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News Headlines

Fear for English children living in ‘education deserts’

More than 200,000 children live in an area with no good or outstanding primary schools, a report will reveal tomorrow.

One in every 25 primary age children — equivalent to 218,000 — lives in a local area containing only underperforming primary schools, according to research from the think tank Onward and New Schools Network, which supports new free schools.

It shows 306 areas across England where the only primary schools available are rated either inadequate or requiring improvement by Ofsted. The authors say this means that parents in these areas have far less choice, which limits their children’s educational opportunities.

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Pandemic will force changes to next year’s GCSEs and A-levels

Pupils sitting GCSEs and A-levels next year — and even in subsequent years — could see their exams adjusted to take account of the disruption they have faced, the education secretary has said.

Gavin Williamson told MPs he wanted to see pupils sitting the exams, rather than being assessed by teachers, next summer, but that there were likely to be “adjustments and mitigations” to ensure fairness to pupils now in years 10 and 12.

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Social care reforms delayed until at least Autumn

Social care reforms are reportedly unlikely to be announced until the autumn at the earliest amid continued disputes within government over how to pay for them. Boris Johnson is understood to have ruled out using rises in income tax, VAT and national insurance to pay for social care in England, making it “extremely difficult” for the Chancellor to find the £10 billion needed.

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Quarter of a million children in England missed school last week due to COVID-19

A quarter of a million children in England missed school last week because of COVID-19 infections, self-isolation or school closures, making it the most disrupted week since schools fully reopened in March. Department for Education figures show that one child in every 30 at state school was out of the classroom on 17 June, including 9,000 pupils with confirmed COVID-19 cases, 16,000 with suspected cases and more than 7,000 whose schools had shut entirely because of coronavirus outbreaks.

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Northern English cities faced ‘avalanche’ of debt during COVID-19 – study

Affluent people in richer southern England neighbourhoods were typically able to save £12 for every £1 saved by people in poorer neighbourhoods in mostly northern cities and towns during the pandemic, according to a study by the Centre for Cities thinktank. It has warned of a “north-south” economic divide opening up more widely when the Government’s COVID-19 support package is phased out in the autumn, with some parts of the country potentially benefiting from the “champagne bottle effect” of savings and others facing increased levels of problem debt.

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Return of the Covid passport could keep pubs open

Covid passports could be used to keep pubs and restaurants open this winter under plans being drawn up by ministers.

Boris Johnson yesterday warned that although it is ‘looking good’ for the lifting of restrictions on July 19, Britain could still face a ‘rough winter’ if cases surge.

Plans for the widespread use of so-called Covid passports were put on the back-burner earlier this year following a backlash from MPs and parts of the hospitality sector.

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Smart traffic lights get green light for cutting emissions by a quarter

A new generation of smart traffic lights could be introduced after a government-backed trial showed that eliminating unnecessary stops at junctions can cut emissions by a quarter.

Research suggests that congestion levels and pollution were reduced using the technology which tells motorists how fast to drive on the approach to lights to avoid hitting them on red.

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We have a duty to build more homes, Robert Jenrick tells Tory heartlands

The Government has “a duty” to the next generation to build more homes, Robert Jenrick said on Monday as he defied Conservative MPs who want him to water down controversial planning reforms.

The Housing Secretary insisted that it was only fair that ministers should reform the current system so that young people could “aspire to own the keys to their own home”.

The comments came after Tory MPs used a Commons debate to press the Government to dilute planning reforms that were blamed for last week’s shock defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election.

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Government borrowing eases in May

Government borrowing fell in May compared with the same month last year, with the economy in recovery mode after lockdown measures eased.

Borrowing - the difference between spending and tax income - was £24.3bn, official figures show, which was £19.4bn lower than May last year.

However, the figure was the second-highest for May since records began.

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Poorer white pupils let down and neglected - MPs

White working class pupils have been failed by decades of neglect in England's education system, a report by MPs says.

The Education Select Committee says poorer white children underachieve and have been "let down and neglected".

It says use of the term "white privilege", suggesting white pupils are at an advantage, is the "opposite" of the reality for poor white pupils.

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Social care: Ministers urged to 'act now' on funding reform

Social care organisations have urged ministers to publish long-awaited plans to overhaul how the care system in England is funded within a month. A letter signed by a range of signatories, including Cllr David Fothergill, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, Anna Severwright of care reform movement Social Care Future and Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said care reform should be seen as a key part of the wider plan to upgrade England’s infrastructure, and must go further than simply ensuring care bills are capped to prevent people having to sell their homes to pay for care. The signatories call for a short-term cash injection to stabilise the care system, followed by a longer term investment plan to make the system simpler and fairer, and a new deal for staff to deliver improvements in pay and training. A meeting between the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Health Secretary to discuss reforms was reportedly cancelled yesterday.

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Duty to share data across health and social care planned

The government plans to create a new statutory duty to share data between health and social care services.

A draft strategy published today by the Department for Health & Social Care says the government will “create a new duty on health and care organisations to share anonymous data” so it can be “more effectively and seamlessly shared across the system”.

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Council to buy Bunkabins and park homes to house homeless people

Cornwall Council is buying park homes and cabins to help meet the demand for emergency accommodation as a result of COVID-19.

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Somerset CC to open up to 10 new children's homes

Somerset CC is to open up to ten new children’s homes by 2026, admitting it is too reliant on larger for-profit providers in children’s social care.

The council will also invest over the same period in higher needs foster carers and specialist therapeutic education for the children.

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Birmingham makes ‘great strides’ on financial management

In July 2019, CIPFA gave the authority just one out of five stars for its financial management capability, citing a damaging lack of accountability for fiscal performance and unachievable savings targets.

Following CIPFA’s original review, Birmingham implemented a finance improvement programme, and in May the institute raised its rating to three stars, a council report to be discussed a cabinet meeting next week said.

The report said: “Birmingham City Council has made great strides in addressing the issues that constrained overall financial management capability.

“It would be our considered view that Birmingham City Council should be considered to be an exemplar in the transformation of financial management capability given the extent of improvement achieved over the last two years.”

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Plea for urgent cash injection for social care system as ministers delay talks on reform blueprint

The beleaguered social care system needs an immediate cash injection to avert a deepening crisis during the next stages of the coronavirus crisis, Boris Johnson has been warned by sector chiefs.

They also urged the Prime Minister to produce a 10-year reform blueprint for social care within a month as anger grew over the renewed delays in facing up to the issue.

Ministers are only committed to setting out their proposals by the end of 2021 – a full two and a half years after Mr Johnson said he had plans ready to implement.

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Autumn booster jab plan needed – health leaders

Doctors and NHS trusts have said the Government must start planning for the autumn booster jab rollout now, as it will involve bigger challenges. Doctors said that questions needed answering such as how long immunity from the original COVID-19 jab lasts and whether children will be vaccinated.

