with low Covid rates, such as London.

Boris Johnson last week urged everyone in England to take two rapid-turnaround tests a week in the biggest expansion of the multibillion-pound testing programme to date.

However, leaked emails seen by the Guardian show that senior officials are now considering scaling back the widespread testing of people without symptoms, due to a growing number of false positives.

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Croydon hopes to receive ‘majority’ of housing company loan interest

The London Borough of Croydon expects to receive the majority of “at-risk” loan interest from its crisis hit housing company Brick by Brick in 2020-21, according to its finance chief.

A report discussed at the council’s cabinet on Monday, found that the council’s funding gap rose by a further £4m at the end of January to £69.1m, with a further £26.6m of additional risks identified.

If these risks – £20.6m of which are attributed to Brick by Brick – crystalise then the council would need to meet a larger budget shortfall in 2020-21, with only £7.4m currently sitting in its reserves, the report said.

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Sector raises worries over homes bonus threshold proposal

Local authorities and industry bodies are against the proposed changes to the annual housing growth threshold for payment under the New Homes Bonus.

Under current regulations, authorities need to increase their annual council tax base by 0.4% per year to receive the bonus, but a government consultation launched earlier this years is seeking views on raising that threshold.

A number of respondents to the consultation have rejected the proposed increase to between 0.6% -1%, as they said it would negatively impact too many authorities.

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Storm brewing over exit payment data demands

Government demands for details of senior staff pay-offs have been branded ‘particularly pernicious’ and unfairly aimed at local government.

Officials at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have written to finance directors demanding details of exit payments going back seven years after the Treasury was forced into a U-turn on its £95,000 cap earlier this year.

Controversial rules to squeeze public sector exit payments were introduced in November, but they were shelved in February in the face of a High Court challenge by Lawyers in Local Government, the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives (ALACE), and a further legal challenge by other trade unions.

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Debate should move from survival to stability, says NAO lead

The government needs to demonstrate it has a strategy for local government beyond the sector’s mere “survival”, a leading National Audit Office figure has told LGC.

Aileen Murphie, who stepped down as the NAO’s director covering local government at the end of last month, spoke to LGC after a report from the watchdog said the sector’s finance after a year of pandemic response was a “cause for concern”.

Ms Murphie predicted cuts may be seen “across the whole gamut” of services in 2021-22, including reductions to social care and special educational needs packages, as well as the closure or reduced opening times of libraries, leisure centres and tourist attractions.

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Welsh PPE procurement praised despite pandemic challenges

The Welsh Government and NHS responded well to the challenges procuring personal protective equipment during the pandemic, a spending watchdog found.

Audit Wales said PPE was bought quickly but some problems that occurred in England were avoided.

Spending on PPE grew to more than £300m in 2020-21, when normally the government and NHS Wales Shared Services would expect to pay about £8m.

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Jenrick moves to quell districts’ plan for reorganisation referendum

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has waded into a row in Somerset between the two principal tiers of local government over districts’ plans to hold a referendum to ensure their residents’ views on reorganisation proposals are properly heard.

Councils in Somerset, along with those in North Yorkshire and Cumbria, are currently undergoing a consultation process on local government reorganisation that ends on Monday.

In Somerset, where the county’s proposal for a county-wide unitary is vying with the districts’ proposal for two new unitaries, the process has sparked antagonism between the two tiers, with South Somerset DC leader Val Keitch (Lib Dem) arguing the consultation process is “convoluted and complicated” and county council leader David Fothergill (Con) believing districts have “questions to answer” over some of the publicity tactics they have deployed.

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Pubs and bars face being punished for Covid rule-busting queues

Scores of people lined up outside pubs around the country as they reopened for business in line with second step of lockdown easing...

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England gets third jab as Moderna rollout begins

England is giving out its first doses of the Moderna jab, the third Covid-19 vaccine in the nation's rollout.

It will be available at 21 sites, included the Madejski Stadium in Reading and the Sheffield Arena.

Along with the Pfizer jab, it offers an alternative to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for under-30s, after concerns about a possible link to very rare blood clots.

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4.6m people missed out on hospital treatment in England in 2020

More than 4.5 million people missed out on hospital treatment in England last year due to the disruption to the NHS caused by Covid, with growing numbers turning to crowdfunding to pay for cancer drugs and operations.

The number of patients having planned surgery such as a joint replacement plummeted from 16.62 million in 2019 to just under 12 million last year – a drop of 4.64 million people – an analysis of NHS hospital activity by the Health Foundation reveals.

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Commission calls for abolition of Spending Reviews

The government’s Spending Review is “not workable” and needs to be abolished, according to an independent commission. Spending Reviews are “spun" documents”, designed to support the political messages the government wishes to make, rather than presenting information in a consistent format, a report from the Commission for Smart Government said.

It said that the reviews should be replaced by a new plan for government developed at the start of each parliament.

The report said: “Past Spending Reviews have suffered from not being connected to any clear strategic view of government’s priorities and does not produce workable, reliable plans which make best use of spending.”

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Covid lockdown eases: 'Sense of celebration' as pubs and shops reopen

For the first time in months, pub gardens, shops and hairdressers are reopening in England, as rules are also eased in the rest of the UK.

Some pubs and salons opened at midnight, with one landlord saying there was a "sense of celebration", and shoppers queued outside Primark stores.

Northern Ireland's "stay-at-home" order is ending and some rules are also being relaxed in Scotland and Wales.

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People in their forties are next in line as Covid vaccine rollout hits target

People in their forties are due to be invited for vaccinations from tomorrow after the government reached its target to offer jabs to everyone in the nine priority groups.

Only the late forties are expected to be called first in what sources described as an “easing into” the second phase of the vaccination programme.

Government scientists are also considering whether offering priority vaccination to regular travellers who are exempt from quarantine rules would help to reduce the risk of importing dangerous variants.

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UK records lowest deaths and cases figures since September

The UK has recorded another seven COVID-related deaths, as shops, gyms, beer gardens and hairdressers in England prepare to reopen.

The number is the lowest since 13 September last year, but figures at the weekend are often lower due to reporting lags.

The UK also recorded another 1,730 positive COVID-19 cases in the latest 24-hour reporting period - the lowest since 2 September.

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Twice-weekly lateral flow coronavirus tests now available for free in England

Everyone in England can now get twice-weekly COVID tests for free under a new effort to keep the journey out of lockdown on track.

Ministers hope regular use of the rapid lateral flow tests will become a habit and help keep cases low as the economy reopens.

The tests will be available from locations such as pharmacies, workplaces and community spaces - and can also be ordered for home delivery.

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People can start thinking about foreign travel - Shapps

People in England can start thinking about booking foreign holidays again for this summer, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.

But he said the cost of Covid tests needed to be driven down amid criticism from the travel sector.

Mr Shapps has been giving more detail about England's traffic light system which aims to allow foreign travel.

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MPs call for review of 'dangerous' obesity strategy

The Government’s Obesity Strategy has been branded as ‘dangerous’ for people with negative body image by MPs.

The Women and Equalities Committee has warned the strategy could actually trigger eating disorders in the people it is designed to help. It also said the National Child Measurement Programme is ‘likely to cause harm’.

In a new report, the committee is calling for an independent review of the strategy and for the use of the Body Mass Index (BMI) to be scrapped immediately.

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Shapps announces £18m cycle training fund

Local authorities will be able to offer bespoke Bikeability Family training sessions to help people feel more confident cycling.

Transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has announced a new £18m fund to deliver cycle training for children and their families.

The funding, which is managed via the Bikeability Trust charity, will provide practical on-road cycle training as a modern day equivalent of the ‘cycling proficiency’ scheme.

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Children ‘bearing brunt’ of mental health crisis

The number of children seeking help for mental health problems increased by 28% during the pandemic, new figures have revealed.

Analysis of NHS Digital data by the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows that children have been most affected by the ‘mental health crisis’.

The data shows 80,226 more children and young people were referred to CYP mental health services between April and December last year, up by 28% on 2019.

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Councils urged to bid for £15m traffic signals cash

The Department for Transport (DfT) is urging English local authorities outside London to submit expressions of interest for a share of £15m of new funding to repair and upgrade their traffic signals.

The DfT announced last week that £15m extra cash has been allocated to supplement existing local authority spending on the upgrade and maintenance of traffic signals and associated equipment

Its deputy director, traffic and technology, Anthony Ferguson, has now written to the chief executives at 126 highway authorities and combined authorities to invite bids for the cash, which must be spent in 2021-22.

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Public back more city devolution

More than eight in ten people support more devolution to England’s largest cities, a new poll has revealed.

The research by Centre for Cities shows 83% of people in city-regions going to the polls on 6 May back some form of greater devolution.

More than half of people (51%) want the provision of affordable housing to be devolved to local politicians, while 47% want supporting businesses to be devolved.

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Extent of mental health crisis in England at ‘terrifying’ level

England is “in the grip of a mental health crisis” because of the Covid pandemic, with under-18s suffering the most, psychiatrists are to warn on Friday.

Record numbers of children and adults sought NHS help last year for problems such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders, or because they ended up in a mental health crisis.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has highlighted the sharp rise in mental ill health, that began after the first lockdown in March 2020, in an analysis of NHS and Office for National Statistics data. The college said NHS services were struggling to cope with the demand.

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Hong Kong families moving to UK to benefit from £43m support package

Families coming to live in the UK from Hong Kong using a new visa route will benefit from a support package worth £43 million, the government has announced.

Welcome hubs will help arrivals from Hong Kong to access housing, education and employment to build a life in the UK, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Hongkongers with British National (Overseas) status and their dependents are eligible for the new immigration route, which was announced in the wake of Beijing’s national security law being imposed on Hong Kong last year.

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High Street sales tipped to surge 50% on 12 April

The number of shoppers visiting retail parks and essential shops in March shows consumers have missed bricks-and-mortar shops, says Springboard.

The analyst predicts a 48% rise in sales when lockdown restrictions are lifted on 12 April.

While footfall was still lower in March, the annual decline had halved in retail parks by the end of the month.

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English councils handing huge extra care bills to disabled and mentally ill adults

Adults with a disability or mental illness are receiving extra care bills running into thousands of pounds that they say could force them to cut back on food and heating and threaten their social independence.

Amid a care funding crisis, some English councils are quietly increasing charges to people with learning disabilities and mental illness, in effect clawing back welfare payments and leaving some working-age adults with little more than £3 a day to spend.

People facing the charges fear they will be unable to afford enough clothes and worry that basic pleasures like swimming trips will have to stop. One single man living with bipolar disorder said he may have to put down his dog because he will be unable to afford to look after it.

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Virtual meetings case ‘helped’ by Jenrick move

The court case seeking to allow virtual council meetings to continue after 6 May has been strengthened by the government’s decision to support it, the two bodies involved have said.

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said yesterday that the government would support the argument that virtual meetings were permitted by the Local Government Act 1972, despite the ‘sunset clause’ used to permit them in the coronavirus regulations ending on 6 May.

The Act allows councils freedom of action in various circumstances that could apply even though virtual meetings were not envisaged in 1972.

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Almost 3,000 council fat cats now earn more than £100,000 a year: Shocking rise in pay for town hall bosses amid growing fury over soaring local tax bills

Spiralling town hall pay pushed the number of local government officials who earned above £100,000 last year to more than 2,800, it was revealed yesterday.

As council tax rises have soared above inflation, councils have pushed ahead with salary increases for some of their best-paid employees, analysis showed.

The breakdown – covering the financial year 2019-20, which ended just as the coronavirus pandemic struck – was published amid evidence of growing public discontent at council tax levels.

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Shoppers may need Covid vaccine passports

Coronavirus certificates could be needed in high street shops this summer, Downing Street has hinted, as Labour said that it was prepared to vote against the plans.

Boris Johnson indicated that the government was moving towards a system of domestic Covid status certificates in his press conference on Monday night, although he said that in certain “essential” areas of life such documents would never have to be presented.

Pressed for details yesterday on which shops would count as essential, the prime minister’s spokesman did not offer any examples.

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More help for new and expectant mothers in England

Mental health "hubs" for new, expectant or bereaved mothers are to be set up around England.

The 26 sites, due to be opened by next April, will offer physical health checks and psychological therapy in one building.

NHS England said these centres would provide treatment for about 6,000 new parents in the first year.

Five years ago, 40% of areas in England had no dedicated maternal mental health services.

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Boris Johnson gives green light for shops and pubs to open from Monday

Boris Johnson has thrown summer holiday plans into disarray by delaying for another month the decision on when international travel can restart after the coronavirus lockdown.

The travel industry responded with dismay to an official review that said it was too early to say whether non-essential trips abroad can resume as planned on 17 May.

One industry leader said the sector was being “crippled” by the lack of certainty from the government, while another said that tens of thousands of jobs remained at risk as long as travel was kept on ice.

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COVID passports have ‘significant implications’ for councils

Local authority leaders have called on the Government to work closely with councils on the COVID-19 status certification proposals because of the impact they will have on local enforcement and other areas.

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Campaigners in legal challenge to Levelling Up Fund criteria

Campaign Group the Good Law Project has sent a pre-action protocol letter, the first formal step in legal proceedings, claiming the fund’s priority criteria favour areas with Conservative MPs.

The government has faced questions over the criteria since the fund’s announcement in March’s Budget, with areas such as Richmondshire, represented by chancellor Rishi Sunak, placed above more deprived areas.

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England’s Covid vaccine programme could slow sharply, Sage says

The pace of first-dose vaccinations looks set to slow significantly for several weeks after a downwards revision in official forecasts and a delay in the import of 5 million doses from India now expected to last until at least June.

A modelling paper produced for the Sage scientific advisory committee said the pace of England’s vaccination programme could be squeezed to 2.7m a week until the end of July, leaving little surplus for first doses until tens of millions of second doses had been administered.

Published on Monday, the paper said that “the central rollout scenario” provided to academics by the Cabinet Office was considerably slower than previously used.

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Tests to be offered twice-weekly to all in England

Everyone in England is to be given access to two rapid coronavirus tests a week from Friday, under an extension of the government's testing programme.

The lateral flow kits, which can provide results in around 30 minutes, will be available for free at testing sites, pharmacies and through the post.

The health secretary said it would help squash any outbreaks as lockdown eases.

But critics of the programme say it risks becoming a "scandalous" waste of money.

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Two-thirds of councils cashing in with biggest bill hikes are Labour: 51 left-wing local authorities ramped up charges to 5% limit - more than 12 times the inflation rate of 0.4%

The Labour Party runs almost two-thirds of authorities which raised council tax to the maximum amount of nearly five per cent this year.

Analysis by The Mail on Sunday has found that 51 Labour councils ramped up charges to the limit of 4.99 per cent – more than 12 times the inflation rate of 0.4 per cent.

They include Nottingham City Council, which now has the highest tax bill in the country at £2,226. It raised bills after squandering £38 million on a failed bid to run its own power company, Robin Hood Energy, which went bust this year.

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Sunset clause planned to head off vaccine certificate revolt

Vaccination passports could be imposed on the public for less than a year, according to plans being drawn up by Downing Street to head off a Tory revolt.

Boris Johnson will give the green light on Monday to the development of a system of “vaccine certification” as he looks to reinvigorate the economy.

Ministers believe the scheme may be essential in reopening venues such as theatres and stadiums which rely on large crowds.

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Parents forced to crowdfund to stop playgrounds in England crumbling

Parents and play experts are turning to crowdfunding to rebuild and maintain playgrounds as cash-strapped local authorities cut their budgets across England.

Despite calls by child development experts for a “summer of play” for children as the pandemic ends, there is a funding crisis across all parts of the play sector – from park playgrounds to new spaces built by housing developers.

In Coggeshall, Essex, Jemma Green and her neighbours got the idea for crowdfunding their playground from others. “It’s incredibly common now. We have got £110,000 and nearly all of that has come from fundraising. The parish council saved for two years to give us £30,000 – we are lucky they could do that. And we had £25,000 from Enovert, a local landfill company. But all our other grant applications were turned down – National Lottery, things like that.

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Coronavirus passports can get people 'back to doing things they love', culture secretary says

COVID passports could be introduced as a way of ensuring people can get "back to doing the things they love", the culture secretary has said.

Oliver Dowden made the comments as more than 70 MPs sent a warning shot to Prime Minister Boris Johnson by forming a major cross-party campaign against the use of such passports within the UK.

Mr Dowden said cabinet minister Michael Gove is conducting a review into whether "we could make a COVID status certification work".

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Appetite for PWLB borrowing returns in March

Local authorities in England borrowed £856m from the Public Works Loan Board last month, as councils refocus on capital projects following a lull due to Covid-19.

The spike in borrowing in March saw more local authorities seek finance from the board than the previous two months comined total of £493m was borrowed.

The largest loan was the £140m taken out by the North London Waste Company, which is owned by seven London boroughs and borrowed to help fund a major redevelopment programme.

David Blake, strategic director at Treasury advisors Arlingclose, told PF: “We are now seeing the fog lift and local authorities have a better handle on their cash positions and borrowing requirements.

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Rise in pothole repairs

The number of potholes filled by councils in England and Wales grew by 13 per cent in the past 12 months, new figures show. Some 1.7 million potholes were filled during the past year, compared with 1.5 million during 2019/20, according to council responses to an annual survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance. Cllr David Renard, Transport spokesperson for the LGA, said councils “have been working hard to repair our roads”.

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Shielding coming to an end for millions

Today marks the last day that about four million of the most clinically vulnerable people in England and Wales are advised to shield at home. They are still being advised to keep social contacts at low levels, work from home where possible and stay at a distance from other people. The change comes amid falling COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions.

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Second vaccine doses outnumber first jabs for first time in single day

For the first time, the number of second doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in the UK in a single day has exceeded first doses.

A total of 270,526 second doses were registered on Tuesday, compared with 224,590 first jabs, according to the latest government figures.

Until now, the number of first jabs per day had always been higher than second jabs.

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Everyone's Invited: Schools abuse helpline and review launched

A helpline and immediate review into sexual abuse in schools have been set up by the government in response to thousands of allegations from students.

Ofsted will look at safeguarding in both state and independent schools.

The helpline will be run by the NSPCC to both support potential victims and provide advice to children and adults.

"Sexual abuse in any form is abhorrent and it is vital that these allegations are dealt with properly," Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

"While the majority of schools take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, I am determined to make sure the right resources and processes are in place across the education system to support any victims of abuse to come forward."

The debate about a culture of sexual abuse at schools has escalated in recent weeks after a website set up for victims to anonymously post their experiences gained more than 11,000 posts, some from children as young as nine.

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Many students say their mental health is worse due to pandemic

Almost two-thirds of university students in the UK say their mental health is worse because of the Covid pandemic, a survey suggests.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) report says ministers must "take heed" of the poll as restrictions ease.

A total of 56% are not expecting any more face-to-face teaching in this academic year, but 66% of them are living in their student accommodation.

The Department for Education has given £70 million to help students in need.

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IFS: Funding 30% higher per head in Scotland than England

The economic research group said that although Scotland has 2% less to spend per person than it did in 2010-11 in real terms, there has been a much larger decrease in England.

In a report, the IFS put most of the gap (28.9 percentage points of the 30.6% difference) down to high levels of funding from the UK government via the Barnett formula, with Scottish Government tax revenues making “only a marginal contribution”.

“Indeed, the relatively weak performance of the Scottish economy means that the net revenues received from income tax have only increased slightly, despite tax increases in Scotland,” said IFS associate director and report author David Phillips.

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Government 'recycling' cash between flagship funds

Labour has slammed ministers for ‘announcing then re-announcing the same funding under different names’ after the Government refused to disclose how much of the controversial £3.6bn Towns Fund has been diverted to other cash pots, such as the new Levelling Up Fund (LUF).

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Get aboard £120m zero-emission bus scheme

The Government has launched a £120m fund scheme to help local transport authorities in England roll out zero-emission buses. Officials said the cash from the zero-emission-buses regional area (ZEBRA) scheme, will deliver up to 500 buses, ‘supporting the Government’s wider commitment to introduce 4,000 zero-emission buses’.

It comes under £3bn pledged under the National Bus Strategy, published earlier this month. The Department for Transport said that to ensure the cash is used quickly, it is calling on consortia of local transport authorities, energy companies, bus operators and manufacturers to come together to work up strong cases for funding.

Bidders will have until 21 May to submit expressions of interest for a fast-track process that will allow local transport authorities with well-developed proposals to move quickly in their bid to secure funding.

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‘Favouritism’ in levelling up grants shows declining standards, says anti-corruption body

“Partisan favouritism in decisions” such as the distribution of the towns fund is contributing to a decline in public standards, corruption experts have told an official review.

In evidence given to a Committee on Standards in Public Life consultation, published last week, Centre for the Study of Corruption (CSC) at the University of Sussex points to recent “norm violations” by ministers as an example of how “UK standards in public life are in decline and at risk of declining further”.

The CSC says there have been “numerous recent breaches of integrity at the heart of politics and public life”. These include the “allocation of public funds to secure political advantage (as in the case of the towns fund grants to marginal seats)”.

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Alert apps and ‘sponge’ road surfaces among new technology to deal with flooding

New technology including flood alert apps and “sponge” road surfaces will be part of a new £150 million project to tackle flooding. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced the funding will be shared between 25 local schemes to improve waterway defences and coastal resilience.

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Rob Whiteman: To solve local government funding, form should follow function

To get funding right we need to ask about the purpose of local government, writes the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy.

This month I had the opportunity to give evidence to the Commons public accounts committee on local government funding and the impact of the pandemic. What became clear to me immediately was that two hours is not nearly enough time to crack this particular nut.

While we were able to discuss in a fair amount of detail the challenges facing local authority budgets in the present and upcoming financial years, one question put to me was when would be an appropriate time to restart the conversation about local government funding reform?

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Principal authorities encouraged to pass £56m Welcome Back funding to local councils

The government is strongly encouraging principal authorities in England to work with parish and town (local) councils to pass on funding from the £56m Welcome Back Fund.

Secretary of state for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, has written to the Chair of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), Councillor Sue Baxter, about the new fund which aims to help councils boost tourism, improve green spaces and provide more outdoor seating areas, markets and food stall pop-ups.

NALC has been lobbying the government on the issue of funding and has called for dedicated funding initiatives, such as for parks, high streets and town centres, to be made available to local councils.

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Grant Thornton defends Liverpool audits

Grant Thornton has not fully certified the council’s accounts for five years, but offered unqualified opinions each year, meaning it was satisfied the financial statements fairly presented the financial position of the council.

Andrew Makinson, leader of opposition Liberal Democrats asked Grant Thornton at an Audit and Governance committee last week why the “taxpayers of Liverpool should have confidence” in the firm.

He said: “The taxpayers of Liverpool have been paying £191,000 per year to Grant Thornton to provide assurances that the city’s accounts are in order.

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£500m mental health plan targets people affected by pandemic

People are to be offered counselling for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress affected by the pandemic, under the Government’s Mental Health Recovery Plan. A £500 million expansion of mental health services will focus on young adults, aged 18 to 25, children with complex trauma, and for youth projects and community groups helping those most affected by COVID-19.

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Government to ban Covid-19 business rates appeals

The government is to retrospectively ban business rates appeals based on a drop in property values due to Covid-19, a move labelled as “scandalous” by rating’s advisors.

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NHS trusts climb down over business rates claim

A decision by NHS trusts to back down in their legal battle to receive business rates rebates removes a huge headache for local authorities, experts have told PF.

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Next phase of Supporting Families programme launched with £165m

Local authority leaders have welcomed the next phase of the Government’s programme to support vulnerable families which has been launched with £165m behind it. The newly named ‘Supporting Families’ programme, previously known as the ‘Troubled Families’ programme, includes work to support people to leave abusive relationships, get the right joined-up support for those with mental health issues and help people to find work.

The programme, which began in 2012, assigns families a dedicated keyworker, who brings local services together to resolve issues at an early stage, before they develop into more significant problems.

According to the Government, since 2015 over 400,000 vulnerable families have received support and over 870,000 families have benefited from the programme’s ‘whole family’ approach.

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Financial collapse at Croydon could have been avoided

Croydon LBC’s financial plight could have been avoided if action had been taken earlier, its leader has admitted.

Discussions were also taking place behind closed doors and the council’s culture was a ‘barrier’ to tackling overspending, MPs have heard.

Croydon’s leader and chief executive were questioned by the Housing Communities and Local Government Committee after issuing two Section 114 notices and receiving capitalisation directions worth £70m this year and £50m next year.

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Online ‘family hubs’

New parents will have more co-ordinated access to help and services through an online “family hub” network and digital “red books” used to log babies’ health, following a government review on early years. The hub will offer services such as birth registration, mental health support, feeding advice and more. Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said that the review “rightly recognises the crucial support provided by councils”, and that the LGA was keen to work with government on the next phase of the review, but stressed that “it will need to be properly resourced.”

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NHS trusts climb down over business rates claim

A decision by NHS trusts to back down in their legal battle to receive business rates rebates removes a huge headache for local authorities, experts have told PF.

According to reports, the 10 trusts bringing the case dropped their action, which had been due for a hearing in the Court of Appeal next month. The 23 authorities involved in the case would have had to shoulder around £2.3bn of rebates if had their claim for backdated reliefs of 80% had been successful, a source told PF.

Geoff Winterbottom, principal researcher at the Special Interest Group for Municipal Authorities, told PF: “From the time authorities became aware of the legal challenge, they would have been making a full or partial provision against losing the rate income.

“Now the case has crystallised, and the appeals are definitely not payable, they are in a position to release those provisions.

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Government to ban Covid-19 business rates appeals

The government is to retrospectively ban business rates appeals based on a drop in property values due to Covid-19, a move labelled as “scandalous” by rating advisers.

Businesses should be able to self assess the value of their properties as part of further reforms to the business rate system, according to the Local Government Association.

Announcing the move today, the government said that economic changes to property values, including Covid-19, can only be properly considered at general rates revaluations, with the next one not expected until 2023.

In a move that follows a slew of appeals from office occupiers, which are not covered by government business rate holidays, the Treasury said that it will legislate to rule out Covid-related ‘material change of circumstance’ challenges.

Instead, £1.5bn will be allocated to councils to distribute reliefs to business which have yet to receive any rate support during the pandemic.

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Marmot: austerity-era cuts to local government must be reversed

Cuts to local government funding during austerity need to be reversed, the author of a landmark study on health inequalities has said. Sir Michael Marmot, whose 2010 Fair Society, Healthy Lives report was followed by an update in February 2020 which examined the period of austerity, also told today’s LGC Future Places conference that he supported local government’s role in public health.

He was asked how much local government could do to address health inequalities given huge cuts to their budgets, and whether measures to tackle the issues he had identified always require large amounts of money.

He said that while “as a nation, shortage of money should not be the issue” due to the low cost of government borrowing and quantitative easing, “at the local government level you do need money, no question”.

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Baroness Harding: communities not aware of Covid financial support

The head of the national NHS Test and Trace programme Baroness Dido Harding has told council representatives she is concerned that communities are not being made aware of the financial support available to help people with Covid-19 self-isolate.

Speaking at a public health conference yesterday organised by the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Public Health, Baroness Harding said there are “real issues” in this area. Pointing to the “substantial increase in funding” councils have had to offer discretionary support to those told to self isolate, she said there was a “really important role for everyone on this call to play to make sure that you are tailoring those [grants] to meet your local community needs”.

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Cost of social care to double within two decades, says NAO

The cost of adult social care is set to double over the next 20 years, according to the National Audit Office. The Department of Health & Social Care projects that about 29% more adults aged 18 to 64, and 57% more of those over 65, will need care in 2038 compared to 2018, an NAO report today says.

“Over this period, the total cost of care is projected to rise by 90% for adults aged 18 to 64, and 106% for adults aged 65 and over,” it adds.

This would mean the total cost of social care doubling from £27.9bn to £55.8bn.

The NAO is calling on DHSC to set out a “cross-government, long-term, funded vision” for social care as a priority, saying current demographic trends suggest care will form an “ever-increasing proportion of public expenditure”.

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UK to set up health agency to combat future pandemics

A new health security body comprising Public Health England, NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre will provide a "protective shield" over the UK from next month. Speaking at the LGA and Association of Directors of Public Health annual public health conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) would provide a "total focus" on the prevention and response to pandemics, infectious diseases and external threats, such as bioterrorism. The new organisation will be led by Dr Jenny Harries, England's deputy chief medical officer. Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said council public health teams looked forward to working with the agency. He said: “The UKHSA needs to be able to operate nationally as a global player to major health threats. This needs to be aligned with councils’ ability to react swiftly on the ground, using their local knowledge, expertise and skills.” Meanwhile, the Metro reports that Baroness Dido Harding, who is in charge of the contact tracing project, told the conference that Test and Trace was the second most downloaded app in the UK last year – only after Zoom, which was on 21 million smart devices.

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Lack of social care strategy left system weakened when COVID-19 struck – report

The Government’s struggle to get a grip on England’s social care crisis left the care system weakened when the pandemic struck and has left thousands of people unable to access the help they need, according to the public spending watchdog. The National Audit Office (NAO) said COVID-19 had focused attention on social care in England “as never before”, highlighting pre-existing shortcomings in services as well as major gaps in the Government’s understanding and oversight of the care system. Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “As the NAO recognises, short-term funding and ongoing uncertainty has made it difficult for councils, which are already facing significant financial pressures, to plan for care and support services in the long term.” Meanwhile, the Times reports Boris Johnson’s evidence to the Commons Liaison Committee in which he offered the closest indication yet of when reforms to social care might be announced, saying that it was “highly likely” that social care would be featured in the Queen’s speech on 11 May.

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Short-term funding has held back care, says watchdog

Short-term funding has held back investment in the unstable £16.5bn adult social care market despite a forecast 57% in demand from the over-65s by 2036 says a report from the National Audit Office (NAO).

Some 76% of care homes for older adults and adults with dementia are for-profit while of the remaining 24%, 14% are not-for-profit and 10% are run by a local authority or the NHS.

Yet some 55% of large for-profit care homes and 39% of large for-profit care at home providers reported a return on investment of less than 5% in 2019.

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Councils face rise in demand for short-term care

Councils have faced a 7% rise in demand for short-term support in the last four years and are dealing with an increase in new care requests from younger people, says a new report.

