Log In

You are LOGGED OUT.

To log in click here:

LOG IN

Please enter your details.



News Headlines

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

Other Headlines

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

‘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”.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

'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.

Full Article

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".

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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”.

Full Article

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....

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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....

Full Article

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. ...

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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”.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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. ...

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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’.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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%.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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....

Full Article

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

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

'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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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).

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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....

Full Article

'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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.”

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.”

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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%.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.”

Full Article

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....

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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".

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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. 

Full Article

£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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

‘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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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".

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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”.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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”.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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”.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.”..

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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”.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

£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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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....

Full Article

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....

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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....

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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".

Full Article

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....

Full Article

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".

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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....

Full Article

'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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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%).

Full Article

£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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

‘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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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’.

Full Article

‘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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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".

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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”.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.”

Full Article

£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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.”

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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”.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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”.

Full Article

£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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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”.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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...

Full Article

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.

Full Article

£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.

Full Article

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’.

Full Article

£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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

‘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.

Full Article

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....

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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....

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.”..

Full Article

'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".

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

'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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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....

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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".

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

‘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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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".

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.”

Full Article

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.”

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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’.

Full Article

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."

Full Article

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".

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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".

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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].

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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...

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.”

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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...

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.’

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

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.

Full Article

Archived Headlines

2020
2019
2018