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More than four million parking tickets issued despite car use plummeting

Private parking companies handed out 4.4 million parking tickets in 12 months despite car use falling during the pandemic, according to analysis of government data by the RAC Foundation. The research found firms handed British drivers an average of 12,000 tickets every day during 2020/21.

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Parents back longer school day to catch up after Covid

Nearly half of voters believe the government is failing to help children catch up on education, polling for The Times shows.

More than half of parents believe not enough is being done to help support children whose education has been disrupted by Covid-19.

One third of Tory voters said the education recovery was insufficient, along with two thirds of Labour supporters and three fifths of those who vote for the Liberal Democrats.

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'Great hope' restrictions can end early on 5 July and UK not in third wave, says vaccine expert

The UK could open up "sooner rather than later" thanks to the huge numbers of people being vaccinated - and the country is not experiencing a third wave of infections, a vaccine expert has told Sky News.

Brendan Wren, professor of vaccinology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that having more than 81% of the adult population with a first coronavirus jab, and 59% with both doses is "very encouraging".

Asked whether the success of the vaccine programme means England will not need to wait until 19 July to fully open up, he said: "We'd still need to be vigilant - but vigilance and vaccination are the two words.

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Lift Covid restrictions when 70 per cent are double-jabbed, Susan Hopkins says

Seventy per cent of adults need to have had both doses of the vaccine for Boris Johnson to lift remaining restrictions on July 19, a scientific adviser has said.

Dr Susan Hopkins, strategic adviser for coronavirus at Public Health England, raised hopes that people who had received two doses would soon be exempt from isolation rules.

She suggested that the government should “aim for” 70 per cent in an attempt to ensure that what the prime minister has termed next month’s “terminus date” is not delayed again.

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Remote working sees major cities lose billions in spending, research warns

Five of the UK’s largest cities could lose £322m a month in city centre spending if people work from home in the long-term, according to new analysis.

Research by the the Centre for Economics and Business Research (cebr) found the pandemic caused £11.9bn of displaced city centre spending in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle and Cardiff between March 2020 and May 2021.

It estimates these five cities will see employment hub spending fall by more than £300m a month compared to pre-pandemic levels if office workers maintain hybrid work patterns indefinitely.

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Councils highlight role of libraries in national recovery from COVID-19

Councils are warning investment in libraries is crucial to help children catch up on lost learning and support local communities post-pandemic.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said many libraries adapted quickly when they were closed down due to COVID-19 restrictions such as providing virtual services, online reading groups and support for families receiving free laptops.

Many will also be providing free online activities and games as part of an an enhanced Summer Reading Challenge to supplement children’s reading skills.

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Government postpones ‘do or die’ meeting on social care in England

A “do or die” meeting on social care involving Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock has been postponed, it is understood, as the government came under renewed pressure over delays in setting out a policy for the sector.

The discussion between the prime minister, the chancellor and the health secretary, billed as a chance to set out broad policy objectives for social care, had been scheduled for Tuesday. It is not known why it was postponed, or when the meeting will take place.

Adult social care leaders have written to Boris Johnson calling for him to urgently set out a broad 10-year vision for transforming England’s creaking social care system.

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Leicestershire to reject £15m grant

Leicestershire County Council is set to reject a £15m road grant from regeneration quango Homes England amid concerns over financing the costs of additional local infrastructure.

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Self-isolation grants refused in 6 out of 10 cases

Councils in England are rejecting more than six out of 10 applications for grants to help people self-isolate, according to responses from 94 local authorities to freedom of information requests by the Trades Union Congress. Some councils said they had to refuse some requests because they did not produce the right paperwork or did not meet strict eligibility criteria, while a quarter of the councils who responded also said they had run out of funds to make the payments at some point during the programme.

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Government to set new targets on air pollution

The Government will increase funding to local authorities and set new legal targets on air pollution in a bid to prevent further deaths.

In response to the Coroner’s Prevention of Future Deaths Report, ministers have agreed to increase the Air Quality Grant scheme for local authorities by £6m a year and launch a public awareness campaign about air pollution.

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Two million requests for care have been rejected in past two years

Two million requests for care have been turned down by local councils since the Prime Minister pledged to 'fix social care', new research has revealed.

New analysis for the Care and Support Alliance (CSA) shows two million formal requests for care and support from adults aged over 18 have been rejected in the past two years - the equivalent of 3,000 every day.

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Call to give councils greater role in creating jobs and training opportunities

The Government should use the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill to give councils a greater role in tackling unemployment and skills shortages, the Local Government Association (LGA) has argued.

It is calling for the Bill to introduce a joined up, place-based employment, skills and careers system.

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Councils levy over £1m fines for COVID offences

Councils have issued over £1m in fines to businesses for COVID offences, an investigation has unveiled.

Research by the Manifesto Club found local authorities have used powers granted during the pandemic to issue 1,201 penalties to businesses for violating COVID restrictions. This includes a failure to enforce social distancing or allowing households to mix on premises.

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Children’s care providers under scrutiny

Children’s care providers have seen bumper profit margin increases over the past year according to a study of the top 20 companies in the sector by Revolution Consulting for the LGA, despite local authorities struggling to provide care. Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Not only should providers not be making excessive profit from these placements, but their income is almost solely reliant on fees paid by councils who are reporting severe budget deficits in children’s services and experiencing substantial impact of COVID-19 on their income.”

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Children miss out out on free school meals funding

A “worrying” number of poorer children will miss out on funding that provides free school meals due to a change in the way it is allocated. New figures show that more than one in five children in England are eligible for free school meals, but additional funding will be based on data from last October rather than January, leaving out a large number of children who have become eligible between those dates. The LGA has previously estimated that the change would mean schools in England could lose £118m funding for poorer pupils this year.

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New minor traffic offence powers

Councils in England and Wales will be able to issue fines of up to £70 for moving traffic offences under new powers to be introduced in December. It is the first time local authorities outside of London and Cardiff can issue fines for offences such as banned turns, box junctions and driving in formal cycle lanes, which are currently enforced by the police only. Cllr David Renard, Transport spokesperson for the LGA, said that councils had been 'calling for powers to make our roads safer and less congested', adding that it was 'good news' that local authorities will be given the responsibility to fine motorists breaching the rules.

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Government actuary proposes greater pension cost cap flexibility

The Government Actuary’s Department has proposed new measures to allow greater flexibility over action taken due to rises or falls in public pension fund costs.

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Croydon may need higher 2020-21 bailout amid ongoing turmoil

"Significant sums” are still being queried by auditors in Croydon LBC’s 2019-20 accounts - with the auditor having sought advice from a QC over one outstanding issue - while a number of “significant risks” remain over the current year's budget.

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Care services too focused on investigating families in crisis, says review

Child protection services in England are too focused on investigating families in crisis and do not provide enough early support, a report says.