The latest adult social care statistics in England report from NHS Digital (NHSD) also show the number of older adults getting long-term state-supported care has decreased, with expenditure continuing to rise.

Expenditure is up by 6% in real terms in the last five years from 2015-16, to £19.7bn, following a period of decline after 2010.

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‘Inevitable’ third Covid-19 wave will not change the plan, vows Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson and Chris Whitty have both said that Britain will suffer another surge of coronavirus as restrictions are eased.

The prime minister last night told Conservative MPs that a third wave coming from Europe was “inevitable”.

However, he insisted that “we are prepared” and there was “no reason to deviate” from the unlocking road map he set out last month. He hailed the success of the vaccine rollout as a reason to persist with the existing timetable even if cases rise again.

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Online sales tax ‘could help subsidise business rate reductions’

An interim report released by the Treasury respondents were “widely opposed” to CVT, citing low or non-existent benefits, and significant drawbacks.

Some respondents were however in favour of an OST, as it would help to “level the playing field”, and could help fund business rate reductions.

The Treasury document said: “Potential difficulties in implementation [of CVT] were commonly highlighted, most notably the current lack of a comprehensive register of freehold property ownership.

“Most respondents felt that this could make it challenging to locate property owners in order to pay the tax, particularly where these are nondomiciled, or part of a joint-ownership structure.”

A CVT would be based on the combined value of businesses’ land and property – either the purchase price or a regular valuation.

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£34.5m stolen in pandemic scams

More than 6,000 cases of COVID-19-related fraud and cyber-crime have been recorded by the UK's police forces during the pandemic. The Action Fraud team said £34.5 million had been stolen since 1 March 2020. These involves attempts to breach the NHS, vaccine producers and vaccine supply chains, among other organisations.

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Second home owners face tax changes

Tens of thousands of second-home owners who falsely register their properties as holiday lets in order to claim tax breaks tax face a clampdown. Many claim business rates relief, as their properties have a rateable value of £12,000 or less, but do not attempt to let their properties out.

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Increase in small funding pots will hinder levelling up efforts, warn met chiefs

The government’s increasing use of small funding pots that councils have to bid for will hinder its levelling up agenda, the LGC Future Places conference has heard.

Tom Stannard, chief executive of Salford City Council, told a panel this morning that one of his concerns about this month’s Budget was “the extent of creep in terms of those bilateral competitions for funding”.

He said: “I think we’ve got to get serious about tackling that. We can do without more of those bilateral competitions for single pots of funding. We are losing count of the number of those that have now been reintroduced in the Budget.

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Business rates review finds little enthusiasm for more localised system

The Treasury has published the feedback to its fundamental review of business rates, revealing that most respondents were opposed to greater discretion for councils to set reliefs and exemptions, with some calling for ratepayers to be able to challenge councils' decisions on relief applications.

The interim report, which discloses the findings of a consultation launched in July 2020, comes ahead of the final report that the Treasury says will follow this autumn. This will set out the government's “priorities for reform, and its longer-term vision for the business rates system”.

The document details the range of reliefs and support offered to businesses to help them get through the pandemic. It says respondents felt that an “extensive reliefs regime” places a “significant burden” on local authorities to administer, and that “some struggle to administer all available reliefs”.

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Hancock: Integration with DPHs the ‘only way’ new health security agency can work

The health secretary has revealed details about how his department and the new UK health security agency will take over functions from Public Health England.

Matt Hancock said the “only way” the new agency, which launches next Thursday, must work is through “integration with directors of public health at a local level”.

The new agency, which was previously known as the National Institute for Health Protection when it was initially introduced as part of the pandemic response last August, will take over PHE’s health security role at a local and national level to ensure the UK can respond quickly to the current and future pandemics, and “cast a protective shield over the nation's health”.

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SEND family spends £20k fighting for school place

Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) say they are struggling to secure suitable school places for them.

Anna Geldard spent £20,000 fighting for the Education, Health and Social Care Plan (EHCP) her child is entitled to..

The government said the SEND system was under review and it had also increased SEND funding to £8bn in 2021-22.

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County set to walk out of LGA membership

Leicestershire CC leader Nick Rushton has said he will pull the council out of membership of the Local Government Association (LGA) at the end of the month.

The leader claimed the association was ‘an expensive club’ and he would prefer to put the membership cash towards repairing potholes in the county.

Speaking at a virtual council meeting, Cllr Rushton said: ‘Ourselves and Lincolnshire have been on a rolling one-year notice with the LGA for three or four years. In consultation with Martin [Hill] in Lincolnshire, we think it is time to bite the bullet and formally leave the LGA.

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Government opts to retain legacy public pension calculations

Public service pension schemes will continue to handle separate payments for historic provisions, after the government deemed a potential replacement as too resource intensive.

A government consultation was launched in 2016 after reforms saw public pension funds make a dedicated calculation for the full cost of yearly changes in legacy guaranteed minimum pension requirements.

In response to the consultation, published yesterday, the Treasury opted to make this measure permanent, rejecting an alternative organisational approach which would have merged GMP liabilities into regular scheme payments.

Ian Colvin, head of LGPS benefit consultancy at pensions consultants Hymans Robertson, told PF: “It is the right decision at the stage, if they bought in conversion, it would only affect a small number of people who had not yet reached retirement.

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Councils call for long-term plan to tackle education inequalities

Education inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic are unlikely to be solved by a quick “catch-up” initiative, council leaders have warned today.

In a new report, the Local Government Association (LGA) said COVID-19 has increased existing vulnerabilities and learning gaps to such an extent that a long-term strategy providing intensive and holistic support is required.

It also said that increased joint working throughout the crisis has exposed levels of deprivation and hardship that were previously hidden to settings, schools and services.

Cllr Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: 'A quick “catch-up” initiative does not do justice to what is needed to ensure the best outcomes for all children and young people.

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Hopes rise for office-based companies of cut in business rates

There is growing optimism that the government will offer a settlement for office-based companies that say their business rates bills are unreasonably high during a period when they have been forced to tell staff to work at home.

Hundreds of thousands of office-based businesses are challenging their business rates bill for 2020-21 on the basis that the pandemic has resulted in a “material change of circumstance”.

Unlike businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, office-based companies have had no business rates holidays during the pandemic. More than 400,000 businesses are estimated to have lodged the first stage of an appeal against their rates bill.

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Payrolled employment rises for third month after a year of lockdown misery for jobs

The number of people in payrolled employment has risen for a third consecutive month despite further lockdown misery for the economy, according to official figures.

Data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed an increase of 68,000 last month.

But the figures also laid bare the toll on people's livelihoods during the COVID-19 pandemic to date, with the total down by 693,000 since February 2020 - the month before the first crisis restrictions were imposed, forcing much of the economy into hibernation.

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Life expectancy a decade lower for men in poorest areas

Life expectancy for men in England’s most deprived areas is nearly a decade shorter than it is for those from the wealthiest, according to the latest official analysis.

Men living in the most deprived areas have a life expectancy of 74.1 years, compared with 83.5 in the least deprived areas, research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows.

Women in the poorest areas were expected to live to 78.7, compared with 86.4 for those in the least deprived.

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UK faces 'Covid decade' due to damage done by pandemic, says report

Britain faces a “Covid decade” of social and cultural upheaval marked by growing inequality and deepening economic deprivation, a landmark review has concluded.

Major changes to the way society is run in the wake of the pandemic are needed to mitigate the impact of the “long shadow” cast by the virus, including declining public trust and an explosion in mental illness, the British Academy report found.

Published on the anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown, the report brings together more than 200 academic social science and humanities experts and hundreds of research projects. It was set up last year at the behest of the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

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Government strengthens tax policymaking with over 30 updates, consultations and documents published

The government has today published a series of tax documents and consultations in a move to strengthen policymaking and help create a more trusted, simple and modern tax system (23 March).

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Whitty warns of ‘real risk’ of local and national links disappearing post-crisis

England’s chief medical officer has told the local government sector of his concerns there is a “real risk” that as the country recovers from the Covid pandemic, the links built up between the local and national health systems will “disappear”.

Chris Whitty was speaking one year since the first lockdown began at a conference today held by the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Public Health. He said that before the pandemic, “many people” inside and outside local authorities did not realise the "key role" of public health teams, saying these links are “so central to the long term protection of and improvement in the health of our populations”.

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Government piles on pressure to speed up business grant distribution

The government is putting pressure on councils to disperse certain business grants as quickly as possible through the conditions it is attaching to one of its latest funding rounds.

This comes amid mounting concerns about the “tremendous amounts of stress” that finance teams are being put under by having to allocate grants, submit returns to government and apply for new funding pots simultaneously.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has updated guidance for the additional restrictions grant, which aims to help businesses severely impacted by Covid.

Councils now have until 30 June to “prove that they have spent or made a validated attempt to spend” all of their first two additional restrictions grants allocations in order to be able to access the latest £425m round of the funding.

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COVID-19: How has the past year affected council staff?

Council staff have been left feeling ‘undervalued and overwhelmed’ this past year as a result of COVID-19, according to an exclusive survey by LocalGov.

To mark a year since the first lockdown began, we surveyed council workers to find out what impact the pandemic has had on their mental health, their job role, and how they feel about working in local government.

More than six in ten respondents (64%) said the pandemic has affected their mental health, with 75% feeling stressed and 65% feeling anxious. Nearly half (47%) of those affected also said they have felt depressed in the last year.

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Government allocates £562m green improvement fund

Over 50,000 social housing properties and low-income households will be upgraded with green improvements with the launch of a £562m Government fund.

The funding will enable over 200 local authorities across England and Scotland to upgrade the UK’s least energy efficient and fuel-poor homes.

This includes measures such as cavity wall, underfloor and loft insulation, and replacing gas boilers with low carbon alternatives.

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Commission calls on councils to improve digital services for social care

ot enough local authorities or care providers are using the available technology within social care to keep people safe at home, a new study finds.

A commission led by The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and the TEC Services Association (TSA) has heard evidence from nearly 60 people including individuals and their relatives who access social care support, front line care professionals, directors of adult social care, housing and health leaders and technology suppliers.

It found that while there were pockets of best practice, digital projects are rarely joined up and turned into intelligence to prevent people reaching a crisis.

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Smokers in England cost local care services £1.2bn each year

Smokers in England need care 10 years sooner than non-smokers, which places a considerable burden on local social care services, research reveals.

The analysis, by Landman Economics for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), finds that 1.5 million people need help with everyday tasks, such as dressing, walking across a room and using the toilet due to smoking.

This high level of social care needed has a significant impact on local authority social care budgets, ASH warns.

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Government allocates £562m green improvement fund

Over 50,000 social housing properties and low-income households will be upgraded with green improvements with the launch of a £562m Government fund.

The funding will enable over 200 local authorities across England and Scotland to upgrade the UK’s least energy efficient and fuel-poor homes.

This includes measures such as cavity wall, underfloor and loft insulation, and replacing gas boilers with low carbon alternatives.

Housing minister Christopher Pincher said: 'The challenges involved in improving the energy efficiency of our homes and reducing carbon emissions are substantial. However, the investment being announced today along with our Future Homes Standard will help ensure that existing and newly built homes will be fit for the future, better for the environment and affordable for households to heat using low carbon energy.'

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Commission calls on councils to improve digital services for social care

Not enough local authorities or care providers are using the available technology within social care to keep people safe at home, a new study finds.

A commission led by The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and the TEC Services Association (TSA) has heard evidence from nearly 60 people including individuals and their relatives who access social care support, front line care professionals, directors of adult social care, housing and health leaders and technology suppliers.

It found that while there were pockets of best practice, digital projects are rarely joined up and turned into intelligence to prevent people reaching a crisis.

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London – 40 per cent of households in four boroughs claiming housing costs

At least 40% of households in four London boroughs are having to claim help with affording a place to live as the economic impact of Covid-19 exacerbates the housing crisis in urban areas, analysis reveals.

Research by the Conservative thinktank Bright Blue found that the most significant increases in the proportion of households claiming state support for housing costs in the first nine months of the pandemic were in cities – particularly London.

In Newham, Haringey, Barnet and Hackney, 40% or more of households are now reliant on benefits – such as the housing element of universal credit – to meet part of their housing costs.

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Local authorities allocated £100m leisure recovery fund

The Government has allocated £100m funding to 266 local authorities across England to help leisure centres prepare to re-open safely. The funding, announced last October, will support the recovery of publicly-owned leisure centres and gym facilities.

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said: 'We know that local authorities have faced significant financial pressure as a result of the pandemic so this £100m for leisure will be vital in helping them recover.

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'Welcome back' fund launched for high streets and coastal areas

Councils will receive £56m to help high streets and seaside resorts open safely this summer. The new £56m Welcome Back Fund can be used to install signage and floor markings, invest in street planting and seating areas, run publicity campaigns and prepare to hold events.

Communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, also said the first 70 councils to benefit from support from the High Streets Task Force have been selected.

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Plymouth to set up council-owned care company

Plymouth City Council is setting up its own care company after a number of providers warned they could not provide services at short notice. The council said the move would ensure care could be provided to the most vulnerable if a care company is not able to continue providing its services for any reason.

Cllr Kate Taylor, the council’s cabinet member for health and adult social care, said: ‘We’ve had some really concerning cases where vulnerable people have had their care service stop at short notice and it can be really stressful for them, their families and the staff involved while alternatives are worked out.

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Mets to get bigger share of Covid outbreak fund as their income plunges

The government will apply a formula to distribute the latest £400m allocation of the contain outbreak management fund (Comf) to reflect population and deprivation levels in different local authority areas. This will mean more money for struggling metropolitan councils, which have seen their income drop by more than a third since January.

The contain outbreak management fund, which is worth £2bn since the government introduced it in October to cover Covid-related public health activities, was initially allocated on a per head basis, with councils in higher restriction tiers receiving more.

During England's second lockdown in November, the government changed the way it distributed the funding so all areas received an equal amount. But now the Department of Health & Social Care, which allocated the fund, has updated its guidance to apply the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s relative needs formula. DHSC says this is “weighted according to population and deprivation and maps well against areas of enduring transmission”.

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Communities call for funding powers

Funds aimed at levelling up the country should be devolved to communities, according to a new report. Locality, which includes 12 cross-party councils, has launched a Keep it Local manifesto with an open letter to communities secretary Robert Jenrick.

Chief executive of Locality, Tony Armstrong, said: ‘When things haven’t worked well – like test and trace or the NHS volunteer scheme – it’s been when government’s centralising tendencies have overridden its ability to harness the skills and expertise of local areas.

‘With its attention increasingly focused on recovery and renewal, it is vital government learns these lessons and makes community power the cornerstone of its levelling up ambitions.’

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Five councils strike bailout deals with government over SEND

Five councils have struck deals worth at least £100m that will allow them to wipe out their massive special educational needs deficits (SEND).

Bury MBC, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and Hammersmith & Fulham, Richmond upon Thames and Kingston upon Thames LBCs – which have some of the highest dedicated school grant (DSG) deficits - have agreed to make reforms to their SEND services and meet strict savings targets in exchange for the Department for Education bailing out their historic deficits.

Under the DSG ‘safety valve’ agreements, the councils will have to implement agreed action plans and report at least quarterly on their progress.

Both Bury and Hammersmith & Fulham have agreed to reach a positive in-year balance on their DSG account by the end of 2022-23 in exchange for £20m each, spread over the next five financial years.

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More councils in funding talks

The Government said it continues to talk to a “small number” of councils about additional financial support this year to meet ongoing funding and demand pressures. It comes ahead of the Government publishing interim findings of its review into business rates next week. The LGA said councils’ confidence in business rates as a reliable income source has “reduced” with income from the tax accounting for more than a quarter of council core spending power. Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Resources Board, said: “The attention needs to shift towards developing new sources of finance for councils and different ways of incentivising growth.”

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Government to extend duration of Right to Buy expiry

In a response to a 2018 consultation, released today, the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government said the two-year increase in the timeframe for holding funds will be backdated to 2017-2018.

The ministry said this move will give councils the ability to plan for the longer-term and take on more ambitious housing plans.

The response said: “Currently local authorities have three years to spend receipts from the quarter the receipts were received in, meaning they have four separate deadlines for spending receipts in each year.

“Moving to a five-year timeframe plus annual pooling will make it much easier for local authorities to plan their expenditure and for the department to administer the process”.

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Sleep-in shifts legal battle ends

A long-running legal challenge by care workers over pay worth £400m has been rejected by the Supreme Court. Justice Lady Arden ruled that workers should not be paid the minimum wage for hours they are asleep during sleep-in shifts. The judgement brings to an end an uneasy four years for care providers since a 2017 tribunal ruled in favour of carer Clare Tomlinson-Blake. Providers had feared they would face an estimated £400m bill for six years of back pay.

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Schools missing out on millions

Schools are missing out on millions of pounds in funding due to a shift in eligibility dates. A total of £1,345 or more is awarded for each primary school pupil receiving free school meals, but the Department for Education announced last year that eligibility for the funding would be based on the school census in October 2020 rather than January as in previous years. However, a survey by the National Association of Head Teachers found that the number of students claiming free school meals rose considerably after the October deadline. Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Schools need certainty that they will not lose out as soon as possible.”

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Special needs support in schools

Children with special needs and disabilities in England are less likely to receive support if they are from poorer areas or attend academy schools, a study from the Education Policy Institute found. The report observed that the approach among schools and regions in how they identify children as having special education needs and disabilities (SEND) varied, with those the most vulnerable, frequently absent from school or moved around a lot less likely to be identified.

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Hancock unveils £7bn funding boost for NHS and social care

The Government has announced an extra £341m for infection control measures and rapid testing in adult social care services.The funding is part of a wider £7bn package for NHS and social care services to support the next phase of the response to COVID-19.

The package includes £594m ring-fenced funding to continue the hospital discharge programme and an additional £87m to provide enhanced discharge from inpatient mental health care.

Health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, said: 'I can announce £341m to support adult social care with the costs of infection prevention control and testing that will make sure visits are safe for everyone.

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Schools and hospitals face 'serious disruptions' as PFI contracts end

Vital public assets such as roads, schools and hospitals will face 'serious disruption' if Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts expire without a plan in place, MPs have warned today. A new report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warned the Government had failed to prepare for the massive transfer of public assets when these contracts end.

The report shows there are around 700 contracts in place, looking after assets worth £60bn. It warns that any 'mismanagement' of the expiry process could result in large sums of taxpayer’s money being wasted. Public authorities could also be left with huge bills for rectification work which the PFI company has already been paid to do, the report said.

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Exclusive: Districts question fairness of reorganisation consultation process

District councils in North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Somerset where consultations on local government reorganisation are under way have complained that they feel sidelined by the government's approach to the process.

LGC has seen a letter sent this week from Bill Cullen, chair of the District Councils’ Network chief executive group, to Paul Rowsell, head of the governance reform and democracy unit at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, urging him to take “action to ensure parity”.

Districts are said to be aggrieved that in all three consultations, the ‘named consultees’ put forward by government, whose opinions carry more weight in the final outcome of the consultation, are predominantly made up of bodies they feel are predisposed to be favourable to county councils’ cases for larger unitary authorities.

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Marsham Street told to improve transparency

The Ministry of Housing ,Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has come under fire from finance watchdogs for a lack of transparency. Government officials told the Public Accounts Committee they were ‘comfortable’ with the level of information sharing with the National Audit Office (NAO) in its recent report on sector finances.

However, the NAO’s outgoing director of local government, Aileen Murphie, told the committee: ‘It wasn’t possible for us to understand the full picture of financial stress in the sector or evaluate how effective the department was being in addressing it without knowing the level of demand for exceptional support.

'The department has not yet found a way of being more transparent about the level of financial stress.'

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Social care leaders warn of funding 'cliff edge'

Leading care organisations in England are warning of a "cliff edge" when emergency funding to support infection control and visits during the pandemic runs out in two weeks.

Some providers fear the financial pressure could force them to close.

They say the budget was a missed chance to tackle the short- and long-term funding crisis in adult social care.

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IFS: Local government cuts set to be far worse than expected

Future cuts to local government funding could potentially be significantly worse than previously expected, according to Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis.

The IFS today says that plans announced in this year’s Budget were expected to amount to a real-terms cut of around 1% for ‘unprotected’ departments, which include the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, between 2021-22 and 2022-23.

But the institute says these figures do not account for the Barnett formula, which is used to calculate block grants for the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

When this is accounted for, the scale of planned cuts for unprotected departments “is in fact more like 3% in real terms”, says the IFS.

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Size of Slough and Copeland loans revealed as support package hits £287m

The government has revealed more details of the "exceptional support" packages it is delivering to nine councils, which will amount to £287m over two years.

Two districts, two London boroughs, four unitaries and one metropolitan borough will receive a total of £149.5m this financial year and £137.5m next year in the most dramatic support package specifically for struggling councils that has been seen in many years.

Slough and Copeland BCs have sealed deals with government worth £15.2m and £1.5m respectively in capitalisation loans covering the next financial year.

This comes on top of similar loans to Bexley and Croydon LBCs, Eastbourne DC, Luton BC, Peterborough and Nottingham city councils and Wirral MBC, which have already been reported.

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Jenrick announces £212m pot to tackle rough sleeping

Local authorities have been invited to bid for a share of a multi-million-pound fund which is aimed at providing people sleeping rough with secure, long-term accommodation.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick today announced that £212m will be invested in delivering 6,000 new homes by the end of this Parliament with the aim of ‘ending rough sleeping once and for all.’

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1.4% funding rise for council health services labelled `inadequate'

Spending on local health services, including local contact tracing for coronavirus infections, will rise by 1.4 per cent from next month. The increase amounts to £45 million extra for 2021/22 and is equivalent to a 24 per cent cut in real terms to local health budgets since 2015, which have dropped from £4.2 billion in 2015/16 to £3.3 billion now. The rise has been described as "inadequate" by health experts.

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COVID-19 shows need to reform, fire service told

The pandemic has shown that “significant” reform of the fire service in England is needed “now more than ever”, according to the chief inspector of fire and rescue services. Sir Thomas Winsor found there were too many “barriers impeding the efficiency and effectiveness of services” and said that more needed to be done to address “outdated” and inflexible working arrangements.

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Pandemic forces finance reform rethink

Whitehall plans for local government finance reform were thrown into doubt this week after civil servants indicated the pandemic would force them to rethink. Proposals for 75% business rates retention and the results of a fair funding review, which were originally due to be introduced in 2020-21, were last year delayed for a second time until at least 2022-23 to ‘allow councils to focus on meeting the immediate public health challenge posed by the pandemic’.

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) spokesperson was unable to confirm that the reforms would definitely take place.

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Safer Streets fund doubled to £45m in wake of Sarah Everard death

The Safer Streets fund, which provides neighbourhood measures such as better lighting and CCTV, is to be doubled to £45 million as part of a series of "immediate steps" to improve security and “give assurance” to women and girls in the wake of Sarah Everard’s death. Following a meeting of the Government's Crime and Justice Taskforce, Downing Street said undercover police could also be sent to clubs, bars and popular nightspots to relay intelligence about predatory or suspicious offenders to uniformed officers, in pilots of so-called Project Vigilant, rolled out across the country.

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Major review aims to transform children’s lives in England

The new Children’s Commissioner for England has launched a root and branch review aimed at improving all aspects of children’s lives, from mental health to schooling, poverty and career prospects. Dame Rachel de Souza said the independent Childhood Commission was a “once in a generation” chance to put children’s welfare and life chances at the heart of the country’s policy agenda, as it looks to recover economically from the coronavirus pandemic.

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Services at risk unless NHS England gets £8bn extra funding within days

Hospitals will have to start cutting services unless the NHS gets £8bn of extra funding within days, health service leaders are warning ministers.

The NHS will not be able to tackle the huge backlog of surgery that has built up during the pandemic unless it gets the money to cover additional costs resulting from Covid, hospital bosses say.

The Treasury and NHS England are involved in a standoff over the service’s demand for the cash, which is still unresolved with just 16 days to go until the start of the 2021-22 financial year.

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Net zero 'not enough' to combat climate change, Environment Agency warns

Focusing efforts on reducing emissions will not be enough to stop the climate change emergency, the Environment Agency chief executive has warned.

Sir James Bevan said "even with the ambitious global and national actions we all want to see to reduce emissions, some further climate change is now inevitable".

He added: "That is why as a nation we need to be climate ready so that we are resilient to the future hazards and potential shocks that would otherwise impact our economy, our prosperity, and our lifestyle."

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UK vaccination surge expected in coming days

UK experts say there will be a big increase in the number of people being offered Covid vaccinations in the coming days.

The number of shots given is expected to top 4 million this week, nearly double what has been achieved per week recently, NHS sources say.

It should mean all over 50s will have been given at least one dose by the end of the month.

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E-scooters are coming to a street near you amid surging demand

The number of electric scooters operating on urban streets is set to soar by as much as two-thirds in the coming months because of huge demand.

Talks are taking place between the country’s biggest e-scooter rental company and the government over the deployment of thousands of additional machines by the summer.

It is understood that the number could grow by as much as 75 per cent in some areas.

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Half of local audits late as NAO calls for reform

The National Audit Office has demanded "clear leadership from government" in ending delays to council audits after confirming that less than half of council financial audits for 2019-20 were completed on time.

Fifty-five percent of audit opinions were not issued by the 30 November 2020 deadline , despite the deadline being extended four months due to the pandemic by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, an NAO report out today reveals, describing the delays as “concerning”.

The 45% completion rate is down from 57% in 2018-19 and 95% in 2015-16.

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Whitehall to pilot place-based approach to local government

The former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake has told LGC he “applauds the ambition” of Whitehall’s attempts to break down departmental silos, as a new pilot project emerges which aims to evaluate how Whitehall can be more joined up for local government.

The pilot is part of a series of cross-departmental projects which are intended to drive greater Whitehall integration through a shared outcomes fund. The fund was launched with little fanfare in the 2019 spending review with a £46m pilot for new approaches to supporting adults with complex needs, and will be worth £200m in 2021-22.

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Kerslake: Levelling up set to become ‘synonymous with pork barrel politics’

Former civil service chief Lord Bob Kerslake has said ministers' decision-making on 'levelling up' is damaging trust and credibility in the institutions of government and risk making the issue “synonymous with pork barrel politics”.

In an LGC interview, Lord Kerslake (Crossbench) said there was "no innocent explanation" for why the levelling up fund had been allocated to many apparently richer places, many of them with Conservative MPs.

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Third wave of Covid in autumn is inevitable, says ONS chief Sir Ian Diamond

The national statistician has warned of a further wave of Covid-19 infections in autumn despite strong early evidence of vaccine protection.

Sir Ian Diamond, head of the Office for National Statistics (ONS), said that although the case rate was the lowest since September it was still much higher than last summer when the first lockdown was lifted.

The latest ONS survey found that the infection rate in England was 0.37 per cent, equal to about 6,000 cases a day, compared with 0.04 per cent last summer when it was deemed safe enough to lift the first lockdown.

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Boris Johnson unveils £3bn bus revolution in ‘act of levelling up’

Buses will be more frequent, cheaper, greener and easier to use thanks to a £3 billion revolution, the Government has said.

The Prime Minister is unveiling a shake-up of the bus sector which aims to see lower, simpler flat fares in towns and cities, turn-up-and-go services on main routes, and new flexible services to reconnect communities.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the strategy will see passengers across England benefiting from more frequent, more reliable, easier to use, better coordinated and cheaper bus services.

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Councils welcome boost to COVID Winter Grant Scheme

Council leaders have welcomed the £59m funding boost to the COVID Winter Grant Scheme to help support vulnerable families over the Easter period.

The Government has announced the scheme will now run until 16 April to enable councils to provide low-income families with grants to buy food and pay for essential bills.

The Local Government Association (LGA) welcomed the extension but warned a long-term solution to tackle poverty is needed.

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Fresh council warning over rates appeals

Councils have warned they could face financial collapse if potential cuts to business rates go ahead.

Up to 350,000 businesses across a wide range of sectors - including offices, retail, airports, stadiums, car parks and factories - are thought to have started the process to claim for material change of circumstances business rates appeals after being hit by repeated coronavirus lockdowns.

In a letter to local government secretary Robert Jenrick, Nottinghamshire councils warned they would need ‘significant financial support’ for the next two financial years ‘if they are to avoid the issuing of s114 notices in the future’.

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Boris Johnson launches £3bn ‘greener bus revolution’ to improve services

Ministers have announced new plans to make England’s buses more frequent, cheaper, greener and easier to use as part of the government’s ongoing “levelling up” agenda.

The strategy, which is backed by £3bn of investment, is intended to encourage existing and prospective passengers to choose buses over cars with the promise of better coordinated services across the country.

Turn-up-and-go services will be introduced on main routes, while operators and local councils will be asked to enter into statutory “enhanced partnerships”, or franchising agreements, before they can receive the new funding – putting an end to the commercialised bus market that has operated outside London since 1986.

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Reform urged for outdated council tax that hits poor hardest

The current council tax system is a “wealth tax” on poorer parts of Britain and is in urgent need of a comprehensive overhaul, according to a coalition of academics and thinktanks from across the political divide.

The crudity of the system means there are eight parliamentary constituencies in which the average household pays no more than 0.2% of their home’s value in council tax. However, there are 41 constituencies in the north and Midlands in which the average household’s council tax burden is 1% or higher.

In Easington, County Durham, when the charge is measured against the average cost of a home, some are paying as much as three times the rate of council tax.

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Council Tax hikes to see some baseline household bills exceed £2,000 for first time

People living in band D council tax properties in the north east and the south west of England could see their bills exceed the £2,000 mark for the first time, a survey has suggested.

Local authorities across the UK are set to raise the amount of tax they claim in April, with research from the Daily Mirror suggesting two thirds of all major UK councils will put a 5 per cent increase on the levy going into the new financial year.

The chancellor gave local authorities the ability to add a 5 per cent hike in the budget, up from the previous cap of 2 per cent unless a higher rate was agreed by a referendum.

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Only 60% of care home workers vaccinated in one part of UK as progress stagnates

Only about 60% of care home workers in London have been vaccinated against COVID-19, while progress across England appears to be stagnating.

Analysis by Sky News has found take up rates ranging between 59.9% in the capital, and 77.7% in the North East and Yorkshire.

The NHS England data covers staff who have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine in the last four weeks.

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Where are elections happening on 6 May and why do they matter? [OPINION]

Elections may be the last thing on Britons’ minds as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic and the prospect of summer holidays beckons.

But in just a few weeks most of the country is facing polls which could have a fundamental impact not only on the political direction of the 2020s but on the future of the UK itself.

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Income losses drive 11% jump in net council expenditure

Councils’ net spending was 11% higher in the nine months to December than the same period last year, according to data compiled by the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government.

Total local authority spending in the first three quarters of 2021-22 was £77.9bn, £7.9bn higher than in April-December last year, according to local authority outturn data published today.

The rise was partly fuelled by an 89% increase in net spending on economic affairs, which includes transport and maintenance services, to £6.1bn up from £3.2bn in the previous year.

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Council to consider capitalisation direction offer

A capitalisation direction to be considered by Nottingham City Council on Friday will be used to spread losses from its failed energy company which left a £38m hole in council finances.

The council originally applied for the capitalisation direction in December, to help manage losses from its wholly-owned energy firm Robin Hood Energy over a “number of years”, and reduce reliance of reserves.

It is understood that the council has received a response from the government over the £35m direction request, and is assessing the conditions of the agreement before a committee votes on the support on Friday afternoon.

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LGA forced to pay back £1m in unused grant

The Local Government Association (LGA) will have to pay back around £1m in unused cash to central government as part of a deal struck on its top slice funding.

The association was awarded £19.2m in 2020-21 for its sector led improvement.

However, the cost of delivery has been cut by the pandemic as there has little in the way of travel and hotel expenses for the past year. That cash will now be clawed back by central government.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is poised to sign its next annual deal with the LGA, which will see a 10% cut to funding for 2021-22, taking the grant down to £17.3m.

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Levelling-up ‘losing its way’

The Government’s methods of levelling-up are further dividing rather than uniting the country, it has been claimed.

Local leaders warned the House of Lords' Public Services Committee the process would not deliver the desired results.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said levelling-up ‘really is the right theme for the times we are living in’ but competitive bidding schemes such as the Towns Fund were not the way to achieve the policy.

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MPs condemn Government’s ‘staggering’ cost of programme that failed to stop spread of Covid-19

The Government’s vast £23bn Test and Trace system has made “no measurable difference” on the Covid pandemic and failed to prevent two national lockdowns, MPs have concluded.

In a damning report on the performance of the NHS Test and Trace (NHST&T) scheme, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has accused the Government of treating the taxpayer like an “ATM machine”, branding the sums of money spent on the programme as “staggering”.

It is the latest attack aimed at the Government’s test and trace system, which had been previously heralded by Boris Johnson to be “world-beating”.

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Local authority test and trace ‘hampered’ by limited funding

Councils’ ability to handle Covid-19 test and trace responsibilities have been hampered by a lack of clarity on funding levels, according to the Public Accounts Committee.

In a report on NHS Test and Trace, the Department of Health and Social Care said that it had provided a total of £925m to councils for test and trace activities since early summer.

However, evidence submitted by the National Audit Office and the Local Government Association highlighted a lack of clarity about whether and how much funding was available to local authorities.

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Warning over photo ID law change for UK-wide and English elections

Changing the law to force people to show photo ID to take part in UK elections will be catastrophic for ethnic minority communities, increasing barriers to access and in effect disenfranchising them, equality and democracy campaigners have warned.

Boris Johnson’s government is expected to introduce a bill in the spring to make photo ID mandatory from 2023 for all UK-wide and English elections. But critics argue it is unnecessary, given low levels of voter fraud in the UK, and will disproportionately impact ethnic minority and working-class communities.

There was only one conviction for “personation” fraud, which voter ID is meant to prevent, in the UK in 2019.

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Child abuse laws to be expanded in England and Wales

Sports coaches and faith leaders who have sexual relationships with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care will be breaking the law under new legislation planned for England and Wales.

The move would put them on par with roles like teachers and social workers. Children's charity the NSPCC said it was a "landmark step" for the protection of young people.

It is among a raft of measures included in a bill which is due to be introduced in Parliament later.

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Air quality soars in school streets that banished cars

Closing roads around schools to traffic at pick-up and drop-off times has cut toxic nitrogen dioxide levels by up to 23 per cent, research has found.

Pollution sensors were installed at 18 primary schools in the London boroughs of Brent, Enfield and Lambeth in September. Half had introduced “school streets” in which traffic was temporarily banned and the other half had no restrictions.

The biggest difference was found at Kingfisher Hall Primary Academy in Enfield, where parent volunteers operated traffic barriers from 8.15 to 9.15am and 2.45 to 3.45pm, Monday to Friday.

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NAO: Local authority finances a ‘concern’ amid funding gap

Councils still face a funding gap of more than £600m this financial year due to Covid-19, despite huge government support for the sector, the National Audit Office has found.

A report from the watchdog into the cost of the pandemic felt by local government found that the combined impact on spending and non-tax income in 2020-21 is £9.7bn – equivalent to 17.6% of revenue expenditure.

So far the government has announced £9.1bn of financial support, leaving a deficit of £605m, the NAO said.

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A tale of two Budgets?

The chancellor’s Budget last week was never going to deliver what local government needs – a sustainable long-term finance solution that addresses the multiple issues of soaring adult social care costs, unsustainable business rates and increasingly ludicrous council taxes.

Instead, it offered a quick fix to bail out the economy until September – hopefully seeing the country through the worst of the pandemic – and a promise to start getting the UK’s bank balance back on track.

Councils, fresh from the finance settlement, will have to wait until the second half of the year to see if the chancellor searches down the back of the Treasury sofa for a top up, as Mr Sunak continues on the long tradition of short-term, piecemeal, bid-based funding for the sector.

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Children who receive false positive Covid tests at school to be banned from class for 10 days

Children who receive false positives when tested at school will still be told to self-isolate and will be banned from the classroom for 10 days, the Government has said

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Boris Johnson urges caution as England schools to reopen

Boris Johnson has said the country is starting to move towards a sense of "normality" as schools in England get ready to open to more pupils on Monday.

The PM has urged the public to stick to the rules as the government follows a "cautious" approach to easing lockdown.

Monday marks the first step of the "roadmap" out of national restrictions. But the UK's largest education union has accused the government of failing to put adequate safety measures in place ahead of schools reopening.

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Concern quick-result tests on pupils will give too many false positives

Children may be wrongly kept off school because there is a risk that the "majority" of positive cases detected by the Government's lateral flow tests "could be false positives", experts have warned.

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People aged 56 to 59 in England invited to book in for a coronavirus jab from next week

People aged 56 to 59 in England are being invited to book in for a COVID jab, as the NHS vaccination programme continues to gather pace.

Letters sent to 850,000 people in the age bracket began arriving on Saturday, with another 850,000 expected to arrive on Monday.

It comes after more than eight in 10 people aged between 65 and 69 took up the offer of a jab.

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All businesses in England to be given rapid coronavirus tests free of charge

COVID test kits will be made available free of charge to small firms as well as larger companies, in a move aimed at giving employers and staff peace of mind.

All businesses in England, including those with fewer than 50 employees, will be able to sign up to the government's free COVID-19 workplace testing programme.

Tests in big companies are already under way but as part of the roadmap out of lockdown restrictions, businesses of all sizes can now register online to order free lateral flow tests for employees.

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Households face paying £100 a year more in council tax

Council tax bills will increase by £1.8 billion from April under new rules that allow local authorities to put up rates without consultation, official forecasts have shown.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimates that two thirds of councils will increase their taxes by the maximum 5 per cent, costing households up to £100 a year. Over five years bills will increase by a total of about £7.5 billion.

In November the government loosened rules on the amount that local authorities could charge. Previously, any council wanting to increase taxes by more than 2 per cent would have to hold a referendum. That limit has been increased to 5 per cent.

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Mental health money for children's services

Money to support children and young people's mental health after the "disruption" of the pandemic has been cautiously welcomed.

It is part of a £500m pot for mental health services across the board, announced in November.

The government confirmed £79m would be allocated to support children in school and in the community.

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UK Covid deaths and infections fall by a third in a week with 236 fatalities and 5,947 cases in last 24 hours

The number of Covid deaths and infections in the UK has fallen by a third in a week with 236 fatalities and 5,947 cases recorded in the last 24 hours.

It is the biggest week-on-week drop since the second wave peak of the pandemic. Last Friday, 8,523 cases and 346 deaths were reported.

The dropping death toll raises hopes Brits are past the darkest time of the virus.

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UK 'well-equipped' to stay ahead of Covid variants, says top scientist

A top scientist says the UK is "well-equipped" to stay ahead of Covid variants amid hopes for a better summer.

Professor Sharon Peacock, head of the Covid-19 Genomics UK scientific body, says new strains of coronavirus are “very unlikely to send us back to square one”.

Instead, the scientist is hopeful that things will be better by summer with vaccines adapting quickly to different variants.

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NHS may face a million long Covid patients after pandemic

Senior doctors are braced for up to a million people needing treatment for long Covid after the pandemic, putting huge extra pressure on an already overstretched NHS, the Guardian can reveal.

Long Covid is a significant problem affecting huge numbers of patients that will confront the NHS for many years to come, one of the service’s expert advisers on the fast-emerging condition said.

Signs are already emerging that the health service is having trouble keeping up with the demand for care created by the sheer number of patients who are still displaying symptoms such as exhaustion, brain fog, chest pains and breathing problems months after having Covid.

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DCN bids to attract unitaries with new offer

The District Councils’ Network (DCN) will create a new category of membership in a bid to keep new unitaries within the association, The MJ has learnt.

West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire – the two new unitaries being created to replace the county and its seven districts – are understood to have informally approached DCN with a view to joining.

The separate unitary membership would include access to the full range of DCN services, events, training and support though these councils would not influence the overall political balance of the organisation.

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Cautious continuity Budget indicates a lack of post-Covid vision [OPINION]

The chancellor’s Budget promised much. This was the opportunity for Rishi Sunak to plot the UK’s way out of the economic challenges posed by Covid-19 and Brexit. In the event, so much had been leaked in advance that there were few surprises. Indeed, the most surprising element in the speech and accompanying documents was the overall sense that not much had happened.

Brexit was not mentioned once in the Budget ‘red book’. The government has clearly decided the economy will adjust now the transition period is finally over: companies that go to the wall will simply be part of the restructuring necessary now a sea of paperwork separates Dover and Calais – and, indeed, Holyhead and Dublin. New opportunities may await exporters, but the chancellor did not explicitly announce policies to help them.

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Sunak’s Budget focuses on growth – but little mention of public services

A new £12bn national infrastructure bank was announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in a Budget billed as being pro-business but offering little for public services.

Mr Sunak announced a series of measures to help the national economy bounce back, including £1bn for town deals, and the locations of eight freeports. He also announced a further business rates holiday, for which councils will be compensated.

And there was extra support for towns, with £1bn for 45 new town deals, and the National Infrastructure Fund being asked to produce a report on how infrastructure can best support economic prosperity and quality of life in towns, focusing on transport and digital infrastructure in particular.

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NHS reforms risk sowing confusion and undermining safety, MPs warned

A bid for more control over the NHS by ministers risks undermining patient safety and sowing confusion over who is ultimately responsible for services, MPs have been warned.

The Commons Health Select Committee was told the proposals, set out in a new white paper published last month, lacked detail on the involvement of patients in local services and needed urgent clarification of the new powers the health secretary will have.

The plans will give ministers new powers over the independent Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB), including being able to tell it what to investigate and the power to remove protections for NHS staff who give evidence in secret.

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A £150k semi-detached home that pays more tax than a £77m mansion: That's just one of the injustices in the council tax postcode lottery

One is a £77.5million eight-bedroom luxury mansion in one of London's most exclusive postcodes.

The other is a modest family home in County Durham on the market for £150,000. Yet the owners of the three-bedroom semi-detached home in the village of Lanchester have to pay £1,794 in council tax every year.

Whereas the millionaires whose grand Belgravia property is worth 500 times more have to pay just £1,560.

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Unison call for election safety measures

The Government needs to implement strict measures in May’s local elections to keep staff safe, trade union Unison urged today.

Unison called for action and assurances to ensure polling stations do not become hotspots for infection in a letter to communities secretary Robert Jenrick and the Local Government Association (LGA).

Councils were told by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government last week that they would need to buy equipment for the protection of staff, voters and others at polling stations, postal vote openings and counts.

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‘levelling up is levelling down for London’

The departing leader of Islington LBC has warned the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and limitations on local democratic leaders of place are badly impacting on his borough.

Richard Watts (Lab) announced his intention to stand down in May after eight years of leading the London borough, telling party colleagues in a message last week: “I have found the challenges of the pandemic intense and at points draining.”

In an LGC interview he spoke both about his reasons for standing down and the future threats to Islington, in particular ‘levelling up’ which “seems to be in fact a levelling down in London”.

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Encourage unemployed to staff polling stations, says Cabinet Office

The Cabinet Office has recommended that councils encourage unemployed people to step in to plug a staffing gap for May's local elections.

The move comes as a trade union warns of the risk of polling stations becoming “hotspots for infection spread” if new staff are drafted in without adequate precautions.

A letter from Ellen Atkinson, the department’s director for constitution, says it can help councils “tap into new sources of staff” by providing access to Job Centre customers, as well as civil servants from elsewhere in government, and young people in the National Citizen Service (NCS) network.

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Election campaigning allowed from 8 March

Individual activists will be allowed to deliver leaflets and canvass voters outdoors from 8 March in the run up to the English local elections.

The new Government guidance will allow one-to-one campaigning outdoors as long as it is conducted in a COVID-secure way.

Campaigners have been reminded of the need to be socially distanced, wear face coverings and sanitise their hands.

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'Now is not the time for tax rises', say MPs

Now is "not the time for tax rises" as they could undermine the UK's economic recovery from Covid - but they may be needed at a later date, MPs have said.

Ahead of the Budget announcement on Wednesday, a Treasury Committee report says public finances are on an "unsustainable long-term trajectory".

It says some tax rises may not harm recovery, but advises against others. The committee's chairman, Mel Stride, told the BBC it was "almost inevitable" that some tax rises would occur.

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PM has 'no doubt' about strong jobs recovery

The prime minister says he has "no doubt" there will be a strong jobs-led recovery from coronavirus.

Mr Johnson said it had "been expensive" to look after everyone during the pandemic and the chancellor would be "frank" about state of the economy in Wednesday's Budget.

45 Conservative MPs have urged Mr Sunak to cut business rates in England to help "save the High Streets".

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Households of school aged children eligible for rapid COVID tests

All households of school aged children will get two rapid tests per person, per week, the Department of Health and Social Care has announced.

Families and households with primary school, secondary school and college age children, including childcare and support bubbles, will be able to test themselves twice every week from home as schools return from 8 March.

The Government’s roadmap, which aims to lead the country out of the national lockdown, will begin by trying to help all children and students return to face to face education in schools and college from 8 March.

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End Covid payments delay, says struggling events industry

Local and national government have been urged to work together to tackle delays in paying emergency grants that were announced in October.

The Event Industry Alliance has written to Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, and Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Local Government Association, to highlight “a very worrying trend of delayed payments by councils to businesses urgently in need of support”.

The group, which represents event organisers, venues and suppliers, asked for the government and local authorities to “urgently investigate” the latest position of grant payments and to “ensure clear guidance and assistance is given to ensure councils are able to release these funds to eligible businesses without delay”.

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Councils underspend £62m of childcare funding

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of local education authorities reported underspending their funding for three-and-four-year-old childcare places in 2019-20, according to information collected by the National Day Nurseries Association.

A total of £62m was left unspent, it said.

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Government considers pubs plan that would see alcohol duty frozen

The Government has discussed a giveaway for pubs which would see the business rates holiday extended and all alcohol duty frozen....

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Vaccinating by age not job 'will save the most lives' - Hancock

The UK's decision not to prioritise key workers such as teachers or police officers for a Covid jab is "the moral thing to do" and will "save the most lives", the health secretary has said.

Matt Hancock confirmed the second phase of the vaccine rollout would follow expert advice to focus on age groups.

More than one in three adults in the UK have now had their first jab. One of England's top medics said Covid death rates were lower for teachers than several other professions.

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Coronavirus levels 'burning quite hot' in some of UK

Some areas of the UK are "burning quite hot" with rising levels of new coronavirus infections, England's deputy chief medical officer says.

Although coronavirus levels are still decreasing across much of the UK, there are hotspots that buck the trend.

These are in the Midlands and east and west coast of England and some parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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Rishi Sunak to inject £126m to boost traineeship scheme

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to announce a £126m boost for traineeships in England in his Budget on Wednesday.

The scheme will include a new "flexi-job" apprenticeship that will enable apprentices to work with a number of different employers in one sector.

Unemployment is at its highest level in almost five years, with younger and typically lower-paid workers bearing the brunt of job losses.

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Compulsory jabs for care staff supported by Robert Buckland

A senior cabinet minister has backed “no jab, no job” proposals from care homes as figures showed nearly one in three staff have not been vaccinated.

Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, said there was an “obvious rationale” for social care groups to introduce the policy in light of fears about vaccine hesitancy among care home workers. Only 6 per cent of residents are yet to have received a jab.

There are signs of particularly low uptake among carers in London, where 45 per cent of staff have not yet been vaccinated. Almost half of domiciliary care workers who look after people in their homes have not received the vaccine either. All carers have been offered a vaccine.

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If we don't reform social care now, when will we?

The social care sector has borne the brunt of Covid-19 in many different and terrible ways. Some 28,000 care home residents have died from the virus since the pandemic began.

Nearly 500 brave care workers have given their lives doing much under-appreciated and usually low-paid jobs. Families have been unable to visit their relatives for months on end, losing touch with loved ones with dementia who may never recognise them again.

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Treasury officials are likely to find themselves in Darlington

Darlington is the most likely location for the Treasury’s new northern base.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, will decide this weekend on where to place a new Treasury campus in the north of England — a central part of the government’s plan to decentralise the civil service.

He is under pressure from colleagues to opt for the railway town of Darlington on Teesside, one of the areas the Tories won from Labour in 2019.

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Major cities falling well behind in UK's bid to vaccinate its way out of lockdown

The 15 areas of England to have vaccinated the lowest proportion of adults against COVID-19 are all in London.

In some boroughs, including Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham, just one in five adults have received a single dose of a vaccine, according to NHS England data up to 25 February.

Other cities including Nottingham and Manchester also have low vaccination rates.

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Green homes grant will meet only tiny fraction of target in England

The government’s flagship green homes grant scheme will help just 8% of its target 600,000 households switch to renewable energy by the end of March, analysis reveals.

The £2bn for the scheme is being withdrawn at the end of next month. Analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit thinktank reveals that at the current rate it will issue vouchers to just 49,000 members of the public by that time.

This equates to an annual carbon saving of 26,000 tonnes, or 0.4% of UK residential sector emissions.

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MPs investigate ditching smart motorways

MPs have launched an investigation into the safety of smart motorways, after a coroner said they created an "ongoing risk" of death.

In 2019, 14 people reportedly died on the roads - on which hard shoulders can become driving lanes at peak congestion times, or on a permanent basis.

The Transport Committee is looking at whether they should go altogether or need better safety measures.

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Councils to provide grocery shopping to stop people breaking Covid self-isolation rules

People forced to self-isolate with coronavirus will be given help with day to day chores, such as food shopping and care provision for family members, under a shake up of the Government’s test and trace programme.

Rishi Sunak is expected to announce millions in additional funding for local authorities to provide extra assistance to ensure people remain at home when asked to self-isolate in his Budget next week.

It follows growing concerns within the government over the persistent failure to ensure people remain in quarantine when they test positive for Covid-19 or if they come into contact with someone who has.

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Sunak to use budget to start repairing UK's public finances

Rishi Sunak will use the volatility in global financial markets to ram home a budget message next week that immediate action is needed to repair the damage to the public finances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the deep downturn caused by the third nationwide lockdown in England, the chancellor – who has been closely monitoring market moves – will announce the first steps towards reducing the biggest peacetime deficit in Britain’s history.

Measures to reduce the gap between government tax income and spending are expected to include lifting the corporation tax rate to 23% from the current rate of 19% over the parliament, and increasing capital gains tax.

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Doorstep campaigning for local elections to resume in England

Door-to-door political campaigning will be allowed to resume in England from 8 March in the run-up to local elections in May, the government has announced.

Activists will be permitted to stand on people’s doorsteps and canvass as long as they abide by the 2-metre social distancing rule.

They will not be able to enter people’s homes and should only access shared hallways in blocks of flats where “absolutely necessary”. The new advice also urges organisers to keep the number of campaigners to a minimum.

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How ministers are planning to seize control of policy from Public Health England

Ministers plan to take more control of public health once Public Health England is disbanded, raising concerns about the growing centralisation of healthcare during the coronavirus pandemic.

Policies on smoking, air quality, obesity and mental health will be directed from Whitehall rather than by a specialist public health body under proposals set to be unveiled next month, Sky News has learned.

The plans were disclosed last Friday in a staff meeting hosted by senior leaders at Public Health England (PHE) and Test and Trace, a recording of which has been passed to Sky News.

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Single Pfizer vaccine dose could be enough for people who have had Covid, studies show

One dose of the Pfizer vaccine could be enough to protect millions of people who have already had Covid, research by Public Health England suggests....

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School closures risk 'permanent scarring' to children, adviser warns

School closures risk "permanent scarring", the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has warned. ...

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Councils' loans legal action fails

Councils are considering whether to appeal after a High Court judge threw out a bid to sue Barclays over a number of loans.

The bank asked Mrs Justice Cockerill to strike out the case brought by Greater Manchester Combined Authority, North East Lincolnshire Council, Newham LBC, Oldham MBC, and Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield city councils.

Councils had claimed their lender option borrower option loans, issued between September 2006 and November 2008, had been ‘tainted’ by the Libor rigging scandal.

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MPs call for review of local authority flood funding

The Government needs a better understanding of whether funding allocated to local authorities to prevent flooding is matching local risks, MPs have warned.

A new report from the Public Accounts Committee warned increased housing development and the impact of climate change will continue to increase the UK’s flood risks.

MPs found that local authorities were being forced to spend more on managing local flood risks than they were allocated through the funding formula.

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New Levelling Up Fund using money diverted from Towns Fund

New government 'levelling up' projects are being funded partly by diverting money originally earmarked for the Towns Fund, it has emerged.

A Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government source confirmed that around half of the government's new Levelling Up Fund next year will come from reshuffling former Towns Fund money. It has also emerged that £175m of new funding for freeports will include money previously earmarked for the Towns Fund.

Two years on from when the Towns Fund first launched - offering cash to kickstart capital projects in 101 towns - it has been hampered by delays, with resources diverted to deal with the pandemic. Only seven areas have so far had their final funding amounts confirmed, in deals worth £178m.

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Ring-fence national insurance to cover many care costs says PM’s ex-aide

A report by a former aide to the prime minister says that councils should only step in to cover social care costs when they are relatively high.

The document by Conservative MP Danny Kruger calls for responsibility for social care to be shared between government, councils, individuals - and families, which will be asked to sign an agreement with "no legal force but... some moral force" to cover care costs. Under Mr Kruger's plan family homes will be protected from having to be sold to pay for support.

Mr Kruger rejects the idea of a National Care Service as “very bad news”, and says he has received ministerial assurance in the House of Commons that “no such step was contemplated”.

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Council facing legal action over 'knee-jerk' cycle lane removal

Cycling UK has submitted an application for judicial review of West Sussex County Council’s decision to remove the cycle lane along Upper Shoreham Road in Shoreham-by-Sea, arguing that it is ‘irrational and unlawful’.

It said that at the heart of its challenge is that the council failed to consider the equalities implications of deciding to remove the cycle lane, and in particular did not consider the impact on young people.

The charity highlighted the popularity of the cycle lane for Shoreham’s families and residents and suggested the council had made an 'arbitrary' decision to remove it.

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Judge throws out council LOBO fraud claim against Barclays

A high court judge has thrown-out a legal challenge tabled by eight local authorities against lender Barclays Bank over historic Lender Option Borrower Option loans.

Councils in Leeds, Greater Manchester, Newcastle, North East Lincolnshire, Nottingham, Oldham, Sheffield and Newham launched action to cancel the loans taken out between 2006-2008.

The councils claimed that Barclays had committed fraud by making the loans while wrongly implying that the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) – on which the loans’ repayments were based – was being set honestly.

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Leap in size of local authority peer lending

The local authority peer-to-peer borrowing market grew by 12.5% during 2020, according to government figures.

The amount of money lent by councils to other authorities stood at £11.2bn at the end of the calendar year, compared to £9.8bn at the end of 2019.

Experts attributed the rise to an influx of cash from central government and a reduction in planned capital programmes due to Covid-19.

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Oxfordshire pays out £1.6m following procurement dispute

Oxfordshire County Council has paid out more than £1.6m to a parking enforcement contractor that lost its contract with the council following a breach of procurement regulations, it has emerged.

In a report to be discussed at an audit and governance meeting next week, the council said it agreed to the settlement with Marston Holdings ltd after it received legal advice from a QC that found “significant failings” in the procurement of parking enforcement.

The firm alleged in June 2019 that the ongoing procurement of a new parking enforcement contract with the council had been “undertaken contrary to the procurement regulations” after its contract was not renewed.

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Councils fail to hand out £1.6bn of Covid grants for small business

Ministers are demanding answers after councils across Britain failed to hand out more than £1.6bn of emergency Covid grants to struggling businesses. ...

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English school leaders despair over new rules on Covid tests and masks

Headteachers fear that the reopening of England’s schools could be undermined because parents will not consent to Covid testing for their children and because guidance on the wearing of face masks in classes is unenforceable.

The warnings came after a slew of education announcements from the government, culminating in a flurry of guidance on summer assessments that will pile pressure on already overstretched teachers.

Announcing its plans this week for a full reopening of schools on 8 March, the government promised a series of measures designed to enhance Covid safety, including twice-weekly testing for secondary pupils and a recommendation to wear face coverings in classrooms.

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Labour calls for council powers to intervene in high streets

Proposals for councils to take over empty shops and a ‘wholesale reform’ of business rates have been put forward by Labour.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds unveiled the plans as part of a programme to revitalise ailing town centres.

Under the plan, local authorities would be granted new powers to ‘repurpose’ commercial properties if left vacant for a year and planning rules would be changed to require permission for changes of use to residential.

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Levelling Up Fund to feature rapid bid process

The £4bn cross-departmental Levelling Up Fund will feature a rapid bid process, with all projects having to be completed before the next General Election, The MJ understands.

A prospectus for the competitive Whitehall-controlled fund, which will allow local areas to bid for millions of pounds to directly fund projects to help the Government achieve its key priority of levelling up the UK, could be published as part of next week’s Budget.

The Local Government Association has already expressed concerns about the prospect of a competitive bidding process ‘at a time when councils want to be fully focused on protecting communities and businesses from the impact of the pandemic’.

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New legislation extends proxy voting in local elections

The Government has introduced new measures to ensure people needing to self-isolate will still be allowed to vote in the upcoming local elections.

It has made an amendment to emergency proxy voting rules to enable anyone self-isolating or shielding due to COVID-19 to access an emergency proxy vote up to 17:00 on election day.

Minister of state for the constitution & devolution, Chloe Smith, said: ‘These elections can and will be delivered in a COVID-secure way and the extended proxy voting rules are a key part of this.

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Sunak is planning 'giveaway' budget next week to inject the UK with a post-lockdown boom after No10's slow road to freedom - with help for motorists, hospitality firms and the housing market

Rishi Sunak will use a giveaway budget next week to pave the way for a post-lockdown boom.

Help for motorists, hospitality firms and the housing market is expected to be among a string of eye-catching policies.

The Chancellor is set to shelve plans for tax rises, including a threatened 5p increase in fuel duty that would have hit millions of drivers.

He is also poised to announce further VAT and business rate cuts for the hospitality and tourist industries, continue the stamp duty holiday and extend the jobs furlough scheme.

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Figures show pre-pandemic fly-tipping rise across England

Councils in England dealt with more than 976,000 instances of fly-tipping in the year up to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, figures show.

It was a 2% rise on the 950,000 incidents in 2018-19, with just under two thirds made up of household waste.

The most common places for the illegal dumping of waste were on roads and pavements.

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Index reveals funding woes

Most councils allowed to use capital cash to prop up their finances faced problems before the impact of the pandemic hit, new figures have revealed.

The latest local authority resilience index from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) laid bare the fiscal position of councils for the year until the end of March 2020 – just as the UK went into its first lockdown.

After a decade of austerity, the figures released by CIPFA last week showed two of the councils that have been granted capitalisation dispensations – Eastbourne BC and Peterborough City Council – were both considered high risk on all but one of the measures used.

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Children’s services face £824m budget gap

A funding shortfall of £824m is being faced by children’s services, according to research published today.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said the amount was required just to enable their work to ‘stay still’ amid increasing demand.

ADCS' analysis - based on a survey on pressures during 2019/20 - found half of respondents reported a reduction in funding ranging between 15% and 30%.

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Councils bending rules to vaccinate key workers

Councils are bending the vaccination priority rules to ensure key workers get Covid jabs as soon as possible, LGC has learned.

One director of public health told LGC that many places were carrying out “a very small local fudge” to get vaccinations for priority key workers, such as those working in early years settings.

Some of these priority groups were being put on the list of recipients for vaccinations of those working in social care, while their council had a “call-up priority list for end-of-day vaccinations that would otherwise go wasted”, they said.

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Mendip District Council back universal basic income trial

Councillors in Mendip have backed calls for the district be a pilot area for universal basic income (UBI), which would offer residents a non-means-tested fixed sum paid by the government to cover the basic cost of living.

This would be issued to all residents regardless of their financial status and whether they are employed or unemployed.

Councillors keen to see a pilot introduced believe it would tackle the impacts on employment prospects and household incomes post-Covid, as well as other factors, such as Brexit, future automation and artificial intelligence.

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Government considering local audit ‘system leader’

The government is considering whether a “system leader” could oversee local government audit in the future, after it rejected the Redmond review’s proposal of a statutory body.