An independent review of council-run children's social care said services to protect vulnerable children were in urgent need of investment and reform.

It concluded that with an increasing demand for help, the current system was unsustainable and failing young people.

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All councils in England and Wales handed powers to fine drivers £70 for minor traffic offences - such as yellow-box junction infringements - from December

All councils in England and Wales can apply for powers to issue fines of up to £70 to drivers for moving traffic offences before the end of 2021, it has been confirmed by the Department for Transport today.

In a statement this week, Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Transport, Baroness Vere, said that from December, local authorities 'will be able to enforce moving traffic offences, such as banned turns, box junctions and driving in formal cycle lanes'.

The DfT confirmed to This is Money that all councils will be able to make an application to take responsibility for the enforcement of these minor contraventions from December.

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Free school meals: Poorer pupils miss out in funding change, say unions

A "worrying" number of poorer school pupils will miss out on extra funding because of a change in the way support is allocated, unions say.

New figures show more than one in five children in England are now eligible for free school meals - an increase of 420,000 children since March 2020.

But extra funding for schools will be based on data from last October rather than the latest figures for January.

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Proportion of children securing first choice secondary school places falls

The proportion of pupils gaining places at their first-choice secondary school has fallen, figures show.

Nearly one fifth of children have missed out on their top choice of secondary school, rising to more than two in five pupils in some areas of England, according to data from the Department for Education (DfE).

It comes as the number of applications to secondary schools in England rose by 0.8 per cent to just over 605,200.

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Virtual meetings have boosted local democracy, survey finds

Nine in 10 councils believe local democracy has improved as a direct result of online council meetings, a survey has found.

Some 74% of councils reported higher public attendance due to meetings being held online while 72% said citizens and communities wanted to engage more, according to the survey by the Speakers’ Corner Trust charity.

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Council property deals plummet due to Covid-19 and borrowing changes

The coronavirus pandemic and tighter government lending rules led to a 41% real-terms contraction in councils' payments for land and buildings last year, according to provisional outturn figures.

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PSAA proposals ‘pay lip service’ to smaller audit firms

Proposed reforms by local audit administrator Public Sector Audit Appointments will fail to bring smaller companies into the sector, according to a senior partner at a 60-strong accountancy firm.

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Liability benchmark could save sector ‘tens of millions of pounds’

A proposed liability benchmark to help local authorities manage their debt needs could save the sector tens of millions of pounds, according to an industry expert.

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Bank of England code ‘protects’ authority-to-authority borrowing

The Commercial Markets Code was launched in 2017, to restore faith in the financial markets following the 2008 recession and the London Interbank Offered Rate scandal.

Speaking to the CIPFA Treasury Management Conference this week, Jonthan Pryzer senior advisor at the BoE, also said that code also covers repurchasing markets and stock trade, relevant to pension funds.

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Children's social care a 'Jenga held together with Sellotape,' says damning review

The children's social care system is too focused on investigating families rather than providing them with support, according to an independent review of services.

Led by Josh MacAlister, the review details problems in the children's social care system in England.

The review found that a focus on investigations had created an 'increasingly adversarial' system that is both less able to support parents and protect children.

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Eviction ban on firms behind on rent is extended by nine months

A ban on landlords evicting firms for unpaid commercial rent, which was due to end on 30 June, is being extended for another nine months. Treasury Secretary Stephen Barclay said the delay in easing lockdown restrictions presented additional challenges to business. He also announced plans for a binding arbitration scheme to resolve disputes between landlords and commercial tenants, which should be in place for when the eviction ban is lifted.

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Rob Whiteman: There is a pressing need to make council accounts more transparent

The inability of elected members to understand financial information inhibits effective governance, writes the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy.

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Government announces £16m for virtual school heads programme

The Government has announced that more than £16m is now available to councils to ensure there is a local champion for children with a social worker in every local authority in England.

The funding will enable local authorities to extend the role of virtual school heads from September this year. Virtual school heads are in charge of promoting the educational achievement of looked-after children.

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Sunak announces launch of UK Infrastructure Bank

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced the launch of a UK Infrastructure Bank which the Government argues will help level up the country by funding infrastructure projects.

First announced by the chancellor alongside the Spending Review, the UK Infrastructure Bank will have an initial £12bn of capital to deploy and will be able to issue £10bn of government guarantees.

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COVID-19 vaccine to be required for England care home staff

COVID-19 vaccinations are to become compulsory for staff in care homes for older people in England, it has been reported. Care staff are expected to be given 16 weeks to have the jab - or face being redeployed away from frontline care, or lose their jobs. Consultations will begin on the same rule for other health and care staff.

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Adult social care services face ‘deluge’ of requests for support

Adult social care services are facing a “deluge” of requests for support from vulnerable and older people as society starts to open up after the pandemic, according to a survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. Councils are also facing a spike in demand for social care support for people with mental illness, victims of domestic violence and abuse, and rough sleepers, according to another finding of the survey.

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Scientists warn of consequences of lockdown delay

Delaying the final lifting of lockdown for much longer than four weeks may create greater pressures on the NHS by pushing a peak of COVID-19 cases into the autumn, scientific advisers to the Government said yesterday.

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Health department has ‘poor oversight’ of local care market

The Department of Health and Social Care is ‘complacent’ about the risks of financial failure in local care provision, according to Parliament's Public Accounts Committee.

In a report, the committee said funding cuts mean authorities pay providers below a sustainable rate, leaving many at risk of going under.

Despite this hand-to-mouth existence, the Department of Health and Social Care has “poor oversight of the system and seems complacent about the risks of local market failure”, the report said.

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Adult social care services face ‘deluge’ of requests for support

Adult social care services are facing a “deluge” of requests for support from vulnerable and older people as society starts to open up after the pandemic, according to council care chiefs in England.

There has been a big increase in people needing help after their condition deteriorated while waiting to be admitted to hospital for treatment, as well as a surge in those needing support after being discharged from hospital.

An ongoing lack of resources – English councils have lost £7.7bn from adult social care budgets between 2010 and 2020 – means people needing support face longer waits for less care, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) warned.

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Eviction ban on firms behind on rent is extended by nine months

A ban on landlords evicting firms for unpaid commercial rent is being extended for another nine months.

The ban, which stops landlords taking tenants to court for non-payment, was due to end on 30 June.

Treasury Secretary Stephen Barclay said the delay in easing lockdown restrictions, announced on Monday, "present additional challenges" to business.

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Parents of children with special needs tell Ofsted of Covid despair

Families of children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) have been left “exhausted” and “despairing” by the pandemic which has affected their children disproportionately, according to a report by the schools watchdog in England.

Parents told Ofsted they had been forced to leave their jobs to care for their children as essential services shut down, while others documented the deterioration in their child’s progress, with some youngsters suffering anxiety, depression, hair loss and sleep loss as a result of the Covid disruption.