Local government minster Luke Hall this week told MPs that the government was not in favour of Sir Tony Redmond’s proposed Office of Local Audit and Regulation, as primary legislation would be required.

He instead said that the government was looking at a variety of options, including a “system leader” which would work closely with the health bodies and “capitalise on opportunities for greater alignment” with the sector.

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UK government denies £1.7bn request from Scottish Government

The UK government refused a request from Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes for £1.7bn of additional funding to support the Holyrood administration’s Budget for 2021-22, it has emerged.

Following November’s Spending Review, Forbes wrote to chancellor Rishi Sunak requesting the release of Scotland’s share of the UK government’s £21bn Covid-19 reserve, to support the Scottish Budget next year.

However, Jesse Norman, chief secretary to the Treasury wrote back to Forbes in January to rejecting the request “on the basis that the UK Government will decide how to spend the reserve in 2021/22”, according to a report by Audit Scotland.

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NHS struggles with dysfunctional audit market

Issues with external audit are not confined to local government – the NHS system is also not working, says Emma Knowles, director of policy and research at the Healthcare Financial Management Association.

“The NHS external audit market is broken”.

That is the view we heard several times during the HFMA’s new research into why some NHS organisations are struggling to appoint an external auditor.

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Boris Johnson unveils plan to end England restrictions by 21 June

A new four-step plan to ease England's lockdown could see all legal limits on social contact lifted by 21 June, if strict conditions are met.

Shops, hairdressers, gyms and outdoor hospitality could reopen on 12 April in England under plans set out by the PM.

From 17 May, two households might be allowed to mix in homes, while the rule of six could apply in places like pubs. It requires four tests on vaccines, infection rates and new coronavirus variants to be met at each stage.

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Under-25s worst-hit as unemployment rises again

Younger workers have borne the brunt of the job losses during the Covid crisis, official figures show, as the unemployment rate continues to rise.

The UK's jobless rate rose to 5.1% in the three months to December, the Office for National Statistics said, the highest for almost five years.

The figures show 726,000 fewer people are currently in payrolled employment than before the start of the pandemic.

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Torbay latest council to shelve commercial investment

Torbay Council has become the latest authority to shelve its planned commercial investment following PWLB rules changes – scrapping £68m of its planned programme.

In 2017, Torbay set out plans to borrow £300m from the Public Works Loan Board to invest in commercial property in order to make returns to fund services.

The council report has already spent £231m towards its goal, with returns expected to be around £1m less during 2020/21 than the £4.8m budgeted for due to Covid-19.

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Budget 2021 rumour round-up: Corporation tax ‘hike expected’

A rise in corporation tax and extensions to the Universal Credit uplift and furlough scheme are among potential government Budget moves being reported in the national press. PF rounds up the rumours.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will use next week’s Budget to raise corporation tax over the next three years, in bid to help cover expanded Covid-19 support schemes, according to reports.

The Budget will see corporation tax be lifted by one percentage point to 20% this year, to help pay for the extension to the furlough scheme, VAT cut for hospitality and retail and business rates holiday, according to the Times.

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Covid-19 pressures hit grant fraud prevention

UK councils’ efforts to tackle grant fraud are being hampered by the reallocation of resources to support efforts to respond to Covid-19, according to analysis from CIPFA.

Findings from the CIPFA Fraud and Corruption Tracker survey published yesterday, found that grant fraud was valued at only £36m in 2019-20, around 15% of identified council fraud.

However, councils told CIPFA that resources have been redirected to processing and reviewing Covid-19 business grants, restricting their ability to tackle grant-related fraud.

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Prudential code: “Not perfect, but its heart is in the right place”

I have been asked to give my opinion on the new prudential code and the timing is excellent since , at our recent budget council, I ceased to be a section 151 officer as I retire next month. The mantle was passed to my successor. This puts me in a unique position as I no longer have any skin in the game.

I can see the reasoning behind the revisions to the prudential code: there is a worry that a small number of council’s are misbehaving with their investment strategies which could lead to a change in regulation which would tie the hands of local Government.

However, I’m not sure that these changes will have the desired effect.

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Boris Johnson to unveil 'cautious' plan to lift England's lockdown

All schools in England are to reopen on 8 March as part of the prime minister's "cautious" four-part plan to lift the coronavirus lockdown.

Boris Johnson will share his finalised roadmap with ministers later, before unveiling it to MPs and then leading a news conference at 19:00 GMT.

Up to six people or two households will be allowed to meet outdoors from 29 March, the vaccines minister said.

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UK reports another 215 coronavirus deaths as number of people jabbed hits 17.5 million

Another 215 COVID-19 deaths and 9,834 cases have been recorded in the UK, while the number of people to have received a first vaccine dose has now surpassed 17.5 million.

In what is set to be the final update to the statistics before Boris Johnson announces his roadmap out of lockdown, the number of people who have received their first dose of a COVID vaccine has risen by 334,679 to 17,582,121.

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Firms with government licences caught fly-tipping, Panorama investigation finds

Rubbish firms with government licenses are fly-tipping waste on country lanes, a Panorama investigation has found....

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UK vaccine rollout should turn to children 'as fast as we can', says SAGE expert

There is a "value" in giving COVID jabs to children, the health secretary has told Sky News - as a leading scientist said the UK's vaccine rollout should turn to younger age groups "as fast as we can".

Oxford University last week launched the first study to assess the safety and immune responses in children and young adults of their coronavirus vaccine.

Follow live coverage on Sky News on Monday as the PM is expected to address the House of Commons at 3.30pm and lead a Downing Street news conference at 7pm

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Catch-up narrative putting 'huge pressure' on children, psychologists say

The idea that children must "catch up" with learning lost due to the pandemic is heaping "huge" pressure on them, educational psychologists have warned.

Many pupils have missed out on months of face-to-face teaching, and the PM has appointed a catch-up tsar to lead educational recovery in England.

But the British Psychological Society says children's wellbeing, rather than their learning, should be the focus.

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More than 7% of children have attempted suicide by 17

About one British child in fourteen has tried to kill themselves by the age of 17, a study has revealed.

Pressures from education and social media were among the drivers, experts said, with fears growing that the pandemic would increase mental health problems among young people.

The figure comes from a survey of more than 10,000 young people collected as part of the Millennium Cohort Study, which tracks the lives of 19,000 people born at the start of the millennium.

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UK homeless deaths rise by more than a third in a year, study finds

Deaths among homeless people have risen by more than a third in a year, according to an analysis by a social justice group that found that almost 1,000 unhoused people had died across the UK in 2020.

The Museum of Homelessness (MoH), a community-driven organisation which runs the Dying Homeless Project, called for action to prevent a repeat of such “terrible loss of life”. Among cases where a cause of death was confirmed, 36% were related to drug and alcohol use and 15% were suicide.

Jess Tuttle, the organisation’s co-founder, said the findings demonstrated how the pandemic had hit a system “already cut to the bone from 10 years of austerity”. The MoH is now calling for a national confidential inquiry into homeless deaths.

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Keep funding green homes to meet emissions target, say businesses

Business groups are urging the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to keep funding home insulation and other low-carbon measures under the green homes grant, which is under threat from cuts.

They warned that moves to reduce the amount of money paid out under the scheme, or abandon it altogether, would make it harder to reach the government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050, and damage the UK’s credibility as host nation of this year’s Cop26 UN climate summit and president of the G7 group of rich nations.

“Only a long-term programme can provide the economic, social and environmental benefits associated with a focus on green homes, support the government’s important levelling-up agenda, and make real progress towards achieving the net zero target,” wrote the 25 organisations, in a letter to Sunak seen by the Guardian.

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Covid test and vaccine certificates could help sectors reopen in England

People in England could be issued with certificates confirming their Covid test and vaccine status, as part of a potential plan to help some sectors reopen this summer.

A cross-government review has been set up to investigate the idea, touted by the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi as far back as the end of November 2020, but ruled out later in the winter by senior cabinet figures including Michael Gove.

The certificates would be for domestic use only, while separate plans for so-called vaccine passports are drawn up by Whitehall for those planning to travel abroad when coronavirus measures allow.

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'Large wave' of infections if restrictions were eased too fast and some measures will be needed beyond 2021, scientists warn

The UK would face another "large wave" of coronavirus infections if lockdown restrictions were lifted too quickly and some measures will be needed beyond 2021, government scientists have warned.

Speaking before the prime minister unveiled his "roadmap" for ending England's lockdown, Sir Patrick Vallance said there is a risk of "flying blind" if all restrictions are scrapped at once.

The chief scientific adviser explained that it takes about four weeks to assess the impact that lifting a restriction has on COVID-19 cases - as he backed easing the lockdown in stages.

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Buss to take over as Croydon finance chief

Experienced local government finance officer Chris Buss is joining London Borough of Croydon as director of finance on an interim basis, after the resignation of current post holder Lisa Taylor.

The council, which faces severe financial issues, has confirmed the resignation of finance director Taylor along with Guy Van Dichele, executive director of health, wellbeing and adults.

PF has learnt that Chris Buss, former director of finance and deputy chief executive at the London Borough of Wandsworth, has taken over from Taylor.

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Grants of £150m available to councils in homes partnership initiative

Councils in England will be allowed to enter into strategic partnerships with government’s affordable housing quango Homes England for the first time.

Previously such partnerships had only been open to not-for-profit housing providers, but the body has now expanded this to help drive affordable housing investment.

Authorities will be able to bid for up to £150m of funding from the organisation and must build at least 1,500 homes which need to be completed by March 2028.

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MHCLG to make move from Whitehall to Wolverhampton

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is setting up a second headquarters in the Black Country as part of plans to shift civil servants away from the capital.

The Government’s first ministerial department based outside of London will be located in Wolverhampton, creating 300 new roles in the region.

The ‘historic’ move has been welcomed by the leader of City of Wolverhampton Council, who said they had made a compelling case to the Government for the relocation.

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All UK adults to be offered jab by 31 July

All adults in the UK will be offered their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of July, the prime minister has pledged.

More than 17 million people have been given a jab since the UK's Covid vaccine rollout began in December 2020.

But Boris Johnson said he now wants the programme to "go further and faster". He said the July target would allow vulnerable people to be protected "sooner" and would help to further ease lockdown rules across the country.

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End outside sport ban, top scientist urges Johnson as all adults set for jab by July

Data on the number of Covid-19 cases is now so encouraging that outdoor sports for children and small numbers of adults should be allowed immediately as part of an accelerated easing of the lockdown, a leading scientist and adviser to government has told the Observer.

With the prime minister expected to take a cautious approach to lifting restrictions in a statement to the House of Commons on Monday, Prof Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University, whose work feeds into the Sage committee’s sub-group Spi-M, said the data showed there was no need for the government to be “ultra-cautious”.

“The government has said the country’s exit from lockdown should be data-driven. Well, the data is extremely good, far better than anyone, including me, anticipated two or three weeks ago,” said Woolhouse. “Hospitalisations, deaths, and case numbers have all plunged while vaccinations have already reached a quarter of the adult population.

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Church of England land should be used to help tackle housing crisis, says report

Thousands of hectares of land owned by the Church of England could be used to build affordable homes in the next few years under proposals from a housing commission set up by the archbishop of Canterbury.

The church must lead by example in tackling the housing crisis facing the nation, says the commission. The government should adopt a 20-year strategy to provide truly affordable homes to its citizens, but the C of E can act immediately, its report, Coming Home, concludes.

The church owns about 81,000 hectares (200,000 acres) of land, held by the church commissioners, 42 dioceses and 12,500 parishes. Much of it is unsuitable for development, but a mapping exercise carried out by the commission has established that a significant proportion could be used to build affordable housing.

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Labour urges Rishi Sunak to extend Covid self-isolation payments

The chancellor must expand support for people self-isolating or risk a fourth national lockdown, Labour has said, as new analysis from the party suggests the lockdown is costing the economy £1.6bn a week.

In one of her major pre-budget interventions, the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, urged Rishi Sunak to radically extend eligibility for the £500 support payment to anyone without access to workplace sick pay.

At the moment only about one in eight workers are automatically able to access the payment. About 70% of people who apply for financial support are rejected, according to data from half of England’s councils.

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Fears of English local elections chaos due to lack of staff and venues

Staff shortages and a lack of available polling stations risk bringing chaos to May’s local elections in England, officials have warned, with concerns that some counts could take so long they contravene the law.

The dearth of staff is so acute that some councils are appealing for pandemic volunteers, who have delivered food parcels or helped at vaccination centres, to assist at polling stations on 6 May.

The Cabinet Office has confirmed it will push ahead with two sets of council elections – including one postponed from last May – as well as ballots for the London mayor and assembly, for a series of other mayors, and for police and crime commissioners (PCCs).

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Burnt-out NHS staff to be boosted by military medics as they brace for wave of non-coronavirus patients

Burnt-out NHS staff will be offered more support from military medics as they prepare to cope with a new wave of non-COVID patients, the defence secretary has told Sky News.

Ben Wallace said "exhausted" staff would be given help as they start to come out of the worst of COVID-19 but are forced to confront the growing list of people waiting for routine treatment.

Speaking on a visit to The James Cook hospital in Middlesbrough where military staff worked hand in hand with the NHS to bolster the response to the coronavirus, he said giving people a break will be essential in the next phase of the pandemic.

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Ambulance delays led to 'secondary Covid victims'

Ambulances waiting outside busy hospitals over Christmas led to "secondary Covid victims", the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has said.

Information requests show that the number of hours ambulances spent waiting to offload patients rose by 63% in London and 48% in the West Midlands.

BBC News has spoken to the widow of a man who died of a stroke, having waited three hours for an ambulance. The NHS said capacity had been freed up despite increasing Covid-19 infections.

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Housing department confirms second headquarters in Wolverhampton

A second headquarters for the housing department is to be set up in the Midlands, amid wider plans by the Government for more representation outside of London.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) will become the first department to have ministers regularly working outside of Whitehall at the new site in Wolverhampton.

The move supports Boris Johnson’s so-called “levelling-up” agenda, in which the Prime Minister has vowed to do more to create opportunities outside the capital.

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UK government under growing pressure over Covid procurement

The UK government faces growing calls to release details of a VIP fast lane for emergency procurement contracts related to its pandemic response after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, was found to have acted unlawfully.

A high court judge ruled on Friday that the failure to publish multibillion-pound Covid-19 government contracts within the 30-day period required by law breached the “vital public function” of transparency over how “vast quantities” of taxpayers’ money was spent.

Last year, ministers and officials refused to admit which companies were awarded multimillion-pound Covid-19 contracts after being processed in a high-priority channel for firms with political connections.

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10,000 children in care were sent to potentially unsafe places to live - including caravans, tents and barges

At least 10,000 children in care were placed in potentially unsafe accommodation including caravans, tents and barges, a Sky News investigation has found.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that local councils used unregulated accommodation to house vulnerable children - even though these settings were not subject to inspection or regulation by Ofsted.

Between January 2019 and December 2020, at least 9,990 children were placed into unregulated accommodation by 86 local authorities. At least 20 children were sent to live in tents or caravans, 17 were placed into hostels, and seven were housed in barges on canals.

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Some children won't return to school until April under phased reopening plans

Some pupils may not return to the classroom until mid-April under plans for a phased reopening of secondary schools, an academy chief has warned....

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'Large number' of contact tracers to be sacked - as PM prepares to announce loosening of lockdown

The number of coronavirus contact tracers in England is set to be slashed - just as the prime minister prepares to announce a loosening of lockdown, according to leaked messages obtained by Sky News.

Test and Trace staff have been told that the workforce would be reduced "as a result of the decreasing levels of prevalence" of COVID-19 across the country, even though internal messages admit that cases are likely to increase after lockdown is lifted.

It is not known how many coronavirus contact tracers will be let go, but the message said the move would affect "a large number" of so-called Tier 3 contact tracers.

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One in six new universal credit claimants forced to skip meals

Many people claiming universal credit for the first time during the pandemic were unable to put aside enough cash to save £10 a month, eat healthily or regularly, or pay bills because the benefit payment was inadequate to meet basic living costs, a study has found.

A survey of the experiences of thousands of people who signed on after losing their job under lockdown concludes that even with the temporary £20 a week Covid-19 uplift many struggled to bridge the gap between benefits and living costs without borrowing from family, running up credit card debt, or using food banks.

Two-thirds of all claimants reported suffering financial strain, with one in six new claimants skipping a meal in the previous two weeks, and more than 60% reporting they would be unable to replace or repair electrical goods if they broke, or put aside enough cash to save £10 a month.

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Special needs pupils in England 'pushed to one side' in Covid crisis

Children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) in England have had their education “pushed to one side” during the course of the pandemic “for the convenience of the majority,” according to a survey of parents.

The poll of more than 1,000 parents uncovered “widespread failure” to restore special educational needs provision when children returned to school in September 2020, with a “sizeable” number of Send children unable to return to school at all.

Although children with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) – legally binding documents that entitle them to additional vital support – are among those eligible to attend school during lockdown, fewer than two in five were in school last week.

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Boris Johnson pledges surplus to poorer countries at G7

Boris Johnson is pledging to donate most of the UK's surplus vaccine supply to poorer countries in a speech to a virtual G7 meeting on Friday.

He urged rich countries to back a 100-day target for the developing new vaccines for future emerging diseases.

The UK has ordered more than 400 million doses of various vaccines, so many will be left over once all adults are vaccinated.

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Two Croydon directors resign as disciplinary process begins

Two of the four senior managers at Croydon LBC recently suspended from their duties pending a report into how the council came to face bankruptcy have now resigned from their jobs, as disciplinary procedures against other senior figures get underway.

Director of finance Lisa Taylor, who as section 151 officer had to issue a section 114 notice in December, and executive director of health, wellbeing and adults Guy Van Dichele have both resigned after being suspended two weeks ago.

The two other senior officers to have been suspended are executive director of place Shifa Mustafa and executive director of localities Hazel Simmonds. The council confirmed to LGC that these two now face disciplinary procedures.

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Tories accuse Lib Dems over doorstep campaigning

The chair of the Conservative party has accused the Liberal Democrat leader of putting his activists' lives at risk by ignoring the doorstep campaigning ban for the local elections during the current lockdown.

Amanda Milling has written to Ed Davey claiming that although she has asked volunteers to pause doorstep campaigning in light of government guidance and that the Labour party has followed suit, “it is disappointing that the Liberal Democrats are putting lives at risk in an attempt to win votes by breaking the rules”.

Ms Milling is accusing Lib Dem campaigners of breaking government guidance which prohibits people from leaving home “except where necessary” and which she claimed does not support door to door campaigning or leafleting by party political activists.

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Ban on placing under-16s in unregulated housing risks creating 'two-tier' system

The government’s ban on the use of unregulated accommodation for under-16s risks creating a “two-tier” care system where older teenagers are shamefully neglected and unprotected, experts warn.

On Friday the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said it would be illegal from September for councils to put children under the age of 16 in accommodation that was not regulated by Ofsted.

It comes after the Guardian revealed at the beginning of the year that thousands of young people have been sent to unregulated care homes during the pandemic at a cost of millions to the taxpayer.

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Whitty at odds with Johnson over 'big bang' reopening of schools in England

A row has broken out over Boris Johnson’s hopes for a “big bang” reopening of schools, as sources claimed it had run into resistance from Prof Chris Whitty.

The chief medical officer for England was said to be reluctant to put his name to a public show of support for the policy this week. Education sources had told the Guardian that Whitty was “very unhappy” with the idea of all 10 million children and staff returning to schools in England on 8 March, although the government denied this and insisted that Whitty was not opposed to any of the options being discussed.

On Monday the prime minister is to announce the government’s roadmap for lifting national lockdown restrictions in place since the start of the year. While publicly ministers have committed to reopening schools “from” 8 March rather than all pupils returning on that date, No 10 is said to be planning for an across-the-board return for all year groups.

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Value of council's purchases plummet due to pandemic

The value of two retail investment properties purchased by North Somerset Council has dropped by more than £26m in the three years since they were purchased due to Covid-19.

In a report discussed at a cabinet meeting last week, the council said that the North Worle District Centre and Sovereign Centre were purchased for a combined £62m in 2018.

However latest valuations state they are now worth £34.8m, a drop the council attributed to the economic impact caused by Covid-19.

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Resilience index shows drop in reserves

Reserve levels at councils in England dropped during 2019-2020, prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to analysis from CIPFA.

The 2019-20 Financial Resilience Index published by CIPFA today, found that there was a real-terms reduction of £800m in the level of reserves in 2020 compared with the previous year.

At the end of March 2020 council reserves levels stood at £24.6bn, around 3% lower than £25.4bn recorded at the same period in 2019, according to CIPFA.

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Northern transport network scraps contactless payment plan

Transport for the North has scrapped its proposed contactless payment scheme after a reduction in central government funding.

The closing down of the Integrated and Smart Travel programme was approved during a board meeting yesterday after a report said it was only viable course of action without further government funding. TfN had previously asked for £33m to continue rolling out contactless payment software.

However, the government froze the networks funding during the Spending Review leaving the organisation with a funding hole.

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Study launched to assess council Covid-19 procurement

The University of Stirling is launching a major new research project examining how local authorities procured goods, works and services during Covid-19.

The study will look at how procurement can deliver benefit for residents, whether for public health, social care, or as a key economic lever to restart the local economy.

Researchers behind the report said that more £100bn is spent annually on procurement by councils, and are keen to see how this money was spent to support the response to Covid-19.

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Review of business rates delayed until autumn

The final report on the review of business rates will be pushed back until autumn, the Government has confirmed today.

The Government said the report would be delayed until there was greater ‘economic certainty’ and more clarity on the long-term state of public finances.

The chancellor is expected to extend the business rates holiday for the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors for another year in next month’s Budget. It has also been reported he will extend the furlough scheme and the £20 uplift to Universal Credit.

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pposition to national audit body risks more MHCLG regulation

The experiences of the devolved nations strengthens the case for the proposed Office of Local Audit Regulation, writes the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy.

It’s been six months since the Redmond Review issued its recommendations and two months since the government published its response. In that time, the sector has been abuzz with various parties sharing their thoughts on the proposal for an independent body to manage, oversee and regulate local audit in the form of the Office of Local Audit Regulation (OLAR).

The LGC reported on a Local Government Association meeting in September in which OLAR was branded by certain political actors as “arse covering from finance directors.”

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Parents to test children for Covid twice a week

Parents will be asked to test their children twice a week under plans for a phased return to the classroom, The Telegraph can disclose.

Families of secondary school pupils will be asked to administer lateral flow tests at home during term time under plans being drawn up by the Government.

It is understood that schools will only oversee the mass testing of secondary students once, at the start of term, after education unions struck a deal with ministers.

All schools in England are expected to open on March 8, but secondary schools will be allowed to stagger the return of some year groups so every pupil can be tested on arrival.

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Chancellor urged to use budget to tackle rent debt crisis

The chancellor must take action to tackle the rent debt crisis in the forthcoming budget, housing charities and groups representing landlords and renters have said.

In a joint statement released by organisations including the Big Issue, Crisis, Shelter, Citizens Advice, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Nationwide Building Society, Rishi Sunak was called upon to act now to avoid renters “being scarred by debts they have no hope of clearing and a wave of people having to leave their homes in the weeks and months to come”.

The statement, which they said was from “organisations with the aim of sustaining tenancies wherever possible” said at least half a million private renters are in arrears due to the economic impact of Covid-19. “The UK government’s own research shows that ‘private renters report being hardest hit by the pandemic’. Renters and landlords whose finances have been affected since lockdown cannot keep tenancies going without additional financial support.”

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Covid shows need for bigger government role, says Starmer

The Covid-19 crisis has shown the government needs to play a bigger role in the economy permanently, Labour's leader will argue on Thursday.

In a speech online, Sir Keir Starmer will say the pandemic has "shifted the axis" on the size of the state in a similar way to World War Two.

And he will add there cannot be a "return to business as usual" in the wake of the virus.

He will also call for business support to be extended at next month's Budget.

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Cash-strapped youth services 'at crisis point' in coronavirus crisis, warns YMCA

Youth services are “stranded at crisis point” after nearly £28million was cut from budgets last year, a charity warns today.

Analysis by YMCA shows town hall spending on youth services in 2019/20 in England was £372.12m – a 6% fall from £397.9m just 12 months earlier.

The organisation said that since 2010/11 – the first year of the Tory-led coalition – funding for youth services has been slashed by 73%.

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Councils predict £2bn black hole due to business rate appeals

Councils in England face setting aside an additional £2bn to help cover business rates appeals over the next two financial years due to Covid-19, unless central government support is forthcoming.

Statistics compiled by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, reveal that councils are forecasting net additions to appeal provisions totalling £927m this financial year, and £1.2bn next year.

The reason behind the forecast increase is that, due to the impact of the pandemic, businesses are likely to seek reductions based on a decrease in rental prices on which rateable values are based.

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NAO to probe local authority audit deadlines

The National Audit Office has launched an inquiry into the timeliness of local authority audit in England last year, as sector audits continue to miss deadlines.

In an update, the spendingwatchdog said it will review local audits of 2019-2020 accounts, after the government pushed back the deadline from July to November so councils could deal with Covid-19.

In December, audit administration body Public Sector Audit Appointments said that more than half of audit opinions for 2019-20 were not published on time, mainly due to the pandemic disruption.

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Public sector fraud ‘should be treated as national security issue'

In a report, the Royal United Services Institute said that, although progress has been made since 2018, between 0.5% and 5% of public spending is lost to fraud – around £48bn annually.

RUSI said that whilst individual incidents of fraud cannot be a national security threat, the scale of the problem is a ‘heist on public services’, given that funds lost cannot be spent on frontline services.

The report said; “Protecting – and growing – the government’s nascent counter-fraud profession should be viewed not just as good practice in and of itself, but also as a key means of protecting the UK’s economic security, securing public faith in government and by extension protecting UK national security.”

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Sunak to extend rates relief and furlough

Rishi Sunak is set to extend two ­crucial lifelines to companies battered by ongoing Covid restrictions by keeping the furlough scheme going until the summer and prolonging the business rates holiday for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors....

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Doubling up: Somerset better off with two unitaries

Sedgemoor District Council leader Duncan McGinty makes the case for a two-unitary solution to Somerset’s upcoming reorganisation of local government structures.

I want to sweep away two-tier local government in Somerset – the current system of four district councils and one county council is not working. Our county is lagging behind in many respects.

One in four children in Somerset live in poverty. Our education system does not do enough to create social mobility. On leaving school, too many people move away for better prospects or take up poorly paid jobs.

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Councils walk away from business rates pools amid income fears

Four business rates pools have walked away from the opportunity amid major uncertainty about the future income hit.

Faced with having to bail out their neighbours by covering safety net payments, business rates pools covering Greater Manchester and Cheshire, London, Norfolk and West Sussex have all decided to pull out in 2021-22.

One finance director said: ‘There’s too much uncertainty about whether there will be any benefit to pooling next year. There’s just too much uncertainty around the impact of COVID.

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Pressure mounts over SEND grant deficit

Councils are facing renewed pressure from the Department for Education (DfE) to make cuts to bring their massive special educational needs deficits into line.

It comes after at least 89 local authorities recorded an overall deficit balance on their dedicated schools grant (DSG) accounts at the end of March 2020, with the total deficit balance across England a staggering £480m.

The department is understood to be recruiting a team of former local government finance officers to carry out a deep dive into the councils facing the greatest difficulties, which are not routinely informed they could face intervention.

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Councils predict £2bn black hole due to business rate appeals

Councils in England face setting aside an additional £2bn to help cover business rates appeals over the next two financial years due to Covid-19, unless central government support is forthcoming.

Statistics compiled by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, reveal that councils are forecasting net additions to appeal provisions totalling £927m this financial year, and £1.2bn next year.

The reason behind the forecast increase is that, due to the impact of the pandemic, businesses are likely to seek

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Covid: Boris Johnson to focus on 'data, not dates' for lockdown easing

Boris Johnson says it is "absolutely right" to take a "data not dates" approach to leaving lockdown, stressing England will ease measures "cautiously".

The prime minister said he would set out "what we can" in a road map for easing restrictions on Monday.

"We want to be going one way from now on, based on the incredible vaccination rollout," he said.

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Scottish Government to extend rates relief

The Scottish Government has will extend the 100% business rates holiday for the whole of the next financial year, following further UK government funding.

In budget proposals published last month, Scotland outlined a three-month extension to rates relief for retail, hospitality, leisure and aviation businesses to help manage pandemic pressures.

However, after receiving £1.1bn in additional funding from the Treasury earlier this week, this proposed relief will be extended to cover the whole of 2021-22.

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Remove parking spaces to drive greener travel, study says

Reducing the number of town centre parking spaces and significantly increasing prices should be considered to get people to use their cars less, government-backed research has recommended.

A study commissioned by the Department for Transport said that restricting parking and access to town centres could reduce reliance on motor vehicles. Researchers said that the measures would work best when accompanied by good public transport and more segregated bike lanes to give people an alternative to the car.

The study’s findings will be used to inform the government’s transport decarbonisation plan, to be published this year. It will outline proposals to cut emissions from road, rail, aviation and shipping.

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Funding to fix equivalent of 10 million potholes allocated to local authorities

Councils across England have been allocated their share of £500 million for highways maintenance, with the funding expected to fix the equivalent of 10 million potholes across the country.

It is the second of 5 equal instalments from the £2.5 billion Potholes Fund, providing £500 million a year between 2020/21 and 2024/25, announced by the Chancellor in the 2020 Budget – and is part of wider funding the DfT provides for road maintenance, totalling over £1.1 billion across England in 2021/22.

With the average pothole costing around £50 to fill in, the funding will ensure that the equivalent of 10 million potholes can be rectified, making thousands of local roads both safer and easier to drive and cycle on.

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Johnson should repay north of England voters with private investment

The prime minister should repay voters in the north of England who lent the Conservatives their vote at the last election by unleashing billions of pounds of private investment, according to a report.

It argues that ministers should aim to harness the “restless radicalism” from those who voted for Brexit in 2016 and the Conservatives in 2019 by creating an economic “big bang”, along the lines of the Thatcherite deregulation of the City in the 1980s which reinforced London’s position as a global financial centre.