“These last few months have undone years of work with my child and we have had to start at the beginning again,” one parent told inspectors. “It was a very dark place for a very long time,” said another, while a third added: “I’m absolutely shattered. No respite. Increased stress.”

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£36 million contract for new MOD Police Patrol Craft

A £36 million contract has been awarded to Marine Specialised Technology to deliver 18 new police patrol craft for the MOD and Gibraltar Defence Police (GDP) Forces.

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Lockdown easing delayed to 19 July

The Prime Minister has announced the final stage of easing lockdown restrictions in England is to be delayed until 19 July, meaning most remaining curbs on social contact will continue beyond 21 June, when they had been due to be lifted. Boris Johnson said there would be a review after two weeks and he was "confident" the delay would not need to be longer, while the gap between vaccine doses for over-40s in England will be reduced from 12 to eight weeks and the target to offer all adults a first dose will be brought forward to 19 July.

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Limits on weddings in England to be scrapped from 21 June - but rules on singing and dancing remain

The limit on the number of people who can attend weddings in England will be scrapped from 21 June - but rules on singing and dancing will remain, the government has announced.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed the 30-person cap on wedding ceremonies and receptions will be removed as planned, as he announced a four-week delay to the lifting of all COVID restrictions.

Other restrictions being eased before the new Freedom Day on 19 July will see at least 40,000 football fans allowed inside Wembley to watch the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final.

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SEND services in Suffolk to be reviewed

An independent review into Suffolk County Council’s special educational needs and disability services is to be conducted following criticisms by families.

The review will focus on the processes, communication protocols and family-facing elements of SEND services to determine if current systems are sufficient.

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Councils receive extra COVID support as lockdown easing delayed

The Government has announced additional support to help Birmingham, Blackpool, Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Liverpool City Region and Warrington tackle the Delta variant of COVID-19.

The news of the extra support came on the same day as the Prime Minister announced a four-week delay to the planned easing of lockdown on 21 June. Mr Johnson says the ‘terminus date’ for the end of lockdown will now be 19 July.

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Ministers 'knew early years was underfunded' argues charity

The Government has been accused of knowingly under-funding local authorities on 'free childcare' places by the Early Years Alliance.

The educational charity said that data obtained through freedom of information requests shows that the Government only paid local authorities two-thirds of what it estimated they would need to fully fund the scheme.

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Ban on commercial evictions introduced during the pandemic to be extended until 2022, govt source says

The government is to extend the ban on commercial evictions introduced during the pandemic until 2022, Sky News understands.

On Wednesday, ministers are expected to announce that the moratorium for business tenants will not expire at the end of this month as planned and will instead continue for at least the rest of the year, according to a government source.

It is believed that restrictions on landlords using laws permitting them to recover rent arrears by selling a tenant's goods will also be continued.

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Lockdown easing in England to be delayed

Senior ministers have reportedly approved a decision to delay the ending of all COVID-19 restrictions in England beyond 21 June. Most current rules will remain in place for a further four weeks after this date. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce the delay later at a press conference.

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Furlough will not be extended

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak will reportedly not extend the furlough scheme, despite the expected delay to ending lockdown. The wage support scheme is due to start being phased out at the end of this month.

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Key figures in Northants turnaround recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours

Two of the key figures who led efforts to turn around the situation at Northamptonshire CC following its financial collapse in 2018 are among the local government figures recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

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Alarm growing over Covid financial support cliff edge

Concerns have been raised by areas currently under enhanced restrictions due to Covid surges that the government has not committed to further funding to pay for the measures councils are being expected to take to combat outbreaks.

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Delta variant increases hospitalisation risk but vaccine protection remains high, study suggests

The risk of being hospitalised with the Delta (Indian) variant of coronavirus is around double that of the Alpha (Kent) strain, but two vaccine doses still provide strong protection against it, new data suggests.

However, the level of protection against the Indian variant of COVID-19 may be lower than with the Kent variant, early research published in The Lancet suggests.

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Restaurants and pubs ‘face collapse’ during extended England lockdown

Business groups have warned that pubs, bars, restaurants and nightclubs face significant hardship or collapse after the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in England was postponed for four weeks without new financial support from the government.

Full reopening without measures such as social distancing will not be allowed until 19 July, Boris Johnson said on Monday, with a review in two weeks’ time “unlikely” to result in an earlier relaxation.

But the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, shied away from offering any fresh funding package to prop up hard-pressed businesses that cannot trade profitably, or at all, under the restrictions.

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Lockdown easing in England delayed to 19 July

The final stage of easing lockdown restrictions in England is to be delayed until 19 July.

It means most remaining curbs on social contact will continue beyond 21 June, when they had been due to be lifted.

The limit on wedding guest numbers will be removed but venues will still have to adhere to other rules.

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Revealed: Government thinking on future role of LEPs

Government plans for the future role of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) have emerged as part of a large-scale Whitehall review, which the country’s most senior representative of LEPs claims will lead to their “evolution" rather than their demise, as some had predicted.

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Ofsted to rate schools ‘outstanding’ only if they can prove they are helping the poorest children

Plans being considered by ministers would see Ofsted only able to rate schools as “outstanding” if they can prove they are helping children catch up with lost learning. Under the proposals, schools would not be eligible for the top rating unless they can show inspectors that they are narrowing the achievement gap between the poorest pupils and their wealthier peers.

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Households ‘will have up to 7 bins each’

Up to seven bins may be needed for some households under new plans to standardise rubbish collections, the District Councils Network says. It suggests the plans could see four separate bins for dry recyclables, as well as ones for garden, food waste and non-recyclables. Cllr Dan Humphreys, DCN’s Lead Member for Enhancing Quality of Life, said: “These proposals are poorly thought out and will create costly chaos and confusion up and down the country. What works for residents in villages and rural areas won’t work for people living in flats in a busy town or city.”

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Councils welcome fall in rough sleeping numbers

Council leaders have welcomed the drop in the number of rough sleepers, arguing it shows what can be achieved when central and local government work together.

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Waste collection plans to cost £680m a year, councils warn

Government plans to standardise kerbside waste collections will cost £680m a year, district councils have warned today.

The District Councils’ Network (DCN) said the proposals will create ‘chaos and confusion’ as households could need as many as seven bins each.

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30 towns to share government’s £725m Towns Fund

30 towns in England will share £725m of the government’s Towns Fund to boost their local economies, create jobs and help them build back better from the pandemic.

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Hancock: government needs more powers to intervene in social care

The health secretary has said that the pandemic has highlighted a need for government to have more powers to “come in firmly” to intervene directly in social care.

Speaking to a joint session of the Commons health and social care and science and technology committees today, Mr Hancock claimed that as secretary of state, his powers over social care at the start of the pandemic were “extremely limited” because formal powers “rest with local government”.

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Hancock claims he followed ‘clinical advice’ on care homes policy

The health secretary has contested Dominic Cummings’ claim that he misled the prime minister on care homes policy in the early stages of the pandemic, saying he followed "clinical advice".

Last month, the PM’s former chief adviser Mr Cummings told MPs he and Mr Johnson had been told “categorically” in March 2020 that people would be tested before returning to care homes, and only subsequently found out that this had not happened.

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Hillier in financial sustainability transparency warning

The chair of an influential government spending watchdog has warned of a lack of transparency around the financial sustainability of councils.

In her annual report, chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Meg Hillier, expressed concerns about the state of local government audit and said the secrecy surrounding government discussions with councils in trouble meant problems may not be spotted until it is too late.

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Surrey chief part of four-strong team of Liverpool commissioners

Surrey CC’s chief executive Joanna Killian will be part of the team of independent commissioners who will oversee improvements at Liverpool City Council, local government secretary Robert Jenrick has announced.

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Patel reveals rota replacement scheme for unaccompanied asylum seeking children

A new rota scheme will better distribute responsibility for unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) among councils, home secretary Priti Patel has revealed.

It comes after Kent CC and Croydon LBC called on the Home Office to stump up more cash and to force other councils to take their share of UASC.

The rota scheme would replace the much-criticised voluntary national transfer scheme that was launched five years ago.

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PSAA outlines proposals to increase audit quality

Proposals released today putting a greater emphasis on quality in the awarding of local government audit contracts would see fees rise if adopted, according to an expert.

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Addiction treatment harder to get since councils took over, says Tory MP

Fewer people with alcohol and drug problems are being treated since responsibility for their care was shifted from the NHS to local councils in England, a former Health Minister Dan Poulter MP has suggested. In an article in the Health Service Journal, he publishes details of a freedom of information investigation which he says shows patients’ care has become poorer, specialist detoxification beds are now harder to access and the cost of treatment has increased. He has called for responsibility for the services to return to the NHS. Cllr David Fothergill, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Councils are committed to ensuring that all those who need help with alcohol and drug misuse get the right support and treatment. Any suggestion of moving public health responsibilities would be irrational, deeply disruptive and clearly undermine the progress made so far.”

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Waste collections

More than 1.4 million households in 22 councils had their household waste picked up once in every three weeks in 2020, compared to 74,000 in 2015, according to research from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). The LGA said councils have been working tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to keep vital waste collection services running.

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Former CIPFA president headed for chief executive role

Carolyn Williamson has been recommended as the next chief executive of Hampshire CC.

Councillors are expected to confirm the appointment in a vote at their next meeting on June 21.

Ms Williamson is currently Hampshire’s deputy chief executive and director of corporate resources, having joined the council in 2010.

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Profits from English children’s care homes indefensible, bosses to be told

The children’s residential care home sector is “broken” and dominated by private companies that make excessive profits despite delivering consistently poor outcomes for young people, a government adviser is to say. In a speech this morning to the Independent Children’s Home Association, Josh MacAlister, the head of the Government’s review of children’s social care, will warn children’s homes bosses they must cut “indefensible” profits and improve the experience of young people in care or run the risk of intervention.

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June 21 lockdown lifting set to be delayed by fortnight

Britain’s roadmap for easing lockdown could be delayed by a fortnight with cabinet ministers increasingly pessimistic after a “downbeat” briefing from Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance.

The delay would enable all over-50s to be fully vaccinated and leave sufficient time for jabs to take effect before restrictions are lifted.

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Parliament: Shake-up of England's electoral map outlined

Parts of the North of England and the Midlands will lose parliamentary seats while areas in the South gain under proposals for a shake-up of England's electoral map in 2023.

The Boundary Commission for England says the aim is to make Parliament fairer by giving each MP a roughly similar number of voters. It means redrawing and renaming some seats.

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26 towns to receive share of £610 million fund to revamp their communities

Twenty-six English towns have received a slice of £610 million in Government funding to help them rebuild their economies in the wake of the pandemic.

The money, which comes from the £3.6 billion Towns Fund unveiled in July 2019, is intended to kickstart urban regeneration and boost green transport infrastructure, tourism and jobs.

It is also intended for education and vocational training courses, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said.

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Staff burnout in social care and health at 'emergency level'

Workforce burnout in social care and the NHS has reached an ‘emergency level’, MPs have warned today.

In a new report, the Health and Social Care Committee says only a total overhaul of workforce planning can provide a solution to the crisis.

The committee found staff shortages were the biggest driver of workforce burnout. Workforce planning has also been driven by the funding available, rather than the level of demand and staffing capacity.

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Hampshire faces £80m budget gap

A consultation has been opened by Hampshire CC on ways to address a budget shortfall.

The council expects a gap of at least £80m by 2023/24 as a result of pressures on funding and increasing demand for services.

Hampshire has made savings totalling £560m over the past 13 years.

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McArdle: Northants downfall due to ‘dangerous over-confidence’

The lead commissioner sent into Northamptonshire CC after its collapse, Tony McArdle, has told LGC that the stricken county was “the architect of its own failures", and that its financial troubles were a “symptom” but not the cause of its demise.

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Councils press for bin collections overhaul funding

Councils have pressed the Government to fully fund any nationwide changes to bin collections.

The MJ understands chief executives urged the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to identify and fund all additional costs in a meeting this week.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is proposing to make kerbside collections more consistent and require free garden waste and separate food waste collections.

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'Jabs are working' as Covid hospital cases plunge

Just three people from those taken to hospital with the Indian Covid variant had been double vaccinated, the Health Secretary has revealed.

Matt Hancock told MPs that hospital cases were "broadly flat" and just three of the 126 people admitted with Covid from the Indian strain had received both doses of a vaccine. He added that 65 per cent of those who ended up in hospital with the Indian variant had not received a single jab.

"The jabs are working," he said. "The majority of people in hospital with Covid appear to be those who haven't had the vaccine at all."

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‘Grief and confusion clashed with unconditional love and joy’: The hidden lives of young carers

According to the last census, there are 166,000 young carers in England, but recent research suggests that the actual figure may be as many as 800,000 – that’s six young carers in every secondary school classroom. Despite being so prolific, carers are often hidden from view – attempting to juggle their caring role with school but too terrified to seek support. Carers Week 2021 runs from 7-13 June and aims to raise awareness of the everyday challenges facing young carers.

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Controversial Somerset poll backs district plan

A controversial poll on reorganisation in Somerset has come out in favour of a district-based proposal.

The district council-organised referendum was highly criticised by the county and the secretary of state last month after a printing error sent voters to a spoof website instead of the county-based One Somerset proposal.

Local government secretary Robert Jenrick wrote to the district council leaders over what he described as the ‘serious failure’ that ‘risks undermining the reputation and standing of local government’.

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Surrey council leader to chair County Councils Network

Surrey leader Cllr Tim Oliver has been elected chairman of the County Councils Network (CCN).