The report from the influential rightwing Centre for Policy Studies thinktank is produced with the Northern Research group, a group of Conservative MPs who represent northern England, the Scottish borders and north Wales.

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Social businesses shut out of government support

Hundreds of community-run businesses have been forced to close because they could not access government support, lobby group Social Enterprise UK says.

It said the structure of businesses run for a social good and their choice of bank meant they missed out on help.

It is calling for easier access to support schemes in the future. There are an estimated 100,000 social enterprises in the UK, employing over 2 million people. Many help those who have been hit hard by the pandemic.

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MPs urge government to spell out economic and health impacts of easing lockdown

An influential group of MPs has urged the government to spell out the impact its lockdown-easing measures would have on economic growth and the number of coronavirus infections.

Calling for evidence to be published alongside the government’s reopening road map to be announced on 22 February, the Treasury select committee said it would help the public to better understand the implications of restrictions and the costs and benefits of making changes.

The UK has given more than 15m people their first doses of Covid-19 vaccines, raising hopes that movement restrictions will be eased within weeks as the number of new infections and hospital admissions gradually fall.

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Hotel quarantine comes into force in UK

All British and Irish citizens and UK residents who arrive in England after being in a high-risk Covid country now have to quarantine in hotels. The "red list" of 33 countries includes Portugal, Brazil and South Africa.

The new regulations, which aim to stop Covid variants entering the country, apply to arrivals who have been in one of those places in the past 10 days. They will have to pre-book and pay £1,750 to spend 10 days quarantining in government-sanctioned hotels.

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New phase begins after first vaccine target hit in England

The Covid-19 vaccine rollout in England has entered its next phase, after the health secretary told the BBC a jab has been offered to everyone in the UK's top four priority groups. In total, more than 15 million people in the UK have had their first dose.

The rollout in England has now been officially expanded to the over-65s and younger people in at-risk groups. But Matt Hancock said there was still "some way to go" before leaving lockdown.

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Eviction ban in England extended until March

The ban on evictions in England is to be extended until the end of March, the government has announced.

It means eviction notices - which could have started again on 22 February - cannot be served for another six weeks.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said it would ensure renters remained protected "during this difficult time".

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ONS gears up for once-in-a-decade challenge with 2021 census

Amid endless flyers from food delivery companies dropping through the letterbox, households in England and Wales will soon receive a postcard from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) giving notice of the 2021 census.

It will be followed by a letter advising that every household must complete a detailed questionnaire about themselves and their co-residents on 21 March. The letter will contain a unique code enabling recipients to complete the census forms online, although paper forms will be available on request.

In the weeks following census day, 30,000 field officers will knock on the doors of those households that have failed to return a completed questionnaire. The officials will begin with explanations and encouragement, but the process can end with a court appearance and a £1,000 fine.

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Call for 'summer of play' to help English pupils recover from Covid-19 stress

Experts in child development are calling on the government to support a “summer of play” to help pupils in England recover from the stress of lockdown and a year of Covid upheaval.

Instead of extra lessons, catch-up summer schools and longer school days, they said children should be encouraged to spend the coming months outdoors, being physically active and having fun with their friends.

Psychologists have reported behavioural changes in some children following the first lockdown last year. After months of isolation from friends, some struggled to share and play together, teachers reported more fights and fallings-out, and Ofsted observed a worrying drop in physical fitness.

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UK economy suffered record annual slump in 2020

The UK economy shrank by a record 9.9% last year as coronavirus restrictions hit output, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) says.

The contraction in 2020 "was more than twice as much as the previous largest annual fall on record," said ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow.

In December, the economy grew by 1.2%, after shrinking by 2.3% in November, as some restrictions eased.

Hospitality, car sales and hairdressers recovered some lost ground.

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Environmental issue - the UK's new green bond

The UK Treasury’s change of heart on issuing a sterling green bond provides it with an opportunity to drive the transition towards a green economy

In November, UK chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak announced his intention to issue a green bond in 2021.

The gilt will join the 16 sovereign green bonds already in the global market, with a total outstanding value of $74bn.

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UK economy shrinks by double previous record in 2020

UK GDP fell by 9.9% in 2020, the largest yearly drop in more than 300 years, following the impact of Covid-19.

The contraction in 2020 was more than twice as much as the previous largest annual fall on record, according to statistics released by the Office for National Statistics today.

The economy rebounded, in the final quarter of the year however, up 1% between October and December, compared with the previous three months, meaning the UK avoided a ‘double-dip’ recession.

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Government ‘lacks knowledge of environmental tax impacts’

The government does not know enough about the overall impact of environmental taxes on its carbon neutrality goals, according to the National Audit Office.

In a report, the spending watchdog said there is some evidence of the positive impact that taxes can have on the environment, but departments are more focused on their ability to raise revenue.

It added that some taxes and tax reliefs impact on government’s wider environmental objectives but are not recognised as environmental in nature.

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Treasury climbdown over public sector exit cap

The Treasury has revoked regulations restricting public sector exit payments in England ­– on the eve of a deadline for it to submit its response to a legal challenge on the issue.

In a guidance document published by the Treasury today, the department said that the £95,000 cap which went live in November has been revoked due to “unintended consequences”.

The Treasury had been due to submit the grounds of its case to the High Court on Monday in a judicial review of the regulations brought by Lawyers in Local Government and the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives.

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Exit pay cap revoked

The Government has dropped its controversial cap on public sector exit payments after admitting it had ‘unintended consequences’.

A limit of £95,000 on payments to council staff leaving their jobs came into force in November in the face of fierce opposition from unions.

The High Court was due to hear a joint legal challenge by Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) and the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives (ALACE) and a second case brought by Unison next month.

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Is local government funding “broken”?

Andrew Hardingham looks at the underlying issues that caused more than a third of respondents in the Room151/CCLA treasury survey to say that the funding system for local govenrment is “broken”.

In Room151’s recent Treasury Investment and Current Affairs Survey, only 3% of 143 respondents believe that the current system for funding local government finance was fit for purpose. More than 38% believe it to be broken. The remainder sat on the fence. In danger of falling off, they believed it to be in a bad state but not broken.

Respondents were from across the local government landscape: Counties (10% of respondents), unitary and city councils (24%), districts (27%), metropolitan and London boroughs (23%). Police and fire authorities had their say too.

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Four English councils get emergency government funding

Four councils in England are being given emergency funding by the government because they are unable to balance their books.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the pandemic was responsible in some cases, but in others "very poor management" was to blame.

The councils involved are Eastbourne, Bexley, Luton and Peterborough.

It comes as the government announces an extra £2.3bn of funding for councils' core spending by next year.

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School catch-up in England could take 5 years, says education recovery tsar

Schools could be working to help children catch up on education for at least five years, according to the educator appointed to help young people in England recoup learning lost during the pandemic. 

Sir Kevan Collins, who was announced as the government’s education recovery tsar last week, said children’s learning had suffered a “profound shock” and would require “a number of years”, as well as extensive further funding and “creative” new approaches to the curriculum, to recover.

The timescale demonstrates the scale of the setback for a generation of young people, who the government hopes will begin to return to school after March 8 following more than a year of disruption. 

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£27bn roads plan in doubt after Shapps overrode official advice

A £27bn expansion of England’s road network has been thrown into doubt after documents showed the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, overrode official advice to review the policy on environmental grounds, the Guardian can reveal.

It has been a legal requirement to take into account the environmental impact of such projects since 2014. Shapps appears to have pressed ahead despite the advice of civil servants in his own department.

The details are set out in court papers that form part of a legal challenge to the policy, which was described by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, last March as the country’s “largest ever” roadbuilding programme.

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Teachers and police set to be given Covid vaccine priority after over-50s

Teachers and police are expected to be given priority for vaccines once the over-50s have been offered Covid jabs, The Telegraph can disclose.

Britain is on course to hit targets to offer all those in the top four priority groups – including everyone over the age of 70 – their first dose of the vaccine by Monday.

But research suggests that hospital pressures will not ease significantly until the end of March, once all over 60s and younger people with health problems have had their first jab.

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Jenrick confirms £3.5bn plan to replace unsafe cladding

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has confirmed that the Government will fully fund the cost of replacing unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in residential buildings six storeys and over in England.

The announcement is the first step in a five-point plan which Mr Jenrick describes as ‘a comprehensive plan to remove unsafe cladding, support leaseholders, restore confidence to this part of the housing market’.

The second step in the plan, which will be funded by £3.5bn from the Government, is a finance scheme for leaseholders in buildings between 11 and 18 metres (four to six storeys). This will ensure they never pay more than £50 a month for cladding removal.

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‘Exceptional support’ councils promised £96m by 2022

The four councils announced as receiving “exceptional” government support have been promised a total of almost £100m by the end of 2021-22, LGC has learned.

Luton BC, Bexley LBC, Peterborough City Council and Eastbourne DC have together been granted permission to borrow up to £50m to spend on day to day services for this financial year, through capitalisation directions.

The move is a break with normal rules governing council borrowing, which stipulate councils can only take on debt to fund capital spending.

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Anger at cladding 'betrayal': Government pledges £3.5bn to help fix crisis - but innocent victims STILL face massive bills to make their fire-risk homes safe

Politicians and campaigners angrily rejected long-awaited Government plans to end the cladding scandal yesterday as a betrayal of innocent leaseholders.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick pledged a further £3.5billion to help end the safety crisis following the 72 deaths in the Grenfell disaster.

More than a million leaseholders face bills of up to £115,000 to fix unsafe homes. Mr Jenrick told the Commons that those in blocks over 18 metres (60ft) high would no longer have to pay to replace flammable cladding. But MPs and leaseholders reacted with fury at the news that loans costing up to £600 a year will be forced on hundreds of thousands of homeowners in low and medium rise blocks – potentially blighting resale values.

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Poor parents sending their kids to relatives during Covid so they can get food

Hard-up parents who cannot afford to feed their children during the coronavirus crisis are sending kids to relatives for meals, MPs were told tonight.

Food Foundation executive director Anna Taylor said youngsters were being moved around families just so they could eat.

A study of children aged between eight and 17 found one in five “had experience of some form of food insecurity” over Christmas, Ms Taylor told the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.

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Putting councils 'in the driving seat' would save £1.6bn, says report

Putting England's councils "in the driving seat" to fix social care would save £1.6bn, a County Councils Network-commissioned report has said.

The report argues social care should continue to be delivered by local councils, rather than giving more power to NHS and central government.

It comes amid reports the government is planning to give ministers more control over health bodies in England.

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Government set to announce billions in funding to help homeowners with cladding removal

Ministers are poised to announce billions of pounds of extra money to help homeowners tackle the cladding crisis, it was reported on Tuesday night

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick is due make a Commons statement at lunchtime Wednesday where he is expected to say a deal has been struck with the Treasury to help homeowners to remove potentially flammable panels from tower blocks.

The issue, which was identified in the aftermath of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in which 72 people were killed, is estimated to affect about 11 million people.

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Councils warn of budget shortfall for May elections

Councils in England don't have "anywhere near enough" money to organise elections this May, according to the Local Government Association.

LGA chairman James Jamieson told MPs cash-strapped councils faced "substantially higher" costs to make polls Covid-secure.

Ministers have announced an extra £31m for things like plastic screens and hand sanitiser.

The government says "democracy should not be cancelled because of Covid".

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Just 11% back May elections date amid Covid concern

Just one in nine people in local government believe the local elections should proceed as planned in May amid coronavirus, an LGC survey has revealed.

A majority of the 246 senior officers and councillors who responded to an LGC poll felt the elections should proceed in autumn or next year, rather than in spring or summer.

Fourteen percent of respondents felt the elections should be all-postal in May in comparison to the 11% who felt they should proceed then under the usual format.

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Poll venues in short supply as Williamson urged to unblock schools use

The job of booking local polling stations and count venues is “getting harder and harder” amid reluctance from schools and the number of premises already being used as vaccination and testing centres, the country’s most senior electoral administrator has warned.

Peter Stanyon, chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, warned senior Cabinet Office officials at the organisation’s annual conference yesterday that “returning officers need assistance to run elections and not barriers being put in their way”.

Mr Stanyon explained that returning officers attempting to book polling stations and count venues for 6 May were told by schools they “will not be used [for local elections] unless there is a real need to use them”.

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Duncan McGinty: Stronger Somerset devo model recognises county’s diversity

The proposal for two unitary councils provides better – not bigger – government for Somerset, writes the leader of Sedgemoor DC.

In the once-in-a-generation debate that local government reorganisation brings, we, the district councils of Somerset have set out a proposal, Stronger Somerset, that aims to address the real challenges that our county faces head on, and to create a brighter future for all our residents. We owe it to the public during these times to demonstrate the highest standards of leadership: respect, honesty, vision and clarity to enable the right choices to be made.

Recently the leader of Somerset CC, David Fothergill (Con), set out his case for a single unitary council in Somerset. However, his article describing the vaccination centre at Taunton racecourse ignores inconvenient truths.

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Croydon senior management team suspended

Four senior officers at troubled Croydon LBC have been suspended following a report into “management actions”, LGC has learned.

Director of finance Lisa Taylor, executive director of place Shifa Mustafa, executive director of localities Hazel Simmonds and executive director of health, wellbeing and adults Guy Van Dichele are all understood to have been suspended from their duties today. LGC understands executive director of resources and monitoring officer Jacqueline Harris-Baker, the other permanent member of the senior management team, went on sick leave in recent days.

Interim chief executive Katherine Kerswell and interim director of children, families and education Debbie Jones, whom Ms Kerswell appointed after joining in September, remain in post.

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DfE tells returning officers to use businesses for polling stations

The Department for Education is urging returning officers to avoid using schools as polling stations and count venues for May's local elections, despite mounting concerns about the difficulty returning officers are experiencing of finding available venues for the polls.

DfE told LGC that it endorses the Cabinet Office’s position that “schools should not be used where alternative venues are available” and that “we particularly discourage the use of schools where it would result in closure”.

Councils are to be handed an additional £15m to make the elections Covid secure and DfE told LGC it was asking returning officers be creative about finding alternative venues, adding that this was a “good opportunity to support local businesses who, with the additional funding we have provided, local authorities could support by using them as polling stations”.

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UK care workers use up leave to avoid losing pay while sick with Covid

Some UK care workers are having to take holiday when they are off sick with Covid or see already low wages fall to £96 per week, raising fears they may not self-isolate.

Staff on the minimum wage claim to have been offered only statutory sick pay when ill with Covid or self-isolating. This contravenes government policy that they should be paid in full to limit infection spread.

One care worker involved in an ongoing outbreak at a nursing home involving several fatalities told the Guardian the employer does not provide sick pay, so the worker and other infected colleagues had to take holiday to prevent their earnings falling. One colleague took holiday pay to maintain earnings while very ill with Covid in intensive care, the care worker said.

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Reform business rates or risk a high street collapse, say firms

The leaders of household names including Tesco, B&Q and Waterstones have warned the chancellor that the business rates burden on shops is putting thousands of high street jobs at risk, and called for online retailers to pay their “fair share” of tax.

In a letter to Rishi Sunak before next month’s budget, the chief executives of 18 retail and property organisations, representing more than a million employees and tens of thousands of shops, say failing to overhaul the commercial equivalent of council tax will hamper the ability of high streets and town centres to recover from the pandemic.

The letter, which is also signed by the bosses of Asda and Morrisons as well as major shopping centre operator Hammerson, says the current system is “not sustainable in the long term and without reform, shops at the heart of communities will be at risk”.

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Covid hits exam-taking and poorer pupils worst, study finds

Children studying for exams and those from disadvantaged families are the most likely to have suffered severe disruption to their learning and motivation during the pandemic, according to the largest published study of its impact on pupils in England.

The surveys and interviews of more than 60,000 students aged from six to 18 reveal huge disparities in the impact of lockdown and school closures, with very different profiles for learning loss and wellbeing among children spread across different households.

Children taking GCSE courses appeared most at risk of disruption, with nearly one in four pupils in years 10 and 11 saying they could not get help from family members with questions about their schoolwork, while 40% said they lacked a routine to help them study from home.

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Boris Johnson’s golden chance to fix social care

When prime ministers from Tony Blair to Theresa May were uncertain what to do, they would often ask “What does Jeremy think?” That is the title of a new biography of Jeremy Heywood, the legendary former cabinet secretary who died from cancer in 2018, written by his widow, Suzanne. Unfortunately, during the coalition years, David Cameron failed to take enough notice of what Jeremy thought about the NHS. The book reveals that Heywood repeatedly warned his political masters against Andrew Lansley’s sweeping reforms. “Sometimes you get to a point where you have to stop raising objections,” he told his wife. “If a minister prioritises a policy and has the prime minister’s backing then it’s the civil service’s job to make the best of it.”..

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COVID-19: Boris Johnson doesn't rule out extending school summer term to help pupils catch up

Boris Johnson has not ruled out a shake-up of the school calendar as part of a "flat out" bid to help pupils catch up from missed classroom time.

The prime minister on Monday said the government's "single biggest priority" now was to overcome the loss of learning suffered by children during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the week of 22 February, Mr Johnson is due to unveil his roadmap for lifting England's current lockdown restrictions.

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At least 12 English councils in rescue talks as Covid shatters local finances

At least 12 English councils have been in rescue talks with the government, in what could be the “tip of the iceberg”, according to experts, as the Covid-19 pandemic lays waste to local authority finances.

Croydon council in November became only the second local authority in 20 years to issue a “section 114 notice” — equivalent to bankruptcy for a local authority — following its use by Northamptonshire county council in 2018.

But Rob Whiteman, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, on Monday said 12 authorities are in talks with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government “in or around a section 114 position”.

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Labour would oversee radical insourcing of public services

A Labour government would launch a radical programme of “insourcing” to bring public services back under democratic control, the frontbencher Rachel Reeves will say as she accuses Boris Johnson of handing £2bn of Covid contracts to Conservative “cronies”.

The shadow cabinet office minister and close ally of the party leader, Keir Starmer, has repeatedly highlighted the failings of private sector contractors, most recently by urging the government to “sack Serco” from its role in tracing the contacts of Covid cases.

Reeves will use a speech at Labour’s London headquarters on Monday to attack the government for spending lavishly on contractors throughout the pandemic, without adequate oversight.

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Executive who sold cladding for Grenfell to appear before inquiry

The executive who sold combustible cladding for use on Grenfell Tower will face questioning for the first time this week when the public inquiry into the disaster resumes after a two-month suspension caused by the rising number of Covid cases.

Deborah French, then UK sales manager at Arconic, is to be asked what she knew of the danger posed by the plastic-filled panels that the first phase of the inquiry found were the main cause of the spread of the 14 June 2017 fire, which claimed 72 lives.

The hearings have seen emails from an internal discussion she had about a spate of major fires involving similar panels in the United Arab Emirates in 2013, after which she told customers her company would continue to sell both its fire-retardant and non-fire-retardant panels.

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Budget 2021: Council tax centralisation could hurt local democracy

Chancellor Rishi Sunak needs to think very carefully about the potentially damaging consequences of scrapping council tax and replacing it with a new national property tax, says Jessica Studdert deputy chief executive at think tank New Local.

As speculation grows as to the contents of next month’s Budget, one idea that has been mooted by the Treasury is scrapping council tax and combining it with stamp duty into a new national property tax.

On first glance, there might appear to be a logic to this – both taxes have failed to keep pace with the distortions of growing and increasingly geographically polarised property values.

There is an apparent 'levelling up' electoral gain to be had by shaking up who wins and who loses from the current distribution.

But the consequences of swallowing up the one remaining form of local taxation into the Treasury black hole would have dire consequences for local democracy and local services, and risks replacing one form of unfairness with another.

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£15m ‘uplift’ for Covid-19 elections

In a delivery plan published today, constitution minister Chloe Smith confirmed the additional funding, which comes on top of £16m for the police and crime commissioner elections which the government had previously committed to cover.

The government added that any additional election costs should be a “priority” for the £1.55bn Covid-19 funding allocated to councils for the next financial year.

Smith said: “This package of funding will support returning officers to secure venues and staffing and run Covid-19 secure elections.

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Spending power ‘two percentage points lower’ than government's claim

Local government spending power will be around two percentage points lower than the 4.6% trailed by the government in the final funding settlement announced yesterday, according to a local government finance consultant.

The final local government settlement published late on Thursday, said that authorities will receive around £2.3bn in additional core spending powers in 2021-22 - a 4.6% real terms increase.

However, around 85% of the proposed rise is down to increases in council tax, including a one percentage point increase to the social care precept.

However, many authorities are choosing not to increase council tax by the maximum amount available.

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Six month delay to government’s new health protection agency

England’s new health protection agency will not be “fully staffed and up and running” until October, the executive chair of NHS Test & Trace has revealed, despite the government’s plan for it to be “established and fully operational by spring 2021”.

Baroness Dido Harding told MPs on the Commons science and technology committee yesterday that the National Institute for Health Protection “will formally be constituted at the beginning of the new financial year” but will not be fully operational until the autumn, the Health Service Journal reports.

The NIHP will be formed out of the health protection functions of Public Health England, and out of NHS Test & Trace, as well as the Joint Biosecurity Centre, which was set up in May last year to provide data analysis and insight into the status of the pandemic.

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PM names head of school pandemic catch-up plan

The prime minister has announced an "education recovery commissioner" to oversee how England's schools can catch up from the disruption of the pandemic.

This will be Sir Kevan Collins, until recently head of the Education Endowment Foundation, which examines evidence for what works in education.

He will have to develop a "a long-term plan" for helping pupils make up for lost learning.

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PM says 8 March 'prudent' for English schools' return as scientists issue warning

Scientists have cautioned against bringing forward the reopening of schools in England, saying it would be “a recipe for disaster” while the prevalence of the virus remains high.

Boris Johnson is facing pressure from his own MPs to follow Scotland’s lead after the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced a phased return to the classroom from 22 February.

Scotland’s youngest children, including nursery and primary pupils in years one, two and three, are expected to be back in the classroom full-time from 22 February, along with small numbers of secondary pupils who need to complete practical work in class for national qualifications.

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Coronavirus: Care home bans on visits 'breach' human rights

New laws are needed to allow face to face visits in England's care homes, according to a cross-party group of MPs and peers.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has written to the health secretary warning people are being "denied meaningful visits" contrary to their right to family life.

Chair of the committee, Harriet Harman says people need reassurance "they are still loved as part of the family."

Ministers say safe visits can go ahead.

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Government faces more pressure to extend £20-a-week Covid top-up

The government has come under renewed pressure from Tory backbenchers to extend the £20-a-week Covid top-up to universal credit as part of a range of measures to increase the level of pandemic welfare support.

A report published on Monday by the all-party parliamentary group on poverty – co-chaired by Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake – asks for the top up, worth £1,050 a year, to be retained beyond April and for the benefit cap to be suspended.

It also urges ministers to widen the £20-a-week boost to about 2 million people on so-called legacy benefits, including hundreds of thousands of disabled claimants who have received no extra social security support during the pandemic. It warns that failure to do so will create a two-tier benefits system.

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Firms call for details of post lockdown reopening so they can plan

Business leaders have called on the government to work with them on a roadmap out of lockdown to unlock investment for a post-Covid recovery.

In a letter to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, the Confederation of British Industry says the time to plan for re-opening the economy in England is now.

Firms are "in the dark" about planning for the months ahead, the employers' group said.

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Care home vaccine 'milestone' reached in England

A Covid vaccine has been offered to all older residents at eligible care homes in England, the NHS has announced.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the achievement, expected to be confirmed by official figures on Monday, as a "crucial milestone".

A target of 15 February has been set for the UK to vaccinate care home residents and carers, people over 70 and frontline care workers.

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9.3 million people have received first vaccine dose as UK records another 406 deaths

Over half of people in their 70s have now received a coronavirus jab, as UK vaccinations hit nearly 9.3 million.

It comes as the UK recorded a further 406 coronavirus-related deaths, the lowest daily rise since 28 December, and another 18,607 confirmed cases, the lowest number of daily cases since 15 December.

The figures bring the total number of UK deaths to 106,564 and total number of cases to 3,835,783.

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England might not return to regional restrictions as lockdown is eased, Boris Johnson suggests

England may not return to regional coronavirus restrictions when the current lockdown is eased, the prime minister has suggested.

"It may be that a national approach, going down the tiers in a national way, might be better this time round, given that the disease is behaving much more nationally," Boris Johnson said.

The PM said he was "keeping an open mind" on the subject, adding: "If you look at the way the new variant has taken off across the country, it's a pretty national phenomenon.

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Boris Johnson pushes to reopen schools as Covid cases fall

Boris Johnson has ordered ministers to ramp up preparations for reopening schools after being told the UK is now past the peak of the current wave of coronavirus....

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Care homes 'could soon reopen to visitors' before residents have second shot of Covid vaccine

Visits to care homes could restart before older residents receive their second Covid jabs, a health minister has hinted amid pressure on the Government to lay out how vaccines will return freedoms....

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Half of care home staff at UK's largest provider have not had Covid vaccine

About half of staff at the UK’s largest care home provider have not yet received a Covid vaccine, as attention turns to jabs for care workers after ministers claimed to have offered first doses to almost all of England’s care home residents.

HC-One, which operates 20,000 beds, is among several care operators reporting much lower vaccine coverage among workers. Some independent homes reported last week that as many as 80% of their staff had not received a jab amid continuing concerns about cultural objections and the influence of anti-vaccination sentiment.

MHA, the largest operator of not-for-profit care homes, said 40% of its staff had not yet been vaccinated.

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Fix failing poverty-fighting schemes run by local councils after huge cuts, Tory MPs say

Poverty-fighting schemes run by local councils are failing after funds were slashed and some were axed altogether, a group of Conservative MPs is warning.

An urgent review of Local Welfare Assistance Schemes (LWAS) is needed, the MPs say – in a move threatening to further embarrass Rishi Sunak, amid the ongoing row over Universal Credit cuts.

The funds are meant to help people with no spare money to pay for emergencies, such as a broken washing machine or to cope with flood damage, through grants or loans.

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The devastating toll of the pandemic on children

They are not likely to get seriously ill with Covid and there have been very few deaths. But children are still the victims of the virus - and our response to it - in many other ways.

From increasing rates of mental health problems to concerns about rising levels of abuse and neglect and the potential harm being done to the development of babies, the pandemic is threatening to have a devastating legacy on the nation's young.

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Tory rebellion looms over flat-owners’ cladding bills

Ministers are struggling to contain a growing Conservative backbench rebellion over the plight of residents in blocks of flats who face crippling bills to remove flammable cladding.

An amendment that would make it illegal for developers to pass on remediation costs to leaseholders is nearing the 44 Tory signatures needed to defeat the government’s working majority.

Backbenchers have described ministers’ response to the scandal so far as “regrettable” and “embarrassing”. On Monday Labour will force a Commons debate in which numerous Tory MPs are expected to demand greater support from the government.

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Jobs first as ministers plan for life after Covid-19

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have agreed an “endemic recovery plan” to put Britain back on its feet after the immediate coronavirus crisis, as a poll reveals today that the public feels more frightened than at any time before.

A year after the first case of the coronavirus in Britain, 56 per cent of voters feel “personally threatened” by Covid, with women and the over-55s worst affected.

In an attempt to show that Johnson — who has been accused of moving too slowly on the health response — is ahead of the game in planning the economic recovery, the chancellor will use the budget on March 3 to provide a long-term blueprint that is likely to mean high state spending for a decade.

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Starmer demands help for ‘hostages’ in unsellable flats

Sir Keir Starmer will throw his weight behind a Sunday Times campaign on unsafe housing tomorrow when he uses a parliamentary debate to demand help for those who face huge bills for unsaleable properties.

The Labour leader is to force a vote calling on the government to end the plight of 700,000 people trapped in dangerous homes and three million who cannot sell flats because of decades of shoddy construction exposed by the 2017 Grenfell fire.

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Binmen lift the lid on mountains of beer bottles and garden waste

The bins have been “a lot heavier” since the first lockdown began last March, says Chris Carroll, 36, who drives a rubbish truck in Rochdale. “Everyone’s inside with nothing to do apart from drink and buy stuff on the internet. So it has a knock-on effect.”

While we have been celebrating frontline workers, such as doctors and nurses, another silent army has been keeping the country going — binmen and women.

What they find in our bins tells the story of our lockdown lives: a lot of empty bottles of alcohol, more tins because we’re cooking at home and a mountain of green waste because people have been gardening.

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Covid infections remain high but stable

The number of Covid infections remained virtually unchanged in the week to 23 January, Office for National Statistics figures suggest. Its survey suggests the epidemic is levelling off or perhaps very slightly falling - but not at the rate hoped.

The R number for the UK is estimated to be between 0.7 and 1.1. A figure below one means the epidemic is shrinking.

Infections remain high in England, with London continuing to have the worst epidemic, the ONS said.

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Boris Johnson wants all schools open when Covid lockdown is relaxed

Boris Johnson wants all schools to open at the same time when lockdown is eased and is drawing up plans to relax restrictions on exercise.

The prime minister said this week that schools will reopen from March 8 at the earliest and he would detail a plan for easing restrictions towards the end of next month.

Mr Johnson is considering abandoning the previous tiered approach in which areas with lower infection rates had lockdown measures eased first. Instead, he is considering a nationwide, sector-by-sector approach, similar to the easing of the first lockdown.

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Social distancing may have to remain in place all year

Britain may not be able to abandon social distancing rules this year unless a vaccine proves to be 85 per cent effective at stopping transmission of coronavirus as well as severe illness, ministers have been warned.

Modelling commissioned by SPI-M, a subgroup of Sage, and passed to Downing Street suggests the UK will suffer a third huge spike in deaths unless inoculation cuts transmission significantly.

Currently, most experts think efficacy against transmission will be around 60 per cent but there is huge uncertainty.

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Older age groups in UK ‘will die’ if Covid vaccine priority goes to younger key workers

Prioritising vaccinations for key workers such as teachers and police over the next few weeks would inevitably lead to more deaths among older people, government vaccination advisers have warned.

There have been various demands for certain groups to be given greater priority in the vaccine programme. Labour has called for key workers such as teachers and police to be vaccinated alongside older groups when extra capacity becomes available and after the over 70s have received a jab, while some doctors have called for healthcare workers to be given their second dose sooner than planned.