He has said recovering from the pandemic, rebuilding economies and tackling climate change would be among the priorities for the network.

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Child migrant legal threat to Home Secretary

Child migrants arriving in Dover may be turned away by Kent County Council (KCC) as its services are overwhelmed, the council has said. KCC has taken its first steps in legal action against the Home Secretary Priti Patel over the issue.

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Jenrick hints opportunity for remote meetings legislation if roadmap shifts

The communities secretary has raised hopes efforts could be “redoubled” to find an opportunity for legislation to allow remote and hybrid council meetings to take place again - but only if the easing of restrictions is postponed beyond 21 June.

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Taxpayers could end up paying 'more for less' as council tax rises while services are cut

Taxpayers could end up paying “more for less” as council taxes are hiked while services are cut in response to the pandemic, MPs have warned.

Councils across England are facing budget black holes due to “over-optimism” from the Government over the impact of Covid-19.

And it means households will have to stump up an extra 4.3% on average in council tax in 2021-22.

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Local government severance guidance ‘expected shortly’

A new consultation on guidance for special severance payments to local government workers will be published soon by the government, according to Public Finance.

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Work from home advice could continue beyond June 21

Advice to work from home could continue beyond June 21 as the price of lifting other coronavirus restrictions, under plans being discussed in Whitehall.

Government sources on Thursday confirmed that officials were examining whether to retain the “work from home” guidance as a mitigating measure, in the event that Covid hospitalisations and deaths surge in coming weeks.

Boris Johnson has pencilled in June 21 for the final step in his roadmap out of legal restrictions, which would see all constraints on social contact lifted and the cap removed on the numbers allowed to attend large events.

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Eight in 10 councils forced to overspend on children’s social care

More than eight in 10 councils were forced to overspend on children's social care budgets last year due to soaring demand, new research has shown.

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Councils in 'mad dash to splash the cash'

Frustrated councils are racing to spend their additional restrictions grant funding after the Government stubbornly refused to offer any flexibility ahead of a looming deadline.

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Uproar at move towards 'national bin service'

Councils are preparing to fight government plans to create what they fear will be a ‘national bin service’.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) wants to make the materials councils collect at kerbside more consistent across England to reduce confusion among the public - part of the biggest changes to waste services in years.

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Education advisor resigns following funding dispute

Kevan Collins, the government's education recovery commissioner, has resigned following a "furious" row erupted with the Treasury over the department's rejection of his proposals for a £15bn school funding package.

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Councils ‘must raise game’ to tackle housing shortage

Housebuilders accused of “land banking” have turned the screw on local authorities, claiming they are to blame for the undersupply of homes in Britain.

The Home Builders Federation (HBF), which represents Britain’s biggest housebuilders, said local authorities needed to grant between 104,000 and 115,000 extra planning permissions per year in the next two to three years to ensure the government can deliver 300,000 homes a year in England by the mid-2020s.

A report commissioned by the industry group said figures published by the Local Government Association last month, showing more than 1.1 million homes granted planning permission over the past decade had not been built, were “misleading”. It said the total, which compares the annual volume of permissions with the number of homes developed, included “double counting” because some permissions would be replacements to reflect design or technical changes to permissions granted in previous years.

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Schoolchildren to get 100 million hours extra lessons in Covid recovery plan

Pupils will be offered up to 100 million hours of tuition as part of a £1.4 billion Covid recovery package to help them catch up on learning lost during the pandemic, it was announced today.

The ambitious plan for England includes extra tutoring for six million pupils and additional training for 500,000 teachers. Sixth form students could also receive an extra year if they cannot complete A-level courses in time. Boris Johnson said: “Young people have sacrificed so much over the last year and as we build back from the pandemic, we must make sure that no child is left behind.

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Education bodies slam £1.4bn recovery fund

Schools will receive £1bn to support up to 6 million 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged school children, in addition to the expansion of the 16-19 tuition fund to help with maths and English teaching, the government announced today.

The remaining £400m will used to develop new programmes for early years teachers, as well as expanding current training courses.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of teaching body, the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This is a hugely disappointing announcement which lets down the nation’s children and schools at a time when the government needed to step up and demonstrate its commitment to education.

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Councils should have legal duty to provide ‘early help’ says report

A new report is calling for a legal duty on local authorities to provide early help to children and families, rather than providing what is easiest to measure.

Research by the National Children’s Bureau and the University of Cambridge argues that early help can help prevent children reaching a crisis where interventions by social workers are necessary, at a considerable expense to the public purse.

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Tony Travers: Levelling up should focus on FE and devolution

Boris Johnson’s flagship agenda is being used to make the case for change in many policy spheres and to preserve the Union, writes the director of LSE London.

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Lockdown easing debate intensifies

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Government could not rule out a delay to the planned lockdown easing. Some scientists have called for the easing to be postponed for a few weeks while business leaders say any lockdown extension would be hugely damaging to the economy.

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School day ‘to be extended’

The school day will be extended by half an hour under a leaked government plan to help Britain’s children to recover lost learning. Sir Kevan Collins, the Government’s education recovery commissioner, is reportedly set to call for all children to receive an extra 100 hours of schooling each year from 2022, with a minimum 35-hour week. Extra tutoring for five million pupils and additional training for 500,000 teachers is also said to be part of the unpublished plan.

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Sunak seeks tech business tax deal

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has reportedly urged US President Joe Biden to agree a deal on the taxation of tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. Finance ministers from the G7 group of leading industrialised nations, including the UK and US, will meet in London on Friday.

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Eviction ban ends

About 400,000 renters have had eviction notices or been told to expect them, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says. It comes as England's coronavirus eviction ban comes to an end today.

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Banned insulation still used on schools

An estimated 70 schools may have been built with combustible insulation since it was banned on tall buildings to prevent a repeat of the Grenfell Tower fire. About 25 new hospitals, care homes and sheltered housing complexes were also thought likely to have been constructed using flammable insulation.

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75 per cent of new COVID-19 cases are Indian variant

Up to three quarters of new coronavirus cases in the UK could be the variant first identified in India, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Cases of the variant have risen by 3,535 to 6,959 in the last week, with yesterday’s total number of cases standing at 3,542. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said England “may need to wait” for the lifting of all restrictions on June 21.

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Thousands of girls ‘failed’ by police and social services

Police and social services have been accused of failing to protect thousands of girls as young as 11 at risk of sexual abuse. Research by The Times found that children known to be at risk of abuse have gone missing more than 55,000 times in the UK over the past three years.

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Meg Hillier: early warning system needed for local government

A new mechanism is needed to provide the government and public with an early warning system prior to the publishing of section 114 notices, Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier told PF.

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Free council parking for NHS and social care workers to end

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that a scheme allowing NHS and social care workers to park for free will end on June 21. Trade unions have criticised the move but the Government said that individual councils can chose to fund free parking themselves if they choose.

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Counties see fastest growth in number of people claiming out of work benefits

County councils have warned that a 'narrow and simplistic focus' in the levelling-up agenda risks England's economic recovery from the pandemic.

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£500m scale of Covid-19 council tax hit revealed

Government support will not cover the half-billion-pound scale of lost council tax receipts in the year following the outbreak of Covid-19 – leaving councils facing service cuts – according to sector figures.

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Cummings slams 'useless' Whitehall procurement system

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former adviser, described the Department of Health’s procurement system as “completely useless” at dealing with Covid-19, but praised chancellor Rishi Sunak in explosive testimony to MPs.

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EXCLUSIVE: Finance reforms in 2022-23 'challenging but possible'

Proposals for 75% business rates retention and the results of a fair funding review, which were originally due to be introduced ready for the last financial year, have already been delayed twice.

Now, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government civil servants have told the sector that introducing the reforms from April 2022 would be ‘challenging but possible’.

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Government urges against travel to eight COVID-19 areas

The Government is advising people not to travel into and out of places hit hardest by the COVID-19 variant first identified in India unless necessary, it has emerged. Health officials said it was spreading quickest in Bolton, Blackburn, Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside. Residents in the affected areas are also asked not to meet indoors.

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Rural areas face threat of 400,000 new homes

A new analysis of planning policy commissioned by the Campaign to Protect Rural England has found that nearly 400,000 homes will be built on greenfield sites in the south of England over the next five years. Its data suggests large parts of the countryside could be built on by councils to meet revised housebuilding targets.

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More disadvantaged children at risk of missing school since lockdown

A report by the think tank Social Finance has found disadvantaged children are the least likely to return to school after lockdown. It found there was a 25 per cent increase in persistently absent school children.

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Districts reprimanded by Jenrick over ‘offensive’ spoof campaign website

The communities secretary has sent a strongly critical letter to the leaders of the district councils in Somerset, accusing them of potentially “undermining the reputation and standing of local government in the country” by directing local electors to a spoof website containing “offensive” material and “sexist and derogatory depictions of women”.

Robert Jenrick had already been angered by Mendip, Sedgemoor, and South Somerset DCs and Somerset West & Taunton Council’s decision to plough ahead with a referendum on reorganisation proposals, alongside but separate to the government’s own consultation on the issue which closed last month. The poll cost the districts more than £300,000 to carry out.

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Councils snubbed as government changes Covid guidance without telling them

Public health teams and council leaders in the eight local authority areas hardest hit by the India Covid variant have reacted with shock at “confused messages” from government, after it restricted travel in and out of their areas without telling them.

Bedford and Blackburn BCs, Bolton, Kirklees, and North Tyneside MBCs, Leicester City Council and Hounslow LBC appear to have only been made aware of updates to government travel guidance when they were informed yesterday by journalists, several days after the government updated its own advice online without publicising it.

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Half of UK children playing out with friends less since pandemic

Many children are playing outside less with their friends, playing alone more and are less active than they were before the pandemic, according to a UK survey that will add to concerns about the lasting impact of the lockdowns on children’s wellbeing.

The Save the Children poll found that more than nine out 10 children (92%) felt the way they play had changed since the Covid pandemic. Half (51%) said they were playing outside with their friends less, a third (34%) were playing alone more, and almost a quarter (23%) were playing less sport than before.

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Parents oppose longer school days to help children catch up

Parents are against plans to increase the school day to help pupils bounce back from the pandemic.

Sixty per cent oppose extending hours, while 30 per cent agree, according to YouGov polling for The Times. However, there is backing for radical reform of education, just as The Times Education Commission — a year-long project to examine the future of education — is launched.

Lengthening the school day has repeatedly been identified by Sir Kevan Collins, the government’s education recovery commissioner, as a way of making up for lost learning. He has suggested that it could feature in his imminent recovery plan for the education sector, which is expected to set out a three-year, £15 billion package to help children behind in core subjects.

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Covid: Parts of England to trial self-isolation support

More ways of supporting people to self-isolate in areas with higher coronavirus infection rates are to be piloted in nine parts of England.

There will be "buddying" services for people needing mental health support and alternative accommodation for those in overcrowded homes.

Social care support and translation services will also be available.

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Road funding will be cut by more than a fifth this year, warn council chiefs

Councils have warned they face a £400m reduction in local road maintenance budgets this year.

Analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) reveals overall capital funding allocated to councils for local road maintenance will fall by 22% to £1.39bn in 2020/21.

The LGA said this lost funding could pay for more than 9.5 million road repairs – the equivalent to 64,000 repairs in each local council area.

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Chance of England Covid restrictions ending on 21 June ‘looking good’

The prospects for ending all coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England on 21 June are “looking good” as long as people are careful, said Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, while other scientists said the latest variant could spread widely even with high vaccination coverage and the public were urged to get second shots.

Harries was speaking as the government revealed that more than a million people had downloaded the NHS app, which now enables people to prove their vaccination status if they want to travel – suggesting many are hoping for a foreign holiday soon. More than 22.6 million people in the UK have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine.

Harries was upbeat on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, but said people still needed to take precautions for the time being, particularly as new variants of coronavirus continue to circulate.

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New guidance on council-owned companies to be published

Councils will soon be issued guidance on governance arrangements for local authority trading companies (LATCs) by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).

CIPFA said it was developing the guidance in the wake of failed commercial ventures in Croydon and Nottingham.

The guidance - set to be published in the Autumn - will focus on reducing risk and building stronger assurance processes, while supporting chief finance officers to improve good financial management.

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Council companies lose £600k

North Yorkshire CC’s commercial ventures are facing a loss of more than £600,000 following a year of COVID-19 disruption.

The council had budgeted for a £99,000 loss from its companies, which were all brought under the Brierley Group umbrella four years ago.

Total revenue lagged behind budget, amounting to £59.9m but costs were cut to £53.4m with use of Government support including the furlough scheme, resulting in a loss after tax for the 2020/21 financial year of £639,000.

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Doctors hit back at NHS bosses over orders to see patients face-to-face

Doctors have mounted a backlash against orders to see patients face-to-face, with their union passing a vote of no confidence in NHS leaders.

On Thursday, the British Medical Association’s (BMA) GP committee said medics had been let down by NHS England’s senior officials after patients were told they had the right to see GPs in person.

The U-turn last week came after the Patients’ Association and the Royal College of GPs raised concerns about the NHS proposal for “total triage”.

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Death rate in England is lowest since records began

The proportion of people dying in England fell in April to its lowest level since records began, figures from the Office for National Statistics show.

Just 851.2 people per 100,000 died last month – the lowest figure since the ONS started recording mortality rates in 2001. At the height of the first wave of the Covid pandemic last April, death rates were 1,859 per 100,000.