However, figures from the expert committee warned that lives would be lost unnecessarily if current plans to prioritise people by age and underlying health conditions were altered.

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Plea for children's play to be designated 'essential exercise' during lockdown

Children's play must be urgently designated as a permitted lockdown activity for the sake of their physical and mental well being and personal development, campaigners have urged....

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Councils flag concerns about 'excessive profits' at children's homes

Councils have called for financial oversight of England’s privately-run children’s care homes after research showed some of the biggest private equity-owned providers were collectively making hundreds of millions a year in profits.

The Local Government Association (LGA) also warned that the increasing indebtedness of some of the largest private providers risked triggering a Southern Cross-style financial collapse, potentially leaving vulnerable children without a home.

“Providers should … not be making excessive profit from providing placements for children,” said Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People board.

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Covid-hit pupils 'should be allowed to repeat a year'

Pupils in England who have lost out on significant learning time due to the pandemic should be allowed to repeat a year, say education policy experts.

Certain pupils should get the right to repeat a year of school, if their parents or carers agree, suggests the Education Policy Institute (EPI).

Head teachers expressed interest in the idea but said it could only be open to "small numbers" to avoid a "logjam".

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Right to repeat a year should be considered by ministers, headteachers say

The right to repeat a year should be considered by ministers, the biggest secondary school headteacher union has said, but they warned that numbers should be limited....

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Covid: 'Virus going in right direction but not fast enough'

Scientists behind a study tracking coronavirus in England say there are signs of a "shallow decline" in infection levels but they remain high.

And with not all regions seeing the same downward trend, pressure on health services is likely to continue.

Just under one in 60 people had the virus between 6 and 22 January according to researchers, with the trends "going in the right direction".

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LGA fears over government threats to slash grant

Local Government Association (LGA) staff have been warned to cut costs after the Government threatened to slash its top-slice grant.

Ministers want to cut the grant for sector led improvement – currently £19.2m – by £5m and to open up the improvement process to competition from the private sector.

Local Government minister Luke Hall was poised to sign off the new funding before he was persuaded to hold fire. According to local government sources, ministers have questioned why the LGA has a monopoly, and why the bill for sector led improvement has not gone down during the pandemic as travel and hotel costs were cut out.

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Pandemic could impact children's mental health for years, report warns

Damage to children's mental health caused by lockdown and school closures could last for years, the Children’s Commissioner has warned today.

A new report accuses the Government of a lack of 'ambition' for improving children's mental health services and calls for a 'wholesale change' in the way services are provided.

This includes providing an NHS-funded counsellor in every school, boosting funding for children's mental health, expanding services, and eliminating the postcode lottery.

However, the report did find that some local areas are delivering vastly improved services for children.

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Children's mental health services in England 'unable to meet demand'

Mental health services in England do not have the capacity to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on children, Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, has warned.

Despite an expansion in the four years before the pandemic, the supply of treatment for child mental health problems was already falling well short of demand, with referrals rising 35%, but treatments only increasing by 4%, the watchdog said as she called for a “rocket boost” in funding.

Longfield cited an NHS study before the latest national lockdown, which found one in six children had a probable mental health condition and said it is highly likely that the level of underlying mental health problems will remain significantly higher as a result of the pandemic, with an increase in referrals to NHS services already observed last autumn.

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Covid: Social workers 'braced for tsunami of needs' after lockdown

Social workers say they are braced for a "tsunami of needs" as the UK recovers from the pandemic.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) expects workloads to increase as restrictions are lifted.

One worker described a "big surge" in referrals after the first lockdown and the fears of missing something wrong.

Officials in all four nations praised the efforts of social workers and highlighted schemes to help vulnerable children set up in the pandemic.

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Council proposes 3.5% council tax rise despite deficit

North Yorkshire County Council is proposing a 3.5% council tax rise ­– below the allowed maximum ­– for next year, despite a forecast medium term funding gap of £18m.

In its budget proposals for 2021-22, approved at an executive meeting yesterday, the council said it will not implement the full 4.99% council tax increase allowed.

The council’s medium-term financial strategy said the council will have to make further efficiencies, strengthen revenue streams or use reserves to meet the forecast shortfall in medium-term budgets.

Gareth Dadd, the authority’s executive member for finance, told the committee: “There will be very many people in the county over the next 12 months that will lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic and the downturn in the economy.

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Council Tax Tracker uncovers reluctance to make maximum rise

A significant proportion of councils are likely to opt against imposing the maximum possible council tax rise on residents this year, LGC research suggests, despite the government’s expectations they should do so.

The first results of LGC’s 2021 Council Tax Tracker found almost half (47%) were not currently proposing a maximum increase. While the majority of these were stopping just short of the maximum increases allowed without holding a referendum – 4.99% for upper tier councils and whichever is the greater of 1.99% or £5 for districts – three councils in LGC’s sample, Hartlepool, Basildon and Spelthorne BCs, were planning to completely freeze council tax for 2021-22.

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Northampton dealings with football club ‘unlawful’

‘Significant failures of corporate governance’ at Northampton BC may have been unlawful, an auditor has found in a public interest report.

The council agreed in 2013 to provide a loan to Northampton Town FC to overhaul its stadium at Sixfields and to buy nearby land in a joint venture with a third party to develop the site.

However, loan payments ceased in 2015, with £10.2m outstanding, after the club failed to pay building contractors, with administration or liquidation looming.

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County lines gangsters face longer jail terms under tough new sentencing rules

County lines gangsters face longer jail terms under new sentencing rules that will punish them for exploiting children to deal drugs....

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'Poor decisions' to blame for UK death toll, scientists say

"A legacy of poor decisions" by the UK before and during the pandemic led to one of the worst death rates in the world, scientists have said.

Labour also criticised "monumental mistakes" by the prime minister in delaying acting on scientific advice over lockdowns three times.

After UK deaths passed 100,000, Boris Johnson said he took "full responsibility" for the actions taken.

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Schools in low Covid infection areas may open sooner, parents told

Boris Johnson said schools would reopen only “cautiously” as parents were promised news within days about the chance of children going back after the half-term holiday.

The prime minister suggested that schools could reopen first in English regions with a lower infection rate. Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils in primary schools, and those sitting GSCEs and A-levels are expected to be the first to return under plans being drawn up by Gavin Williamson, mirroring the first national lockdown last year.

The education secretary has rejected a rota system because it will not help parents back to work or reduce transmission.

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Schools in England need post-Covid fund to tackle mental health decline, says report

The government has been urged to set up a post-pandemic wellbeing fund for schools in England to match its £650m academic catch-up funding, after a major study highlighted worsening mental health among young people, with teenage girls particularly severely affected.

The research tracked the experiences of young people in England, at the ages of 11, 14 and 17, and found that while wellbeing declined for all groups as they got older, girls experienced far lower levels of wellbeing and self-esteem than boys and were more likely to feel unhappy about their physical appearance.

The study by the Education Policy Institute and the Prince’s Trust, conducted over two years and based on data from the Millennium Cohort Study, found the proportion of girls that felt unhappy about their appearance rose sharply between the ages of 11 and 14, from one in seven (15%) to about one in three (29%).

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£1 million wasted on cycle-friendly road zones that councils abandoned

More than £1 million of public money has been wasted on cycle-friendly road schemes that were subsequently ripped out because of local opposition, an investigation has found.

Research showed that almost one in ten “low-traffic neighbourhoods” has been abandoned as little as a month after being introduced after complaints from residents and businesses.

In one case, Westminster council spent almost £138,000 on design, engineering and consultation fees only to scrap a scheme before it was launched.

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UK mayors urge Boris Johnson to commit to tougher air pollution targets

City mayors representing more than 17 million people across the UK are urging Boris Johnson to commit to tougher air pollution targets after the inquest into the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah.

The cross-party group, including the Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the Conservative mayor of the West of England combined authority, Tim Bowles, have signed a joint letter along with city leaders from Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and the North of Tyne to urge Boris Johnson to enshrine in law a commitment to achieve World Health Organization air pollution guidelines by 2030.

Ella’s mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, signed the letter after a coroner ruled that illegal levels of air pollution had caused the death of her daughter in 2013. She called on the prime minister to act immediately to protect the lives and wellbeing of other young people across the country.

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Quarantine hotel plans set to be announced

Some travellers coming to England will have to quarantine in hotels amid concerns about new Covid variants, the government is expected to announce.

Boris Johnson will discuss proposals with ministers later, but a decision may not be announced until Wednesday.

Most foreign nationals from high-risk countries are already denied UK entry, so the new rules will mainly affect returning UK citizens and residents.

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Depression among children is at frightening levels, doctors warn

Schools must fully reopen with vaccinations for staff to avoid a “calamitous” impact on children’s mental health, some of the country’s top paediatricians have warned.

In a letter to The Times today, ten of the UK’s top experts in child health say that anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts are at “frightening levels” among children and many parents are on the brink of breakdown.

A group of experts including Claire Hogg, a consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine, Andrew Bush, a professor of paediatric respirology, and Ian Balfour Lynn, a specialist in child respiratory medicine, warn that the lockdown is inflicting serious damage on children’s development and wellbeing.

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High air pollution linked to irreversible sight loss

People living in areas with higher levels of air pollution are more likely to develop a progressive and irreversible type of sight loss, a study has shown.

Researchers from University College London found higher rates of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) among people in more polluted areas, even when pollution levels were within World Health Organisation guidelines.

AMD is the leading cause of irreversible blindness among over-50s in high income countries. In the UK about 600,000 people are affected.

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Local authorities' Covid-19 pressures 'set to deepen'

Covid-19 financial pressures for local authorities in England totalled £10.8bn during 2020, as forecast pressures for 2020-21 rose to £12.5bn, according to latest returns submitted to government.

Figures released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show that councils' forecast pressures for 2020-21 at £12.5bn, around £600m more than the £11.9bn predicted at the end of October.

The majority of the predicted pressures are a result of additional Covid-19 spending at £6.8bn, with a further £5.7bn from income losses.

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‘Significant Brexit challenges’ weaken UK economy

The UK’s economy has been weakened by significant challenges relating to Brexit, with exit from the single market set to impact medium-term growth, according to ratings agency Moody’s.

In a rating’s opinion that affirmed a “Aa3 stable” rating, the agency said that the Brexit trade agreement lacks substance on services trade, which is vital to the UK economy, prolonging Brexit-related uncertainty.

Moody’s added that weakening longer-term growth, a higher-than-expected deficit or higher funding costs could lead to a future ratings downgrade.

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UK unemployment reaches four-year high in Covid-19 lockdown

Unemployment in the UK has reached the highest level for more than four years as the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and tougher lockdown measures place more pressure on businesses and workers.

The Office for National Statistics said the unemployment rate rose to 5% in the three months to the end of November – representing more than 1.7 million people – from 4.9% in the three months to the end of October, reaching the highest level since August 2016. Unemployment was 4% in February before the pandemic struck.

In a snapshot of the jobs market during the second English lockdown and as tough restrictions were imposed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to limit the spread of Covid-19, the ONS said redundancies hit a record high during the quarter. Job losses were most heavily concentrated among younger workers, and in the retail and hospitality sectors.

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Government plans to turn England homes green 'in chaos' with debt and job losses

England’s much-hyped £2bn green homes grant is in chaos, renewable energy installers say, with some owed tens of thousands of pounds and struggling to stay in business.

Members of the public have been left waiting nearly four months, in some cases, to take advantage of the scheme to fit low carbon heating systems. Some installers say customers are pulling out after losing faith in the green grants.

Boris Johnson touted the grants as one of the key programmes in his ten 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. It aims to help 600,000 households switch their energy to low carbon and help the UK meet its commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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Fury as long-awaited UK environment bill is delayed for third time

The government has delayed the long-awaited environment bill, which redraws rules after the UK’s departure from the EU, provoking fury from campaigners who said it would harm action on air pollution and water quality, as well as other key issues. The proposed legislation would be the biggest shake-up of green regulation in decades.

Ministers said the delay, which means the flagship bill is unlikely to pass before the autumn, was necessary because dealing with the Covid-19 crisis left too little parliamentary time for debate.

Trying to continue with the original timetable would have risked the bill falling and having to return to square one of the parliamentary process.

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Scottish Government funding for councils falls short

Funding from the Scottish Government will only meet between 60% and 70% of overall financial pressures identified by councils, according to the country’s local government spending watchdog.

A report from the Scottish Accounts Commission said that the financial impact of Covid-19 on councils in 2020-21 is estimated at £767m, with just over half of the amount due to lost income.

The watchdog estimates that councils have been allocated £936m in Covid-19 funding for 2020-21 up to November.

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Pandemic is 'levelling down' the South, report warns

The economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic will make it four times harder to level up the North and Midlands, a new study has revealed.

Cities Outlook 2021, published by Centre for Cities, warns the pandemic also risks levelling down prosperous places in southern England. It highlights that 634,000 people outside the Greater South East now need to find secure, well-paid jobs to level up the country, compared to 170,000 last March.

The report found Birmingham, Hull and Blackpool face the biggest levelling up challenge, while London, Crawley and Slough are among the prosperous places of concern due COVID-19’s potential long-term impact.

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Councils back postponement of May local elections

Senior council figures have urged the Government to postpone the local elections planned for May, according to a new poll.

The survey by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) reveals that councils are overwhelmingly concerned about their ability to deliver a May poll. Instead, 69% of council officials believe an autumn timetable is more achievable.

Those responding to the poll call on the Government to provide additional ring-fenced funding to make elections safe, and greater expansion of postal voting.

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Government must use 2021 to get levelling up back on track

Urgent action is needed to level up Northern cities and towns – and prevent parts of the South being levelled down, writes the chief executive of Centre for Cities.

After many difficult months there is reason to hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight and our lives could soon return to some form of normality. A speedy vaccination programme could mean that by summer restaurants, shops and pubs can re-open and, despite what some commentators have said, the benefits of face-to-face interaction mean many people will return to their offices.

But the scaling down of the public health crisis will mean a scaling-up of economic crisis – primarily repairing the damage Covid-19 has done to the national economy and the economies of our cities and towns.

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councils to get £23m to encourage high-risk groups to have jab

The government will provide £23m in funding to dozens of councils in England to help fight misinformation around coronavirus vaccines and to encourage uptake of the jab among more high-risk communities.

Councils with plans to contact people from minority ethnic backgrounds, older people and disabled people have been chosen for the financial support, as these groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are more likely to be dealing with its long-term effects.

A number of experts and politicians recently called for people in high-risk minority ethnic groups to be prioritised for immunisation, and for them to be targeted by publicity campaigns aimed at tackling vaccine scepticism.

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Most job roles for youths not yet filled

Fewer than 2,000 young people have so far started new roles under the government's £2bn Kickstart jobs scheme, data shows.

The programme, which launched in September, has created 120,000 temporary jobs to date.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the BBC coronavirus restrictions were making it harder for more young people to get started.

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Councils report nearly 5% dip in parking profits

Local authorities in England have reported a slight dip in parking profits, which they warn could impact their ability to fix potholes and tackle congestion.

An analysis by the RAC Foundation of the standardised financial returns made by 338 English councils to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) found that they made a combined profit of £891m from parking in 2019-20. This was 4.6% lower than the £934m surplus made in the previous year.

Responding to the RAC’s findings, the Local Government Association (LGA) emphasised that any money made from parking management is reinvested in ‘essential transport projects’.

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‘Pressure cooker’ lockdown set to drive rising costs

Councils were facing a Covid-driven funding gap of more than £2bn in 2020-21 even before the latest lockdown led to a further soaring service demand, LGC has learned, as expectation mounts that the gap between government funding and the cost pressures authorities are facing is widening again.

Analysis of the sector’s latest financial returns to the government by the Local Government Association found total in-year Covid pressure projected by councils was around £9.7bn, made up of £6.9bn of cost pressures and £2.8bn of non-tax income losses.

After taking account of additional funding provided by ministers, including via clinical commissioning groups for social care and an estimated £1bn from the sales, fees and charges compensation scheme, the LGA estimated the gap this year is almost £2.3bn.

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Almost four in five of over-80s have received first dose of coronavirus vaccine but supply is 'tight', says Matt Hancock

Almost four in five of those aged over 80 have received a first dose of a COVID vaccine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, Mr Hancock said the government was "on track" to meet its deadline of offering a first dose of a coronavirus jab to 15 million of the most vulnerable by 15 February.

He said more than one in nine of the UK's adult population had now received a jab, including 78.7% of all over-80s.

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UK records lowest daily rise in coronavirus cases so far this year

The UK has recorded its lowest daily rise in coronavirus cases so far this year, with 22,195.

The last time the number of cases by date reported was lower than that was 15 December, according to the government's coronavirus data dashboard.

While there is usually a reporting lag over and immediately after the weekend, resulting in lower increases, it's also well down on yesterday's figure of 30,004 and the 37,535 posted last Monday.

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Schools will be told of reopening plans 'as soon as we can'

The government will tell teachers and parents when schools in England can reopen "as soon as we can", the prime minister has said.

MPs have called on the government to set out a "route map" for reopening amid concerns for children's education.

Boris Johnson said he understood why people wanted a timetable but he did not want to lift restrictions while the infection rate was "still very high".

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English council chiefs back postponement of May local elections

A further postponement to this year’s local elections, in the wake of the continuing difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic, is backed by the vast majority of senior council figures across England, the Observer can reveal.

Only 11% of the senior officials dealing with the forthcoming elections believe they should go ahead in May as planned, despite the government’s determination to press ahead. More than two-thirds (69%) believe the huge set of elections should now take place in the autumn, according to the most comprehensive survey of council chief executives, leaders and officers in charge of organising elections to be conducted on the issue.

A further 14% called for a shorter delay to the summer and 6% backed a postponement beyond this autumn, according to the analysis by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU). Of the more than 350 officials who responded, two-thirds said they were “very concerned” about holding elections in May.

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Swathes of England's vital flood defences ‘almost useless’

Thousands of England’s vital flood defences were in such a state of ruin last year they would fail to protect communities from extreme weather, an investigation has found.

More than 3,400 of England’s “high consequence” flood assets, defined as those where there is a high risk to life and property if they fail, were judged by the Environment Agency to be in such a bad condition they were almost useless.

This means that more than one in 20 of the country’s crucial flood defences were in disrepair in 2019-20, the highest proportion in years. This rose to nearly one in 10 in the regions battered by Storm Christoph last week.

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Fears grow over hidden child abuse since start of pandemic

Vulnerable children are facing an increasing wave of hidden abuse since the start of the pandemic, according to ongoing evidence of a slump in the numbers being identified by social services.

The impact of the pandemic since March has intensified issues such as domestic violence, parental mental health and alcohol and substance abuse – all factors that put children at greater risk.

However, there has been a significant fall in referrals to council children’s services of 10% between the end of April and November, according to research by the Office for the Children’s Commissioner in England.

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UK variant 'may be more deadly'

Early evidence suggests the variant of coronavirus that emerged in the UK may be more deadly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

However, there remains huge uncertainty around the numbers - and vaccines are still expected to work.

The data comes from mathematicians comparing death rates in people infected with either the new or the old versions of the virus.

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Ministers to discuss £500 Covid payment to boost self-isolation rates

Ministers are to discuss proposals to pay anyone in England who tests positive for Covid-19 £500 to self-isolate.

It is among the suggestions in a leaked document from the Department of Health. There are fears the current financial support is not working because low paid workers cannot afford to self-isolate.

But a senior government source cast doubt on the idea, saying it had been drawn up by officials and had not been considered by the prime minister.

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Government finances at 'significant risk' from debt-laden councils due to Covid

Local authorities who are taking on risky levels of debt to shore up dwindling resources during the pandemic present a “significant risk” to the government’s finances, MPs have warned.

The Commons’ public accounts committee urged the Treasury on Friday to detail how it will manage the risk to the nation’s finances as the extra pressures of dealing with coronavirus adds to the pressure on councils.

Meg Hillier, the committee’s chair, criticised the department as having a “worryingly laissez-faire attitude” to the issue as the MPs predicted more authorities will soon be unable to balance their books.

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Councils face legal challenges against pop-up cycle lanes and road closures introduced during Covid-19 pandemic

Town halls are facing at least ten legal challenges against road schemes brought in during the pandemic.

Residents' groups are applying for judicial reviews into measures such as road closures and pop-up cycle lanes at a High Court hearing next month.

The cases include schemes introduced in the London boroughs of Hackney, Ealing, Hounslow, Lambeth, Croydon and Camden which the campaigners want scrapped.

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UK borrowing hits highest December level on record

UK government borrowing hit £34.1bn last month, the highest December figure on record, as the cost of pandemic support weighed on the economy.

It was also the third-highest borrowing figure in any month since records began in 1993, the Office for National Statistics said.

The figures underline Chancellor Rishi Sunak's problems as he prepares his March Budget. Borrowing for this financial year has now reached £270.8bn. That is £212.7bn more than a year ago, the ONS said.

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Council finances a ‘significant risk' to the Treasury

MPs have warned that the financial sustainability of some local authorities presents a “significant risk” to the government's finances, and urged the swift implementation of the Redmond review into council audit.

In a report on the Whole of Government Accounts, the Public Accounts Committee said that, due to the Covid-19 and investment pressures, it expects more local authorities to issue section 114 notices to stop essential spending.

The PAC expressed concerns about the level of oversight and control that the Treasury is exercising and whether it has a sufficient handle on local government finance, given it would be responsible for bailing out any struggling organisations.

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Councils ‘in driving seat’ over shared prosperity fund, Jenrick insists

The communities secretary has said the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) and the £4bn levelling up fund - both intended to replace current EU funding - will have “localism and local government at their heart”.

Robert Jenrick's comments at a meeting of the Local Government Association councillors' forum this afternoon should go some way to diminishing fears local enterprise partnerships (leps) would be given the primary local role in their delivery, rather than local government.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government will publish prospectuses for the levelling up fund and £220m to pilot projects in preparation for the UKSPF “within weeks”, he said.

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County’s leaders present legal solution to let remote meetings continue

Council leaders from across Essex have written to Robert Jenrick urging him to extend provisions to hold virtual meetings after obtaining legal advice that it would be in his power to do so.

The letter to the communities secretary, seen by LGC, warns that without the ability to hold remote meetings councils will not be able to comply with their duty under the Local Government Act 1999 to secure continuous improvement in services.

It says that as it is “inevitable that social distancing advice will be in place in May 2021 and for many months thereafter”, come May Essex CC will “have the least transparent arrangements it has ever had”. This is because under social distancing requirements it will only be able to fit 49 of its 75 members into the council chamber and no members of the public or press.

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Cambridgeshire’s £24m education boost may not be enough for SEND pupils

Cambridgeshire County Council has announced that £24m will be added onto schooling budgets in the upcoming year, owing to extra demand placed on schools during coronavirus, because of added infrastructure despite schools being closed for most pupils for most of the year.

However, although extra funding is welcomed within the education sector, critics warn that £24m may not be enough to meet the deficit that they’re facing, particularly in relation to SEND pupils.

With rising costs, the deficit for provisions for SEND mean that the Council could be facing a £27m deficit, rising the year after to £38m.

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High Court deals blow to expansion of cycle lanes and wider pavements

Road closures designed to boost walking and cycling could face legal challenges after a judge declared that a big expansion of the plans was “unlawful”.

The High Court in London ruled that the introduction of road closures in the capital was based on guidance that was “seriously flawed”.

Mrs Justice Lang found in favour of black cab drivers who opposed the schemes that were introduced during the pandemic to promote social distancing and exercise. She said it was “possible to widen pavements to allow for social distancing” without seeking to transform parts of central London into “predominantly car-free zones”.

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Johnson raises fears of lockdown in England continuing into summertime

Boris Johnson raised fears that tough Covid restrictions could continue well into the spring and beyond on Thursday as ministers refused to be drawn on plans for any potential easing of lockdown.

While the vast majority of Tory MPs have toed the line since the new variant of the virus sent cases soaring, Downing Street’s reticence is already causing anxiety among a few backbenchers, who are urging an easing of the restrictions if vaccination rates stay on target.

Downing Street is committed to reviewing the current England-wide lockdown in mid-February, by which point all people in the four top target groups for vaccinations should have been offered at least their first injection.

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Auditors raise questions over council transparency

Bristol City Council’s auditors have raised concerns over transparency relating to the council’s failed energy company Bristol Energy.

In a review of the governance arrangements of the council's subsidiaries, published ahead of an audit committee meeting, Grant Thornton said that information on key decisions made by the deputy mayor in relation to the company were not routinely published.

This meant the audit committee was not always sufficiently updated on developments and information relating to the governance and risks at Bristol Energy, Grant Thornton said.

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Council shifts £11m of land to housing account

Reading Borough Council has approved plans to move £11m of land assets to its housing revenue account as part of a major regeneration project.

The move was agreed in a council meeting earlier this week, and will see the transfer four banks of land earmarked for a £44m affordable housing project from the general fund to the HRA.

The council made the move using powers under section 122 of the Local Government Act 1972, as the land is surplus to the general funds requirements and no longer required for its previous purposes.

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Jenrick ‘made arguments within government’ to delay local elections

The communities secretary has told the country’s most senior councillors that he sees a “very strong argument” for delaying the local elections, putting him on collision course with the prime minister who has made it clear he wants to see the polls go ahead.

Robert Jenrick told councillors during this afternoon’s councillors forum that he understands “it isn’t just about campaigning” but the “delivery of the elections” but that “for those people not involved in local government it’s easy to miss that, and that delivery begins now”.

“Your officers will be beginning to think about [polling] and those efforts will ramp up in the month of February and into March which is a time when they need to be thinking about many other things as well. So I can see a strong argument [for delaying] and I have made those arguments within government.”

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£148m to target county lines drug gangs and treat addiction

Police have shut down more than 550 county lines and arrested nearly 3,500 people connected with the drug dealing gangs in just over a year.

The Home Office revealed the crackdown as it announced a £148 million package to cut crime and tackle issues around illegal drugs. It also gives more resources to police to tackle organised urban criminal gangs, which take over provincial drug markets, often exploiting young and vulnerable people. The county line is the mobile phone line used to take drugs orders.

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Fears over coronavirus vaccine supplies as rate drops

Ministers are increasingly concerned about the pace of the coronavirus vaccine rollout after a reduction in the supply of Pfizer-Biontech jabs.

The number of people receiving their first dose on Monday fell for the third day in a row to 204,076 from a high of 324,000 on Friday.

Pfizer said supplies of vaccine would be lower this month and next as it was upgrading its factory in Belgium before increasing production in March.

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Cost of living up despite Covid Christmas curbs

Prices rose at a faster rate in the UK in December, despite Covid curbs that forced non-essential shops to shut.

Consumer Prices Index inflation jumped to 0.6%, from 0.3% in November, pushed higher by rising transport and clothes prices, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Many people rushed to travel and beat Christmas restrictions, forcing up prices.

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London chief takes on national vaccines role

The chief executive of Southwark LBC Eleanor Kelly has taken up a key role in the national Covid vaccine rollout.

Ms Kelly, who has been Southwark chief for the last eight years, is joining the government and NHS’s national vaccinations team, helping to coordinate the local government response.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, Ms Kelly was praised by then-communities secretary Sajid Javid for her role as a key member of a specialist task force publicly fronting the gold command operation in Kensington & Chelsea RBC. She also held one of the senior roles on London's strategic coordinating group when it was convened at the start of the pandemic.

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Croydon ordered to hold May mayoral referendum

Croydon LBC has been told to hold a referendum this May on introducing an elected mayor after the government legislated to make it possible.

A petition that campaigners claim was signed by more than 17,000 borough voters was presented to the council in September, exceeding the required 5% of electors needed to compel Croydon to hold a referendum. However, the council’s then leadership declined to schedule a referendum alongside local elections in May, citing emergency coronavirus legislation that deemed such petitions invalid before 6 May 2021.

The council, which is under new political and officer leadership following a damning public interest report into its commercial and investment decisions and effectively declaring itself bankrupt, has since committed to hold a referendum in October 2021.

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Government greenlights councils’ ambitious zero carbon housing plans

New government measures to improve energy performance of new homes have been welcomed for allowing councils to retain powers to set local energy efficiency standards, but some campaigners have been left disappointed by the failure to adopt a more rapid timetable.

The government yesterday published its response to the Future Home Standard consultation carried out last year, in which it has confirmed that new homes will need to be 'zero carbon ready' from 2025.

The government had previously indicated it would remove councils’ powers to go higher than government thresholds when it comes to housing efficiency standards, which could have potentially watered down more ambitious plans for low carbon homes in areas including Stroud and the Oxford-Cambridge arc.

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UK cities and towns hardest hit by COVID-19 likely to recover fastest, report finds

The cities worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic are likely to make the fastest economic recovery, new analysis has revealed today.

The Good Growth for Cities report by PwC and Demos shows that towns and cities such as Bradford, Liverpool and Southend have seen their economies decrease by more than 12.5% in 2020. However, these cities are predicted to recover faster than others in 2021, with projected GVA growth rates of 5.3% and higher.

However the report warns these places will also be left with smaller economies in 2021 than they were in 2019.

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Inquiry launched into role of local authority pension funds in fighting climate change

A parliamentary group has launched an inquiry into how institutional investors such as local authority pension funds can help drive a ‘just transition’ to a net zero economy.

The Government is committed in law to transition the UK to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 as part of the struggle against climate change.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Local Authority Pension Funds today announced the launch of its inquiry to investigate what local authority pension funds and other investors can do to ensure that no one is left out during the transition.

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New homes will need to reduce emissions by at least 75% by 2025

All new buildings will have to meet tough new energy efficiency standards under plans published by the Government.

The Government said all new homes will be expected to produce 75-80% lower carbon emissions compared to current levels by 2025. An interim target of 31% lower carbon emissions has been set from 2021.

Existing homes will also be subject to higher standards with a requirement for replacement, repairs and parts to be more energy efficient.

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Councils urged to update their Local Plans

A small number of councils are failing to keep their Local Plans up-to-date, the housing minister has warned.

Christopher Pincher urged all councils to ensure they have an up-to-date Local Plan in place by the government deadline of December 2023 in order to ensure they can deliver the homes needed.

Mr Pincher said: ‘Despite the significant challenges caused by the pandemic, I know the majority of councils are doing all they can to build much-needed homes across England. I would like to thank them for the important work they do to deliver the homes, jobs and supporting infrastructure that make such a difference to their local communities.

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Rollout of daily testing of close contacts paused in English schools

The government has paused plans to roll out rapid daily coronavirus testing of close contacts, in all but a small number of secondary schools and colleges.

Testing close contacts of a positive case as an alternative to isolation showed some benefits in trials.

But the emergence of a new variant means the risk of missing infections has risen, health officials say.

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Oxford scientists preparing new vaccine versions to combat emerging Covid strains

Oxford scientists are preparing to rapidly produce new versions of their vaccine to combat emerging Covid-19 variants from the UK, South Africa and Brazil.

The university has confirmed that the team behind the AstraZeneca jab is undertaking feasibility studies to reconfigure the technology at 48 hours notice.

The news emerged as new research suggested that the current generation of Covid vaccines may not work against the new South African strain.

A laboratory study found that the 501Y.V2 variant achieved "complete escape" from monoclonal antibodies, the man-made proteins that act like the antibodies produced by jabs.

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Record 343,000 people in UK receive Covid vaccine in one day

A record 343,000 people in the UK received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday as the NHS scaled up its push to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February – but Tony Blair called on ministers to hit 600,000 jabs a day.

Downing Street said it was increasingly confident that it would hit the target as long as the supply was maintained, although with 25 days to go it will require about 400,000 immunisations a day to remain on track.

Blair, the former prime minister who was among the first to advocate prioritisation of single doses before the approach was adopted by the UK, today calls on ministers to increase the pace of vaccinations to 600,000 a day, arguing this could allow a return to normality by mid-May.

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Majority of discretionary self-isolation support applications rejected, Labour say

Three quarters of applications for a £500 discretionary grant, which aims to help those on low incomes self-isolate, have been rejected, figures suggest.

Employed or self-employed people in England who do not qualify for the Test and Trace Support Payment because they do not receive benefits can apply.

Data obtained by Labour and shared with BBC Newsnight suggests just 12,069 of 49,877 applications were successful.

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Covid jabs diverted to over-80s in vaccination blackspots

Coronavirus jabs will be diverted to areas falling behind on vaccinating the over-80s amid concerns about regional disparities in the programme.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said that stocks would be prioritised for areas with a large number of unprotected over-80s, despite a promise yesterday to let GPs begin vaccinating younger patients.

More than four million people across Britain have received a first dose of the vaccine after 1.8 million were reached in the seven days to Sunday.

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One in four UK young people have felt 'unable to cope' in pandemic

Young people are in danger of giving up on their futures and on themselves, with a quarter saying they feel unable to cope with life, one of the UK’s leading charities has said.

The Prince’s Trust long-running annual survey of young people’s happiness and confidence returned the worst findings in its 12-year history.

“The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on young people’s mental health and wellbeing,” said Jonathan Townsend, the trust’s UK chief executive. “Many believe they are missing out on being young, and sadly we know that the impact of the pandemic on their employment prospects and overall wellbeing could continue far into their futures.”

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MPs call for Universal Credit cut to be scrapped - but majority of Tory MPs abstain

MPs have backed a motion calling for the upcoming cut in Universal Credit to be scrapped, with nearly all Conservative MPs abstaining.

There were 278 votes in favour of the motion, with no votes against recorded. Boris Johnson ordered his MPs to abstain, which means not voting for or against the motion.

A £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit was introduced last year to help families cope during the COVID-19 pandemic, equating to an extra £1,000 a year for six million families.

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Babies’ needs overlooked in COVID response

The ‘hidden harms’ of the spring lockdown on 0-2s were broad and significant, and experienced unevenly depending on family circumstances and background, according to the report commissioned by the First 1001 Days Movement.

It reveals evidence that ‘historically inadequate or insecure funding and a rising tide of need has inhibited the ability of some services and areas to respond to the coronavirus crisis’.

For some families with babies, spring lockdown brought some broad benefits, for example around increases in quality family time. But babies in families already experiencing disadvantage ‘appear less likely to have seen many of these benefits’ says the report.

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Return of free school meals voucher scheme

The Government has relaunched the free school meal vouchers following the scandal surrounding 'disgusting' food parcels.

The Government had promised to investigate after pictures appeared on social media of inadequate food parcels.

The voucher scheme will allow schools to order supermarket gift cards for eligible pupils, worth £15 a week per child.

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Casey accuses government of ‘systemic failure’ over no recourse to public funds

Whitehall’s former chief adviser on homelessness and the architect of its ‘Everyone In’ policy has delivered a stinging rebuke of the government’s failure to deal with those with no recourse to public funds.

Giving evidence to the Commons' housing, communities and local government committee yesterday, Dame Louise Casey branded it a “mismanaged policy” and warned that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s rough sleeping team are having to deal with “systemic failure” elsewhere in government with councils left to pick up the tab.

Dame Louise, who has advised both Labour and Conservative governments on their homeless strategies and was tasked with getting all rough sleepers off the streets during the first wave of Coronavirus, told the committee that “one of the causes of rough sleeping is an inability to manage immigration properly”.

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Councils told to visit every supermarket as Covid enforcement ramps up

The communities secretary has told councils to step up their enforcement efforts by paying a visit to every supermarket and corner shop in their area to ensure they are complying with Covid rules, and to have a “stern conversation” with those found to be remiss.

LGC has learned Robert Jenrick told councils on a ministerial webinar last Wednesday to mobilise their enforcement officers over the course of the following two weeks and “make an effort” to visit all essential retailers in their area to “have that conversation” about their Covid procedures.

“Clearly there is an advantage to doing it unannounced,” he added.

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Brexit deal ‘could impact UK credit rating’

The UK’s credit rating could decrease if the Brexit free trade agreement with the European Union undermines economic performance, according to ratings agency Fitch.

In a rating action commentary affirming the UK’s AA- rating with a negative outlook, Fitch said the free trade agreement will cause less disruption than a no-deal scenario would have.

However, the agency warned that the agreement will still entail significant new non-tariff barriers, which could negatively impact the UK.

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Treasury minister warns against tax rises

Jesse Norman, financial secretary to the Treasury, has warned against immediate tax rises in the upcoming budget which could “impede” economic growth.

Speaking to the Treasury Select Committee yesterday, Norman said his department is focused on stabilising Britain’s economy before any thoughts on wider fiscal policies.

He added that a rapid economic recovery could be caused by a “pronounced bounce” in consumer spending and could mitigate the need for tax rises.

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Spelthorne commercial income allows council tax freeze

Spelthorne Borough Council’s controversial commercial investment strategy has allowed it to propose council tax freezes next year despite Covid-19 disruption, according to its finance chief.

The council has been the most high-profile council using cheap government borrowing to buy property – taking ownership of £1bn in properties offices and shopping centres in recent years.

However, Terry Collier, deputy chief executive and chief finance officer at the council, told PF that it has allowed them to propose the freeze in its budget proposals to be published next week.

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Schools might not all reopen at the same time across England, suggests Dr Jenny Harries

Schools might not all reopen at the same time across England as lockdown restrictions are eased, MPs have been told.

Dr Jenny Harries, one of England's deputy chief medical officers, said there was "likely" to be regional differences in COVID measures once the national shutdown ends.

Appearing before the House of Commons' education committee on Tuesday, Dr Harries was asked if there could be a regional or phased approach to reopening schools.

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Covid-related deaths in care homes in England jump by 46%

Deaths in care homes in England have hit the highest level since mid-May, according to the latest official figures, which revealed a 46% jump in coronavirus-related deaths in the last week as the more transmissible variant of Covid-19 breaches care homes’ defences.

In the week to last Friday, 1,260 deaths in care homes involving Covid-19 were reported to the Care Quality Commission, a sharp jump from 824 and 661 in the previous two weeks. The weekly death toll in care homes had fallen to well below 100 in early October.

The rising numbers came after the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, described the inoculation programme as “a race against deaths” and GPs scrambled to deliver vaccines to the half of care home residents yet to receive jabs.

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Nottingham plans £100m asset sale

Nottingham City Council has identified £100m of assets for sale as part of a plan to bring its finances under control.

The recovery and improvement plan, ordered by the Government following a rapid review last year, also proposed closing up to three companies, a complete rewriting of the council's constitution, a management restructure and efficiency savings.

Nottingham's plan will be overseen by an external improvement and assurance board chaired by Sir Tony Redmond, with members appointed by the Government, including council leader Cllr David Mellen.

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Vaccination rollout begins for over-70s in England

People in England aged 70 and over, as well as those listed as clinically extremely vulnerable, will begin receiving offers of a coronavirus vaccine this week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the move was a "significant milestone" in the nation's vaccination programme.

More than five million people - from priority groups three and four - will be invited to have the jab from Monday.

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24-hour vaccination sites to be piloted in London before end of January

Twenty-four hour vaccination sites will be piloted in London before the end of January, the vaccines minister has said.

Speaking to Sky News, Nadhim Zahawi said the NHS will be "targeting forensically who we want to protect" to ensure the most vulnerable people can be vaccinated first.

He said that as there is "limited supply" of the vaccine, "it needs to get into the arms of the most vulnerable" such as those who are elderly or clinically extremely vulnerable.

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Free fast broadband offered in UK to support home schooling

Thousands of families struggling with home learning are being offered free high-speed broadband following a partnership between internet provider Hyperoptic and dozens of local authorities across the UK.

Families in 37 local authority areas, from Tower Hamlets in London to Newcastle and Leeds that are struggling with remote learning due to poor or no internet will be offered the chance to have a high speed connection installed with no usage charges until the end of the summer term.

At that point there is no obligation to stick with the service. Telecoms regulator Ofcom has estimated that more than 880,000 children live in a household with internet access only via mobile phone.

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Green belt at risk from ‘wrong ideas about cities’

Thousands of acres of green space around towns and cities could be built on because of “implausible” population forecasts, campaigners claim.

The Office for National Statistics predicted that Coventry’s population would rise by 32 per cent between 2011 and 2031. That figure has led the city council to plan for more than 40,000 new homes on green belt land that once formed the Forest of Arden.

However, Keep Our Green Belt Green said that the city’s “vital signs” did not reflect the population growth projected. Its research, which four professors have reviewed, found that jobs had grown by 18 per cent in recent years but this was half that of some nearby towns.

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Universal credit: Labour presses PM for action ahead of benefit vote

Boris Johnson has been urged to give millions of families a "helping hand" ahead of a Commons vote on extending benefit increases worth £20 a week.

Labour will use a debate on Monday to ramp up the pressure on the government to keep the universal credit uplift, worth £1,000 a year, beyond 31 March.

Sir Keir Starmer said families "needed certainty" incomes would be protected. Tory MPs will abstain, meaning the non-binding motion will pass but ministers have not committed to implementing it.

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Jenrick accused of starting ‘culture war’ with new statues law

New laws being drawn up to protect statues by ensuring they can only be removed with permission from the communities secretary have been slammed by the Labour party's most senior local government representative as "profoundly disturbing".

Under proposals announced this weekend, the removal of any of England’s 20,000 historic statues or monuments, whether they are listed or not, will in future require listed building consent or planning permission . Under the new regulations, if a council intends to grant permission for removal of a particular statue and Historic England objects, the communities secretary will be notified so he can make the final decision about the application in question.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government says the new rules will mean historic statues can be “retained and explained” for future generations and only be removed in “the most exceptional circumstances”.

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£120m care staff funding branded ‘gesture politics’

Questions have been raised over how much impact the £120m announced over the weekend for care staffing can have in a sector already facing a workforce crisis.

The cash will be handed to councils to be distributed to care homes to spend on boosting staffing levels by funding extra care staff or administrative support to free up existing staff to focus on providing care. The Department for Health & Social Care said it could also be used to help existing staff to take on additional hours by covering overtime payments or childcare costs.

However, it falls well short of the £480m the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services called for last week to avert an immediate workforce crisis in the sector. It said that Covid infection, self-isolation and “sheer fatigue” were reducing the number of staff able to work in social care teams – on top of the 112,000 vacancies reported in the sector before the start of the pandemic.

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London chief to leave after 17 years

Merton LBC is seeking to appoint a new chief executive to succeed Ged Curran after 17 years in the post.

Mr Curran was appointed in March 2004 after holding senior positions at Newham, Waltham Forest, Lambeth and Merton LBCs. He had previously practiced as a solicitor.

Merton’s appointments committee will discuss the process to appoint his successor on Thursday, with a report outlining a timeline that would see applications close in the week commencing 26 March, and full council confirm the appointment of the new chief executive on 19 May.

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As many as six in 10 care home residents in England still awaiting Covid jab

Wide disparities have emerged in the campaign to protect care home residents from Covid-19, with 100% getting their first jab in Slough, while nearly six in 10 are still awaiting vaccinations in one of the UK’s largest care home chains.

In what the vaccines minister described as a “race against deaths”, care bosses reported struggles to protect the oldest and most vulnerable members of society.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, told a Downing Street press conference that the government is “prioritising the supply of the vaccine into those parts of the country that need to complete [vaccination of] the over-80s”.

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Call to prioritise minority ethnic groups for Covid vaccines

People in high-risk minority ethnic groups must be prioritised for Covid immunisations, alongside a targeted publicity campaign, experts and politicians have said amid growing concerns over vaccine scepticism.

With figures on Monday recording more than 4m Covid vaccine doses now administered across the UK, and the rollout being expanded to all over-70s, public health experts and MPs called for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities to be better protected.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has also raised concerns after research showed up to 72% of black people said they were unlikely or very unlikely to have the jab.

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Fewer UK children 'school ready' after Covid nursery closures

The number of children starting school without basic skills such as being able to go to the toilet unaided, put on a coat or respond to questions is at record levels because of nursery closures, according to research.

Experts say further closures could widen gaps in school readiness between children from rich and poor backgrounds.

Research commissioned by Kindred2, a charitable foundation working to improve early education and child development, found that a record proportion of children were starting school without basic skills.

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Councils raked in £7.3m from rubbish-tip 'tax' last year amid fly-tipping fears

Councils who charge residents to dump non household waste at rubbish tips raked in £7.3m last year from toilet seats, fences and sheds, the Telegraph can reveal...

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Treasury in property tax rethink

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is believed to be rethinking property taxes – including council tax and business rates – in a bid to balance the books post-COVID.

The move comes amid rising calls for change, including a report from think tank Onwards on changing the finance system and 10-minute rule Bill on scrapping business rates, launched by Conservative backbencher Kevin Hollinrake.

The 3 March Budget is expected to continue to fund existing support during the latest COVID lockdown, but any return to normality would also see the Chancellor starting to claw back his financial position through tax rises.

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£269m given to local authorities for social care

The Government has announced that £269m will be given to local authorities for social care purposes as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

£120m of the funding is designed to help staffing levels, including the hiring of more staff, reskilling existing DBS checked staff and also being able to provide overtime pay for existing staff to meet current demands.

The Government says that some of the money can be used for administrative costs for care homes so that higher skilled staff can focus on caring for patients rather than dealing with paperwork.

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Call for inquiry into COVID’s 'devastating' impact on children

A coalition of child health experts has called for a wide-ranging independent commission to examine the ‘devastating impact’ of the pandemic on children.

In a letter to The Observer newspaper, they warn that many families are being ‘swept into poverty’ by the pandemic, which is set to significantly add to the four million children living in deprivation before the COVID crisis started.

According to the letter, whose signatories include the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the National Children’s Bureau and leading child health academics, ‘children’s welfare has become a national emergency’.

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£120m care staff funding branded ‘gesture politics’

Questions have been raised over how much impact the £120m announced over the weekend for care staffing can have in a sector already facing a workforce crisis.

The cash will be handed to councils to be distributed to care homes to spend on boosting staffing levels by funding extra care staff or administrative support to free up existing staff to focus on providing care. The Department for Health & Social Care said it could also be used to help existing staff to take on additional hours by covering overtime payments or childcare costs.

However, it falls well short of the £480m the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services called for last week to avert an immediate workforce crisis in the sector. It said that Covid infection, self-isolation and “sheer fatigue” were reducing the number of staff able to work in social care teams – on top of the 112,000 vacancies reported in the sector before the start of the pandemic.

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Former housing association chair named new MHCLG minister

A former housing association chair has been appointed housing and rough sleeping minister at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government following the departure of Kelly Tolhurst.

Ms Tolhurst, who is the MP for Rochester and Strood announced over the weekend that she was stepping down from the government following “some very sad news to care for and spend time with my family”.

Ms Tolhurst joined MHCLG last September from the Department for Transport, where she had been maritime, aviation and security minister since February. Prior to that she was small business minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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COVID-19 living standards hit ‘ahead, rather than behind us’, think tank warns

The coming year is set to mark the peak of the pandemic-induced living standards downturn for households, especially those on lower incomes, think tank warns.

Published by the Resolution Foundation, the Living Standards Outlook offers forecasts for living standards growth across the income distribution, both over the next 12 months and the remainder of the parliament.

It notes that despite the UK experiencing a huge economic contraction in 2020, many households have been protected from its impact by the £63bn Job Retention Scheme and the £6bn uplift to Universal Credit (UC) and Working Tax Credit.

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Forget local government, the whole country needs a fair funding review

With the future of business rates under review and council tax reform reportedly attracting the interest of the Treasury the government has some fundamental questions to answer, writes LGC deputy editor Sarah Calkin.

The case for reforming council tax is growing ever louder. That it is a regressive tax, hitting those in lower value homes proportionately harder than those in higher ones, is not disputed.

Meanwhile, as the property values that council tax bands are based on turn 30-years-old this year their relationship with the reality of local property markets grows ever weaker. As the only locally-set tax – albeit within the strict confines of centrally-determined referendum limits – the casual observer may assume councils are quite attached to it.

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School closures could wipe out a decade of progress for less privileged pupils

Closing schools has been one of the most painful consequences of the pandemic - the action Boris Johnson described as his "last resort".

Charities have warned that it could wipe out a decade of progress closing the gap between less privileged pupils and their peers.

New research from the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) has found that half of students from disadvantaged backgrounds believe they won't get the grades they deserve after this year's examinations were scrapped.

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Make May elections in England more Covid-safe, Labour urges

Labour has urged ministers to make May’s elections in England more Covid-secure, after the emergence of a Cabinet Office document that warned the pandemic could severely hamper the process and put millions off voting.

The paper raises the possibility that even if coronavirus infection levels are relatively low, it could be difficult to attract enough election staff, and that safety fears may “disenfranchise large proportions of [the] community”.

Labour is calling for safeguards such as the possibility of spreading voting over several days, or having an all-postal vote, options that have been prepared for elections to the Scottish parliament, also due to take place on 6 May.

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‘Far too many turned away’: Domestic abuse victims left with nowhere to go as services struggle in pandemic

As Covid cases across the country surge, a shadow pandemic of domestic abuse has also grown, with many unable to escape an abusive partner as soaring demand makes it difficult for victims to get the help they need.

Boris Johnson used an address to the nation this week to emphasise those trapped at home with abusers were free to leave the house during lockdown, while home secretary Priti Patel appeared on ITV's This Morning to alert people to the fact pharmacies have launched a codeword scheme to provide a “lifeline” to victims.

But cash-strapped services have not been given any further funding, meaning they are forced to turn away victims fleeing abusive partners.

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All over 18s could have vaccine by 'end of June'

Every adult in Britain will be vaccinated by the end of June, senior Government figures hope, as they grow increasingly optimistic they will be able to accelerate the rollout....

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Councils losing tens of millions of pounds supporting businesses through pandemic

Local authorities are losing tens of millions of pounds supporting struggling business tenants through the pandemic which could have dire and long-lasting consequences for local services, Sky News has found.

Freedom of Information requests reveal English councils have already written off at least £19.7m associated with measures to support local businesses, including rent relief, rent renegotiations, payment holidays or business tenants going into administration.

A further £5.8m was lost as a result of Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs). These are arrangements where companies on the brink of insolvency negotiate debt repayments with their creditors in order to stay afloat - in this case, rent and rates paid to the council.

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Low-paid shun Covid tests because the cost of self-isolating is too high

Families on low incomes are avoiding the Covid-19 testing system because they cannot afford to isolate if they get sick, while red tape is hampering access to the government’s £500 compensation payments.

People in some of the most deprived areas of England, including Middlesbrough, Liverpool and the London borough of Newham, are less likely to request a coronavirus test.

According to the CIPD, the association of HR professionals, when people on low incomes do self-isolate, they find it difficult to access the NHS Test and Trace support payment scheme. Freedom of information releases from 34 local authorities show that only a third of claims were granted.

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Councils making the most cash from parking fines named

Greedy councils are raking in an average £850,000 a year from car parking fines. New figures show some town halls are issuing as many as 307 parking tickets every day.

Nine of the 10 local authorities making the most cash from fines are in London, with each one collecting more than £4million a year.

Newham is the biggest earner, at £10.6million. Second is Haringey, making £9.8million, followed by Ealing with £8.3million.

The biggest parking revenue outside the capital is Glasgow at £5.4million while Birmingham is next with £3.9million.

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Marcus Rashford and top chefs demand free school meals review

Marcus Rashford and a group of celebrity chefs and campaigners have called on Boris Johnson to review the government's free school meals policy.

The group, including Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Tom Kerridge, have written to the PM asking him to "fix" the system long-term. They called for a strategy to help "end child food poverty" before the summer holidays.

No 10 said "no child will ever go hungry" because of the Covid pandemic. The call for a wide review comes after another row over free school meals during February half-term.

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Public could force councils to sell off vacant land and buildings under proposed 'right to regenerate' law

The public will be able to force councils to sell off vacant land and buildings under a proposed new law.

Its aim will be to allow vacant plots of land and derelict buildings to be converted into homes or community spaces.

The ‘right to regenerate’ proposals, to be announced by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick today, would make it easier to challenge councils and other public organisations to release land for redevelopment.

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UK shuts travel corridors and requires negative Covid tests to enter

Boris Johnson has announced a dramatic tightening of the UK’s borders, with all international arrivals to be forced to quarantine as well as demonstrate they have had a negative Covid test.

After months of criticism of the government’s lax border policies, which Labour claimed were “costing lives”, the prime minister said he was tightening the rules to prevent new variants of the virus reaching the UK and safeguard the vaccination programme.

“It is vital to take these extra measures now when day by day, hour by hour, we are making such strides in protecting the population,” Johnson told a Downing Street press conference.

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UK to face delay in delivery of Pfizer Covid vaccine

The UK is among several countries facing delays in delivery of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine due to upgrades in its production capacity, the company has said.

The US pharmaceutical firm is increasing production at its plant in Puurs, Belgium, in an effort to produce more doses than originally planned for 2021, temporarily reducing deliveries to all European countries.

Shipments of the vaccine, produced in partnership with Germany’s BioNTech, to the UK are set to be affected this month.

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Doctors told to throw away leftover Covid vaccines rather than giving second doses

Local NHS leaders are forcing GPs to throw away vaccines rather than give second doses, medics have revealed....

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TfN’s budget cuts to ‘threaten levelling-up’

Proposed cuts to government funding for public transport body Transport for the North would “undermine levelling-up” and put planned improvement works at risk, according to the group’s finance chief.

A report released ahead of a TfN board meeting this week said that core funding from the Department for Transport for 2021-22 would drop to £6m from £10m that was allocated last year.

The body’s annual budget to develop the Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme has also been frozen at £75m, 33% less than the amount requested by TfN during the Comprehensive Spending Review, the report said.

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Second Covid-19 lockdown hurts UK GDP

The UK’s economy shrank by 2.6% in November, as a result of the second English lockdown, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The ONS said November’s contraction was the first month of decline in six months, since April’s record 20% contraction at the beginning of the first national lockdown.

GDP in November was 8.5% below pre-Covid-19 levels in February, and overall, the economy has fallen 8.9% in the 12 months to November, the ONS said.

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The mental health effects of Covid will last for a decade

In the normal course of his work as a GP Gavin Francis would expect to spend about a third of his time dealing with the mental ill health of his patients. The pandemic has changed that. “Consultations about mental health vary from week to week, but are commonly at double what they were before the pandemic,” he says.

From his position at the grass roots of the response to Covid-19 Francis has witnessed the spread of the virus at a community level. Some days every call he has taken was about loneliness, self-harm and the contagion of mental health problems.

In a memoir of the past year he describes panic and anxiety as “the virus’s dark refrains, a second pandemic leaching into everyone’s lives”. When I ask how long he expects this to last he is unequivocal. “For years.”..

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'High bar' for postponing local elections in England, MPs told

There should be a "high bar" for postponing local elections in England this year, a minister has told MPs.

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith said the position would be kept "under review".

She said work was under way to ensure people could cast their ballots in a "COVID-secure" way - but Labour has raised concerns a "lack of preparation" could force people to "choose between their health and their right to vote".

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High Street chemists start vaccinations in England

Some High Street pharmacies in England will start vaccinating people from priority groups on Thursday, with 200 providing jabs in the next two weeks.

Six chemists in Halifax, Macclesfield, Widnes, Guildford, Edgware and Telford are the first to offer appointments to those invited by letter.

But pharmacists say many more sites should be allowed to give the jab, not just the largest ones.

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Social care directors warn of 'exhausted' workforce

Social care needs an immediate cash injection to support exhausted staff and ensure services don’t collapse, service directors have warned today.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said ‘alarming’ gaps are appearing in services due to staff shortages caused by sickness absence, people self-isolating and sheer fatigue.

It also highlights the fact the sector had existing vacancies of 112,000 prior to the start of the pandemic.

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'Shocking' care home Covid outbreaks at levels not seen since first peak

Outbreaks of Covid-19 in care homes have more than trebled in a month, with levels of infections now similar to the peak of the first wave, figures show.

The latest surveillance data from Public Health England (PHE) reveals that, in the week to January 14, there was the second highest weekly total since records began in April.

On Thursday night, senior figures said the numbers were "shocking" and warned: "Care homes cannot be neglected again." It came as the Government closed Britain's borders to Portugal and South America amid fears over a new strain of the virus from Brazil.

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Regulator refuses to approve mass daily Covid testing at English schools

Boris Johnson’s plans to test millions of schoolchildren for coronavirus every week appear to be in disarray after the UK regulator refused to formally approve the daily testing of pupils in England, the Guardian has learned.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told the government on Tuesday it had not authorised the daily use of 30-minute tests due to concerns that they give people false reassurance if they test negative.

This could lead to pupils staying in school and potentially spreading the virus when they should be self-isolating.

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Almost 200,000 patients now waiting at least a year for routine NHS operations

The coronavirus crisis overwhelming the NHS has caused waiting lists for routine treatment to surge to the highest levels ever recorded, figures released on Thursday showed.

More than 4.5 million people are currently on the health service waiting list, while almost 200,000 have been left waiting more than a year for treatment – a figure that stood at just 1,163 less than a year ago.

As hospitals are forced to free up intensive care beds for Covid-19 patients, hundreds of cancer operations have been cancelled across London with thousands waiting over the NHS target of 62 days for urgent treatment.

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UK population 'in biggest fall since Second World War'

The UK population may have fallen by as much as 1.3m - the biggest decline since the Second World War - in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, academics have said....

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Hospital patients to be sent to hotels to free up beds for critical Covid-19 cases

Thousands of hospital patients are to be discharged early to hotels or their own homes to free up beds for Covid-19 sufferers needing life-or-death care, the Guardian has learned.

Hospital chiefs in England intend to start discharging patients early on a scale never seen before, as an emergency measure to create “extra emergency contingency capacity” and stop parts of the NHS collapsing, senior sources said.

Documents seen by the Guardian also revealed that the NHS is asking care homes to start accepting Covid patients directly from hospitals and without a recent negative test, as long as they have been in isolation for 14 days and have shown no new symptoms.

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Retail giants clamp down in bid to halt coronavirus growth

John Lewis became the first big retailer to suspend its click-and-collect service yesterday amid pressure on shops to do more to help to contain the virus.

The chain said that it was acting after a “change in tone” from government, adding that it wanted to help the national effort by removing reasons for non-essential travel.

Tesco, Asda, Aldi and Waitrose joined Morrisons and Sainsbury’s in banning shoppers without masks from stores unless they have a medical reason. Supermarkets in England will be spot-checked by council staff to ensure that they are Covid-secure.

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Laptops for all pupils at only one in ten schools

Only one in ten teachers say that all their pupils have adequate access to laptops despite 700,000 being handed out by the government.

A leading social mobility charity says the situation has not improved since the first lockdown and that the gulf between rich and poor is as wide as ever.

It came as Ofsted backed down on conducting in-person inspections this term after inspectors voted overwhelmingly against going into schools.

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Free school meals: Minister demands 'urgent improvement'

Caterers must "urgently" improve the quality of food parcels being provided to the poorest pupils in England while schools are closed during the national lockdown, a minister has said.

Children's minister Vicky Ford said this would ensure eligible children received "a healthy, nutritious lunch".

It comes after footballer Marcus Rashford shared images of some parcels online, calling them "not good enough".

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Enough children living in temporary housing to fill 450 primary schools

The number of children living in temporary accommodation during the latest coronavirus lockdown is enough to fill 450 primary schools, town halls warn today.

Some 127,240 kids are in accommodation such as bed and breakfasts, according to the Local Government Association.

The average primary has about 281 pupils – meaning 450 schools would be needed to house all the youngsters with no home of their own.

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Council chiefs call for restoration of local welfare funding

Local authority leaders have called on the Government to restore local welfare funding as a study warns of the impact the pandemic is having on people who were already struggling with poverty.

In their annual study on poverty, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that before the coronavirus pandemic began, around 14.5 million people in the UK lived in poverty. This equates to more than one-in-five people.

The report warns that those who were already struggling to stay afloat have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. These include part-time and low-paid workers, Black, Asian and minority ethnic households, single parents (mostly women), and private renters.

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Council chiefs call for mental health services funding

Local authority leaders have urged the Government to ensure that councils’ mental health services receive the funding they require to meet ‘unmet demand’ in response to a landmark reform of mental health laws.

The Government today published the long-anticipated Reforming the Mental Health Act white paper, which builds on the recommendations made in 2018 by Sir Simon Wessely’s Independent Review of the Mental Health Act.

The white paper stressed the importance of empowering individuals to have more control over their mental health treatment. It also promises to deliver parity between mental and physical health services.

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‘Dismay’ over continuing lack of detail on UKSPF

Senior councillors have expressed growing alarm that almost a fortnight after UK completed its exit from the EU they are still in the dark on vital details of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund intended to replace EU funding for the regions.

A meeting of the Local Government Association’s people and places board yesterday also heard that the government had yet to set up a promised taskforce bringing central and local government to co-design the fund while there are concerns that rather than devolving more powers to councils, the fund could end up drawing existing responsibilities away from them as it covers a wider remit than current EU funds.

A paper prepared to Tuesday’s meeting warned of an “urgency” to the issue as current EU funding winds down, with all funding programmes completed by the end of 2023.

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Extra cash made available for self isolation support

An extra £20.4m is to be provided by the government to extend the current self isolation support grants scheme to the end of this financial year after many councils reported running out of the discretionary funding provided so far.

Just over half of the funding is to go towards extending the national £500 scheme to support those on in-work benefits required to self-isolate while councils will also be handed an additional £10m of discretionary funding. This is paid to those on low-incomes required to self-isolate by NHS Test & Trace who could suffer financial hardship as a result of not being able to work but who do not meet the criteria for the separate £500 payment.

However, there are still understood to be concerns in the sector that the £500 national scheme is not capturing all those in need as the eligibility criteria too tight, and this is putting pressure on discretionary budgets.

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Mental Health Act reforms aim to tackle high rate of black people sectioned

Reforms to the Mental Health Act will help tackle the disproportionate number of black people sectioned, the government has announced.

Black people are more than four times more likely to be detained under the act and more than 10 times more likely to be subject to a community treatment order.

The package of reforms includes piloting culturally appropriate advocates so patients from all minority ethnic backgrounds can be better supported to voice their individual needs and allow sectioned people to nominate family members to represent their best interests if they are unable to do so themselves.

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Schools in England may not reopen after February half-term, Boris Johnson suggests

Schools in England may not reopen after the February half-term, the prime minister has suggested.

Boris Johnson said the government's priority was to get pupils back in the classroom "as soon as possible", but that whether this would happen after half-term in the middle of next month depended on a "number of things".

The PM told MPs on the Liaison Committee that the determining factors would be the success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, the effect of new variants, any other possible changes in the virus, and the success of lockdown measures.

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Covid hospital patients can be discharged to care homes without a test, say guidelines sent to providers

Coronavirus hospital patients can be discharged into care homes without being tested under draft Government guidelines leaked to the The Telegraph.

Care providers have said they are "deeply worried" about the latest proposed rules, which advise clinicians to release patients without requiring them to have a test 48 hours before discharge if they have no new virus symptoms and have isolated in hospital.

For the first time, the Government appears to acknowledge that people could test positive for Covid but not be infectious, suggesting "it will be appropriate for them to move directly to a care home from hospital... because we now know they do not pose an infection risk to other residents in a care home".

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NHS orders rapid acceleration of care home Covid vaccinations

NHS England has ordered a rapid acceleration of care home vaccinations in response to rising Covid outbreaks in which deaths of residents have risen to levels not seen since May.

GPs have been instructed to complete all care home vaccinations by the end of this week “wherever possible” or by 24 January at the latest. The government’s original target was the end of the month.

The urgent move came as new figures showed 1,200 care residents died from Covid in England in the first week of January. Weekly death tolls in Scotland and Wales have also been rising.

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Care home bosses ‘jumping ahead of elderly’ for Covid vaccine

Care home executives, NHS staff working from home and members of the public are jumping the queue for coronavirus vaccinations.

The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) prioritisation list begins with “residents in a care home for older adults and their carers”, followed by over-eighties and frontline health and social care workers.

Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said one of his family members, an NHS administrator working from home, had been offered a vaccine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.

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Local authorities to roll out asymptomatic testing

The Government has announced that it will help local authorities to ramp up asymptomatic testing across communities in England.

The new scheme will include all 317 local authorities, with 131 already signed up and 107 already testing asymptomatic people for Covid-19.

The idea behind asymptomatic testing is that by discovering more cases, more people are able to isolate and therefore protect those working on the front line. Many of the councils that have started testing such as Essex and Milton Keynes are focusing on those not able to work from home.

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LGA steps up lobbying over council tax and £2.3bn Covid funding gap

Councils are still facing a Covid-driven funding gap of nearly £2.3bn in 2020-21, the Local Government Association has warned, despite recent additional funding for being made available to places facing the highest tiers of restrictions.

During a session at the LGA’s annual finance conference this morning, deputy chief executive Sarah Pickup said councils’ latest returns on the financial impact of Covid 19 showed they were forecasting full-year pressures of £9.7bn. However, they will have received funding of £7.4bn from emergency Covid funding, money via clinical commissioning groups to support social care and an estimated £1bn to cover lost sales, fees and charges income.

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Labour’s constitution review would put local government on firm footing

Shadow communities secretary has advocated putting the local government sector on a more secure long term footing by enshrining its existence into a new UK constitution, and has criticised the government for not working with councils on the Covid vaccine rollout.

Steve Reed, who believes his party is more supportive of devolution than at any time in its history, has revealed his hopes that the constitutional commission on devolution the party plans to hold imminently will explore the legal basis that national, regional and local government stands on and the resourcing it needs.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19): emergency funding for local government in 2020 to 2021 and additional support in 2021 to 2022

Allocations of additional funding to local authorities in financial year 2020 to 2021 and additional support for local government in financial year 2021 to 2022.

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Khan proposes 9.5% rise in GLA precept

Proposals from London mayor Sadiq Khan would see annual bills rise by more than £31 on average in 2021-22, with £15 to help fund the Metropolitan Police and £15 for Transport of London subsidies for children and over 60s.

The remaining £1.59 per-household would go towards helping the fire service respond to changes recommended by the Grenfell Tower inquiry.

However, in order to implement the proposed increases for TfL, the GLA requires approval from the government to amend its referendum limits as the increase would be greater than its current 2% limit before a referendum was required.

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Tax reforms 'would raise more than wealth tax'

In a presentation to the Local Government Association’s annual finance conference, David Phillips, associate director at the IFS, warned that a wealth related levy could harm the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

He said that trying to capture tax on people who have saved during the pandemic could have a dampening effect on the economy, as the recovery will be reliant on the public spending money.

Phillips said: “Rather than trying to introduce a new wealth tax for a long-term boost to government revenues, it actually makes sense to reform some of the existing taxes, including income tax, capital gains tax, council tax, inheritance tax, so they are actually more efficient, fairer, and raise more for the long-term.”

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High turnout leaves schools struggling in lockdown

Demand for school places has forced almost half of head teachers in England to create priority lists for children of key workers, a survey suggests.

Schools remain open to vulnerable children and those of critical workers but a large number qualify, including some in food production, local government, communications and finance.

Matt Hancock yesterday urged key workers not to send their children to school if they could manage at home. The health secretary told Sky News: “If you’re a key worker and your partner doesn’t work then you shouldn’t be sending your children to school. That’s clear in the guidance. I understand that more people are sending their children to school than they did last time. But we really do need everybody who works in the NHS where at all possible to be able to make it to work.”

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Protect family incomes, Starmer urges ministers Published1 hour ago

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is to urge the government to "protect family incomes" as it deals with the economic effects of coronavirus.

In his first speech of the year, he will demand that teachers, the armed forces and care workers are left out of the public sector pay freeze.

Sir Keir will also call on ministers not to end the temporary £20-a-week boost to Universal Credit.

The Conservatives said ministers were "already taking steps" to help people.

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Care homes at risk of being overwhelmed again as outbreaks triple

Care homes risk being overwhelmed by the coronavirus once again, the government has been warned, with the number of outbreaks having tripled in the past month.

Public Health England figures reveal they went up by 60% in one week alone, as the UK as a whole battles a major surge in COVID cases and growing concerns about staffing levels.

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Test and trace needs radical overhaul to prevent further Covid surges in England – experts

England’s test-and trace system will fail to prevent further surges of coronavirus without radical improvements by spring, experts have said, as concern increases about the use of inexperienced call-centre workers to carry out the role of clinically trained staff.

The government’s £22bn programme is under increasing strain as it attempts to contact nearly triple the number of infected people and more than double the number of close contacts compared with a month ago.

There is increasing concern among test-and-trace healthcare professionals about the use of outsourced call centre staff, often employed on minimum wage by telesales firms contracted by Serco, who have been drafted in to carry out detailed interviews with coronavirus patients.

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Vaccinations begin at seven mass jab centres which have opened today

Elderly people and healthcare workers have begun to be immunised against COVID-19 at seven new mass vaccination sites across England.

The new centres in Bristol, Surrey (Epsom), London, Newcastle, Manchester, Stevenage and Birmingham will have the capacity to vaccinate four people a minute.

Moira Edwards, 88, was the first to receive a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at Epsom racecourse and said it was "extremely important" to get it.

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Government accused of side-lining millions in sugar tax revenue pledged for children’s health projects

The Government has been accused of side-lining millions of pounds worth of sugar tax income that ministers had promised to spend on children’s health projects.

More than £760m of forecasted Treasury income generated by the tax on soft drinks has been failed to be accounted for by Government departments, despite an original promise that “every penny” of the spending raised would go towards improving children’s health.

Sustain, which campaigns for improved food and agricultural policies, said the Department for Education (DfE) has failed to specify where the money has been spent, despite repeated requests to do so.

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2.6 million jabs given to 2.3 million people - but UK is warned vaccine 'not a free pass' to ignore rules

More than 2.6 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been given to almost 2.3 million people, the health secretary has said, as an NHS boss warned the jab is "not a free pass" to ignore national guidance.

Matt Hancock told a Downing Street news conference that the government was on track to achieve its pledge of offering a vaccine to the top four priority groups by the middle of February, a total of nearly 15 million Britons.

Asked whether this was a possibility, Mr Hancock said people should be focusing on sticking to the current rules "as they are".

"The NHS, more than ever before, needs everybody to be doing something right now - and that something is to follow the rules," he said.

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New exercise restrictions in England 'under active consideration'

A ban on people in England walking or exercising with anyone from outside their household is under “active consideration” sources have told the Guardian, although the health secretary, Matt Hancock, on Monday evening insisted that he did not want to have to tighten the rules.

Discussions have taken place in government about returning to the rules of March 2020, which limited people to one form of outside exercise a day – such as a run, walk, or cycle – either alone or only with people you live with.

However Hancock said he hoped that the current rules, which allow people to exercise with one other person, would remain. “We are seeing large groups and that is not acceptable,” he said. “This is one of those rules where if too many people keep breaking it then we are going to have to look at it. But I don’t want to do that because for many people being able to go for a walk with a friend, especially if they live alone, is their only social contact.

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Councils should have key role in getting jabs to the vulnerable, says public health chief

Councils’ knowledge is crucial in order to ‘get the vaccine to people’ in homes and workplaces, rather than expecting the vulnerable to travel for their jabs, says Liverpool’s public health chief.

Writing for The MJ, Liverpool City Council’s director of public health Matthew Ashton said: ‘It is absolutely vital we get the vaccine to people, rather than bringing people to the vaccine.

‘This means getting it closer to their homes and workplaces, rather than expecting vulnerable people – many who are already on the breadline and struggling to make ends meet – to get a bus or taxi to have their jab. And this is where councils come in’, he said.

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Fears over resource implications of rapid community testing scale up

Public health experts have warned that vaccination and contact tracing efforts could suffer as a result of the trade offs that councils will have to make as they answer the government’s call to scale up community testing in their areas.

The government yesterday reaffirmed its pledge to roll out community testing to all local authority areas and is encouraging councils to target testing at key workers who cannot work from home during the lockdown, so they can self-isolate if they are carrying the virus.

Directors of public health are being urged to carry out mass programmes of asymptomatic testing of key workers using lateral flow devices, which give results within half an hour but have been shown to be less accurate than the lab-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

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Starmer demands halt to ‘absurd’ council tax rises

Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for central government to increase funding for local authorities to prevent council tax hikes.

In a speech today, he claimed the Conservative Government had ‘sprayed money on private contracts that didn’t deliver, but won’t give councils the support they need’.

Mr Starmer said the Government should instead be ‘backing local councils to prevent council tax rises’.

In the latest Spending Review, local authorities were permitted to raise council tax without the need for a referendum by 2%, alongside a 3% precept for those that provide social care.

Writing in a national newspaper, Mr Starmer said increasing council tax during the pandemic was ‘absurd’ and laid the blame at the foot of the Government, claiming local authorities had in effect been ‘forced to raise taxes’.

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Council disputes MP allegations on Covid-19 grants

Last week, Ian Liddell-Grainger MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, used parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons to accuse the council of misusing Covid-19 grant funding.

Liddell-Grainger told Johnson that funding which was intended to support services and businesses in the county was used to meet budgetary pressures.

He said: “Somerset County Council has been given huge grants but has then diverted much of the money to balance its books, which is not what it was for.

“The prime minister is Somerset born and bred. I urge him to put a stop to this, so that the money goes to the people who need it most—the people of Somerset.”

In response, Johnson, said: “My honourable friend is absolutely right to highlight what is going on in Somerset."

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Cladding flat owners told not to talk to press

Flat owners applying to a fund to help pay to remove flammable building cladding will be told not to talk to the press without government approval.

A draft agreement, uncovered by the Sunday Times, says that even where there is "overwhelming public interest" in speaking to journalists, the government must be told first.

The government said the wording was "standard".

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Record number of small firms 'set to close'

A record number of small firms could close in the next 12 months, says the Federation of Small Businesses.

Without further government help to cope with the effects of the pandemic, more than a quarter of a million businesses could be lost, it said.

The FSB said it had put forward ideas to help some of those firms, which it hoped ministers would adopt.

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Covid crisis will force councils to make ‘deep cuts’ to services to plug funding shortfall of up to £2.2bn

Councils across England are facing having to make unprecedented cuts to services in the coming years, after coronavirus left them with multimillion-pound black holes in their funding.

The cost to local authorities of the pandemic has been revealed as £1.1bn to £2.2bn, prompting leaders to describe their financial situations as the worst they have ever seen.

Early intervention and prevention projects for vulnerable families, as well as recycling schemes, are among the cutbacks most likely to be in the firing line as local authorities seek to claw back cash to avoid meltdown.

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More fines expected for lockdown breaches as home secretary warns of tighter enforcement

"Strong enforcement" of coronavirus restrictions is needed to control the spread of the disease, the home secretary has warned.

Priti Patel said police forces should focus their resources on people who "are clearly breaking" lockdown rules to "safeguard our country's recovery from this deadly virus".

Government sources have told Sky News this will mean that "more fines will be issued, and quicker".

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Spending watchdog highlights 'litany of failures' on superfast broadband

A 'litany’ of failures by the Government will leave rural homes and businesses without superfast broadband, MPs have warned today.

A new report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) argues the government’s pledge to deliver gigabit broadband to at least 85% of the nation by 2025 will be ‘challenging’ due to a catalogue of failures.

It said that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has failed to make meaningful progress in delivering the policy and legislative changes needed, amongst other problems.

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Sadiq Khan proposes 9.5% council tax increase

The mayor of London has announced council tax will increase by 9.5% to help fund free travel for young people and the over 60s.

Sadiq Khan said the proposed increase includes £15 a year to pay for free public transport travel for under 18s and the over 60s, and £15 to go directly to the Metropolitan Police.

He said the increase was necessary to meet ‘draconian conditions’ set by the Government in return for funding during last year’s emergency TfL negotiations.

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Closure of leisure centres to cost £7.25m in missed health savings

The continued closure of sport and leisure facilities during the latest lockdown will cost £7.25m in missed health savings, new analysis has revealed.

Research for ukactive also found the closure of more than 7,200 gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools is costing the sector around £90m in lost revenue every week in the UK.

The analysis of the first lockdown showed that an extra 3.4 million people were classed an inactive, with anxiety levels doubling compared to 2019.

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Eviction ban extended days before it was due to end

The Government has announced that its eviction ban, which came into force in April 2020, will be extended just days before it was due to come to an end.

The ban has been extended to at least February 21st according to the Government.

Boris Johnson told MPs in the Commons on Wednesday that the eviction ban was under review, and with a third lockdown imposed upon the country, it was almost inevitable that the Government would choose to extend the ban which came into force during the first lockdown.

Although eviction notices will still be able to go through courts and be approved, bailiffs will not be able to enforce the evictions except in extreme cases such as anti-social behaviour.

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Covid: arrivals to UK will need to show a negative test before entry

International travellers will need to show a negative Covid-19 test before being allowed into the UK, the government has announced, in a significant toughening of border controls to try to stem the spread of new coronavirus variants.

The new rules will take effect next week and apply to returning UK nationals as well as foreign citizens. Passengers will need to produce a test result taken less than 72 hours before boarding planes, boats or trains to the UK, and could be fined £500 in border spot checks without a negative result.

Arrivals will still need to quarantine for 10 days, even with a negative test, unless they are coming from one of the limited number of countries deemed low risk on the government’s travel corridor list.

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Councils asked to 'redouble efforts' on rough sleeping

English councils have been asked to ‘redouble their efforts’ to help accommodate people sleeping rough, with the Government finding an additional £10m funding.

The £10m investment, which comes amid rising infection rates, builds on more than £700m government spending on homelessness and rough sleeping?this financial year.

Under the latest plan, local authorities will be asked to ‘reach out again’ to rough sleepers who have previously refused help.

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Council defies government by closing nurseries

A council has closed all of its nurseries to prevent the spread of COVID-19 despite the Government insisting they are ‘safe’.

Brighton & Hove City Council yesterday announced all council-run nurseries were to be closed to all but vulnerable children and children of key workers.

Although the national lockdown rules in England do not require the closure of early years providers, the council said the move was consistent with the restrictions imposed on schools.

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High Court to hear four exit pay cap legal challenges

Another trade union has been granted permission to challenge the public sector exit pay cap at the High Court.

Justice Smith gave the green light for the British Medical Association (BMA) to put its case for a judicial review alongside Unison, a joint submission by Unite and GMB, and another joint legal challenge by the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives and Lawyers in Local Government.

The judge said that the Government ‘accepted that the claim raises arguable issues’ and therefore the BMA would proceed to the High Court.

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People drank more alcohol, exercised less and ate less healthily during first lockdown

Britons drank more alcohol, ate fewer fruit and vegetables and exercised less during the first national lockdown, a study has suggested.

Younger people, women and those who are overweight were more likely to have adopted unhealthy lifestyle choices last spring, the research by the University of East Anglia (UEA) shows.

The study of more than 1,000 people also indicates that women drank alcohol more frequently, but men consumed greater quantities of it in one sitting.

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County may be forced to limit school places during lockdown

Norfolk County Council has warned it may be forced to prioritise who is given a school place during the new lockdown because of high demand.

The council said it may only be able to offer school places to children if both their parents work in emergency life-saving services due to the number of families requesting critical worker places.

It warned that many schools are facing unique factors during the new lockdown such as more staff off sick and self-isolating, and stricter bubble systems.

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Intervention threat over 'unwise' investments

Councils have been warned the Government will intervene if they rely too much on commercial investments.

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick told councils they should ‘consider the future of their investments’ and ‘reduce their dependence’ during a finance webinar hosted by the Local Government Association this morning.

He warned the Government would ‘need to take a more active role’ if the sector failed to respond.

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Rishi Sunak’s business Covid support is a £4bn ‘sticking plaster’

Businesses were told yesterday to wait until March for any further help despite increasing evidence that the UK is heading back into recession.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, sought to relieve pressure for more support with a stop-gap package to keep the worst affected businesses afloat through the latest lockdown.

Pubs, cafés and shops are to be given one-off cash grants worth up to £9,000 in a £4 billion injection into the high street, with a further £600 million for other businesses.

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Thousands of children sent to unregulated care homes amid Covid

Thousands of the most vulnerable children have been sent to unregulated care homes during the pandemic at a cost of millions to the taxpayer, a Guardian investigation has found.

Council bosses say they have nowhere else to put those most at risk as there are not enough places for the number of children in need, which has soared during the Covid crisis. The result is young people are placed in supported living facilities not monitored by Ofsted and therefore deemed a safety risk. One council chief described these homes as the “wild west”.

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said the children’s care system had been “left to slip deeper into crisis” this year and that children were now being put at risk of “abuse or exploitation” after being let down by the authorities.

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Councils grapple with multi-million pound budget deficits

Councils are mulling service cuts and council tax rises as they attempt to balance next year's budgets.

Cuts totalling £28m will be made at Lewisham LBC next year as it attempts to bridge a £40m budget gap.

A second round of cuts worth £13m has been announced on top of £15m already agreed by members, blamed on ‘a decade of Government cuts and underfunding’.

The council is also to review its adult social care service, and conduct service reviews into its libraries, street cleansing, housing needs and legal service under proposals to be considered at a meeting next week [commencing 11th].

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Call for ‘urgent clarity’ on elections

Speculation over whether local elections will take place in May as scheduled has been labelled ‘unhelpful’ by councils.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson prompted doubts after he refused to rule out postponing the vote for a second time, following the cancellation of the elections last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has claimed there are currently no plans to postpone May's local elections.

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OECD says public will not accept austerity post-Covid-19

Unprecedented stimulus measures taken by governments to fight the pandemic have changed the public perception of spending and debt, meaning sharp tax hikes or spending cuts would risk popular backlash, the OECD’s chief economist has said.

Laurence Boone told the Financial Times that public officials will struggle to argue for austerity during the recovery from Covid-19, and may not be in a position to pay for certain measures – such as those to combat climate change.

“People are going to ask where all this money has come from,” she said, referring to the programmes rolled out by governments to address the coronavirus pandemic.

She said countries should continue to use higher spending and low taxes to help their economies throughout the recovery period, taking a lesson from the last global financial crisis.

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Council rejects social care precept rise

Councillors at Lincolnshire County Council have rejected the option of using the 3% increase to the adult social care precept next year which was announced during the local government settlement.

The move was approved in an executive committee meeting held yesterday, which outlined the draft budget proposal for 2021-22.

The council has opted for a 2% increase in council tax next year, which it said would raise £6.2m next year.

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The Brexit deal: financial implications for local government

The list of current events that one would not have predicted a year ago is a long one.

But pretty high up would be that the Brexit deal and the end of the transition period should have had such fleeting prominence on the front pages and in the public consciousness.

Instead, our attention has been consumed once again by the Covid-19 pandemic...

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English schools struggle with demand for key worker places

Schools have pleaded with parents to be “completely honest” about whether they are really key workers after some primaries received requests for hundreds of children to come to class in the latest lockdown.

Across England, schools reported struggling to cope with the demand for places in school while also offering remote teaching.

One primary headteacher in Greater Manchester said staff had spent all of Wednesday “interrogating” parents after they received 210 applications from key workers, some of whom they discovered were able to work from home.

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Worcestershire Council aim to plug £26m gap

Worcestershire County Council are to discuss plans to increase their portion of Council Tax by 2.5% in the coming year to plug the £26.5m funding gap that awaits in 2021.

The increase will amount to approximately £5m extra for the Council to use towards its budget.

This would equate to a £33 increase for the average band d household in the area, providing that other parts of tax aren’t increased.

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Pupils without laptops can still go to school in England lockdown

More than a million children in England who have no access to laptops have been designated as “vulnerable children” and can turn up at school for face-to-face learning, it emerged on Tuesday night.

The development raises questions about whether schools will be ready for the resultant influx of children, when they have been told to restrict teaching for at least six weeks as England begins its third national lockdown.

The new guidance came as a surprise to the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, who learned of it after she had called for pupils to be designated vulnerable if remote learning equipment could not be provided to them. Sources at Longfield’s office questioned when the advice had been updated and why the Department for Education (DfE) was making no effort to publicise it.

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Borrowing from PWLB jumps following rate cut

In October 2019, the Treasury raised the PWLB rate by one percentage point, which led to monthly borrowing dropping as low as £40m in November.

However, the rate rise was reversed at the Comprehensive Spending Review and in December more than 40 PWLB loans, averaging £5.9m each, were agreed, according to figures from the Debt Management Office.

David Whelan, managing director of public sector treasury at Link Group told PF: “Local authorities sat on their hands, and had not borrowed much, since the rate increase was announced.

“Following the rate reduction, they have now gone in and borrowed quite a lot.”

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Covid has exacerbated inequalities

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has released its first report of the year, titled Deaton Review of Inequalities: a New Year’s message.

The report outlines how Covid has not only highlighted inequalities in Britain, but how it has also made them worse.

The report focuses on key areas such as income, employment and education to objectively demonstrate that those from poorer backgrounds are worse off as a result of Covid, than those who are from privilege.

The report found that graduates were less likely to be out of work because of Covid, falling just 7% when compared to non-graduates who saw employment rates rise by 17% over the same period, showing that there is still a gap between those that go to university and those that don’t. Non-graduates are also more likely to have lost out on income due to an inability to do their job from home, having to choose between their health or their income.

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No third section 114 for Croydon this year

In November, Croydon became only the second council in two decades to issue a section 114 notice, freezing all non-essential spending as it forecast a £66m funding gap this year.

A second notice was issued by the council in early December.

However, the council told PF that, following discussions with CIPFA, a third notice will not be necessary for 2020-21.

A council spokesperson said: “Following the extraordinary council meeting on 16 December, the council’s chief finance officer sought advice from CIPFA about whether to issue another section 114 notice, given that there had been no substantial change to the council’s financial position.

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Union calls for nurseries to be closed during lockdown

Pre-schools including nurseries must be closed except to educate the children of key workers and those who are vulnerable, union says.

The Government has decided to keep nurseries open during the new lockdown with the Prime Minister promising that ‘everyone will still be able to access early years’ settings such as nurseries.’

However, Unison has urged the Government to close nurseries to everyone except the children of key workers and those who are vulnerable.

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Property searches face delays from underfunded councils

The trade body representing property search organisations has written to the communities secretary urging him to provide councils with more funding to speed up the provision of searches to homebuyers.

According to data from the Council of Property Search Organisations (CoPSO), more than 35% of local authorities are taking more than 20 working days to process search requests and for many of these the delays are more than 30 working days.

CoPSO warned that these delays are impacting on the progress of property transactions, which they say is particularly problematic because of the imminent expiry of the stamp duty holiday.

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Park services ‘need £500m funding boost’

The government has been warned that council park services require a £500m boost after a report revealed the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. A Local Government Association study, co-funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, focused on six council case studies and found that...

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New Year Honours awarded to local government workers

Figures across local government have been recognised for their response to the pandemic in the 2021 New Year Honours list.

Pat Richie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council, was awarded a CBE for her services to local government and public service reform.

Professor Graeme Betts, director of adult social care at Birmingham City Council, was awarded a CBE for services to adult social care.

A knighthood was also awarded to David Charles Pearson, the lately director of adult social care at Nottinghamshire Council for services to health and social care integration.

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Councils resist pressure to reopen schools

Councils have raised concerns over the return of primary school pupils to classrooms amid soaring COVID-19 infection rates.

Secondary schools are due to remain closed this week but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that primary schools are 'safe’.

However, Essex CC said its primary schools would remain closed to all but vulnerable children and those of key workers, and Brighton & Hove City Counil has advised its schools to do the same.

Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Wolverhampton city councils said they would back schools that decide not to reopen.

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High streets across England secure cash boost for regeneration

More than 70 towns and cities across England are to share up to £830m to help boost high streets, the government has said.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the funding plan, initially revealed before the Covid pandemic, would help areas to "bounce back" through regeneration.

Sunderland and Swindon will each get £25m to fund railway station and town centre improvements.

Some 15 areas share £255m, with 57 others provisionally granted £576m.

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Leader of England’s largest council calls for Government to “act now”

The leader of Birmingham City Council has urged the Government to “act now” in order to avoid the catastrophic case numbers that are currently being seen in certain boroughs of London.

The leader, Ian Ward, cited the 36% increase in cases in Birmingham over the past week, with hospitals being at breaking point in the region

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Council backs calls for new national lockdown

Liverpool City Council has called on the Government to introduce a new national lockdown to stop the rapid spread of the new strain of coronavirus.

The council warns that COVID cases have reached ‘alarming levels’ after they trebled in the past two weeks across the city.

Acting mayor, Cllr Wendy Simon, said a new national lockdown, coupled with mass testing, is the only way to slow the spread of the new strain of the virus.

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Exit pay cap judicial review granted

A judicial review into the public sector exit pay cap will take place in March.

The joint application by the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives (ALACE) and Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) has been granted by the High Court today.

The two-day hearing will take place towards the middle of March.

LLG president Quentin Baker said: ‘In a year when local authority key workers have given their all, LLG has fought to preserve pension rights for those suffering redundancy at a late stage in their career, rights which were unjustifiably stripped away by the exit cap regulations.

‘The granting of permission to apply for judicial review gives us all a glimmer of hope that common sense and justice may prevail in 2021.’

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Major incidents over COVID declared

Essex, Oxfordshire and Berkshire have declared major incidents amid fears the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases could overwhelm health services.

The declarations, which allow the areas to seek further support from the Government, came in response to growing demand on health and social care services due to coronavirus.

Leader of Buckinghamshire Council, Martin Tett, said: ‘Our rate in the over 60 years population is now putting our health and social care services under very severe pressure.

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Former CIPFA presidents receive New Year honours

Gardner, who was auditor general of Audit Scotland from 2012-2020 and CIPFA president in 2006, was awarded a CBE for her services to the Scottish public sector.

She had worked at Audit Scotland since its inception in 2000 and was also chair of CIPFA in Scotland in 2001.

Roberts, who was CIPFA president in 2016, was awarded an OBE for his services to local government and public sector finance.

He was appointed as one of two finance commissioners to help advise at Northamptonshire County Council in 2018, after the council issued two section 114 notices.

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Prime Minister commits to uplift in public sector jobs

The Prime Minister has committed to continuing to invest in public sector jobs as the country aims to “build back better” after the Covid-19 pandemic.

2020 saw record numbers of nurses recruited with 13,313 new nurses joining the NHS in England, taking the total figure up to 299,184.

41,000 trainee teachers were recruited last year, with every teacher in the country receiving an above-inflation pay rise.

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