The latest figures show that 38,899 people died in April – 6.1 per cent fewer than the five-year average.

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Schools set to lose £118m funding for poor pupils

Schools in England could lose £118m funding for poor pupils this year, the Local Government Association says.

The education department is bringing forward the annual date for counting those eligible for the pupil premium, which it says will help plan budgets.

Pupils who have become eligible between October 2020 and January 2021 will not now be counted until October 2021.

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Ministers under pressure to revoke law which makes it illegal to sleep rough, as 10 people a week prosecuted

Ministers are under mounting pressure to repeal Victorian-era legislation which is used to prosecute 10 homeless people a week and still criminalises rough-sleeping.

The Government has promised that the Vagrancy Act will be revoked and replaced, but it was not included in the Queen’s Speech last week – meaning legislation is unlikely to come forward in the next year.

Figures published on Thursday show that in 2020, the number of people prosecuted under the act halved following an effort to get rough sleepers off the street during the pandemic. However, there were still 573 prosecutions – mostly for begging.

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‘A step in the right direction’ – sector responds to local audit proposals

Government proposals on local audit have gained a qualified welcome from the sector – but questions still remain, say experts.

Yesterday, the government proposed that the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority, announced as a replacement for the Financial Reporting Council last year, will be strengthened with new powers to oversee the local government audit system.

Additionally, the government confirmed that a liaison committee to oversee the governance of the new audit arrangements and ensure they are operating effectively.

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Report makes case for Annual Proportional Property Tax system

A think tank has argued council tax and stamp duty should be scrapped and replaced with an Annual Proportional Property Tax (APPT).

In a new report, Bright Blue said the current property taxation system in England is 'distortive and regressive'. It concludes that APPT would be the best replacement on both economic and political grounds.

Under the proposals, local authorities would be given the freedom to impose separate APPT tax rates from central Government to fund public services.

It also recommends a 25% surcharge for second home owners and a Development Levy set at 20% for the market price of new developments.

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Councils charged triple the recommended mark-up on IT products

Councils are paying more than three times the recommended mark-up on technology products, a new study has revealed.

The analysis by Probrand found that before the pandemic, the average margin paid by local councils on technology was 9.8%. The Society of IT Managers states that organisations should be paying no more than a 3% margin to suppliers.

One council was found to be paying margins of nearly 580% on its purchases, nearly two hundred times higher than the recommended mark-up.

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Opinion: Councils must meet their SEND legal duties

The suggestion that local authorities are on the road to bankruptcy because of disabled children and young people with the highest needs perpetuates the myth of sharp-elbowed parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities ‘challenging the system’. The clear implication is that a group of children and young people with the most complex needs are costing the public purse too much by claiming more than their fair share of resources, and that this is unsustainable.

The reality is quite different. There is a weight of unequivocal evidence to show that local authorities routinely fail to comply with the SEND legal framework, making unlawful decisions about provision for children with SEND and breaching children’s rights to the statutory support they need and are legally entitled to.

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Councils urge government to ‘retreat carefully’ with COVID-19 support

The Government must “retreat carefully” when it removes measures introduced to support struggling families during the COVID-19 pandemic, the District Councils Network has warned. Cllr Giles Archibald, the DCN’s Better Lives spokesperson, said: “The coronavirus crisis has hit many people hard and the economic impact will continue to be felt for some time. Therefore it is vital, that as we come out of the pandemic, we don’t rush to unravel the unprecedented level of support the Government rightly provided to protect families at risk of hardship and homelessness.”

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Indian variant hotspot data set to determine roadmap future

The Government will analyse hospital data from Indian variant hotspots to show next week whether the easing of restrictions is likely to be seriously disrupted. Sewage is also being monitored to give early warning of variant outbreaks in other parts of the country.

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NHS and local government ‘need financial sustainability to deal with future crises’

The health service and local government both need long-term financial sustainability if the government is to successfully respond to the next national emergency, the National Audit Office has said.

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Lockdown reverses 40-year decline in smoking

A study by Richard Sloggett, former policy adviser to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, has found a surge in smoking among young people during the pandemic has put a 40-year decline in the habit into reverse. It projected 600,000 more smokers than previously thought next year as more people have taken up smoking to deal with the stress of unemployment and mental ill health during COVID-19.

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COVID crisis exposed council underfunding, says watchdog

The COVID crisis exposed existing weaknesses in public services, including the underfunding of local government and the neglect of social care, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said.

In its latest report on the response to the pandemic, watchdog has warned local government finances – which were already underfunded – had been ‘scarred by the pandemic and will not bounce back quickly once the pandemic ends’.

It suggests the Government had failed to properly prepare for a pandemic, leaving ministers without a ‘playbook’.

In his introduction, comptroller and auditor general Gareth Davies said the pandemic had ‘laid bare existing fault lines within society, such as the risk of widening inequalities, and within public service delivery and government itself’.

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Councils charged triple the recommended mark-up on IT products

Councils are paying more than three times the recommended mark-up on technology products, a new study has revealed.

The analysis by Probrand found that before the pandemic, the average margin paid by local councils on technology was 9.8%. The Society of IT Managers states that organisations should be paying no more than a 3% margin to suppliers.

One council was found to be paying margins of nearly 580% on its purchases, nearly two hundred times higher than the recommended mark-up.

The study also found mark-ups spiked 'dramatically' during the first national lockdown, rising to more than 50% on average for all tech buyers.

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Government announces new local audit leader

The Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority, announced as a replacement for the FRC last year, will be strengthened with new powers to oversee the local government audit system.

ARGA would provide annual reports on the state of local audit and take over responsibility for the updated Code of Local Audit Practice - the guidelines councils are required to follow, the government said today.

Local government minister Luke Hall said: “It is essential that we have an effective and transparent local audit system that ensures value for money for the taxpayer.

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Joint chief of county and unitary set to retire

The chief executive of Cambridgeshire CC and Peterborough City Council Gillian Beasley is retiring, it has been announced today.

She began her working career in 1983 as a trainee lawyer with Leeds City Council. In 2008 she was awarded an OBE for her work in local government.

Her deputy chief executive at Cambridgeshire, Chris Malyon, also recently retired, according to the Cambridgeshire Times.

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Final £576m allocations of future high streets fund announced

The final allocations of the government’s future high streets fund have been made, bringing the fund to a close almost three years after it was first announced.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government announced today that 57 more areas have now received £576m of funding, in addition to the 15 areas which received allocations worth £255m in December.

In total, 72 English high streets have shared more than £830m from the scheme. This falls short of the £1bn the fund was intended to be worth at the time it became part of the wider £3.6bn Towns Fund when Boris Johnson took over as prime minister. This is partly because £107m was channeled out to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to support the regeneration of heritage high streets.

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Nottinghamshire pressed to abandon reorganisation

A motion will be tabled at Nottinghamshire CC calling for reorganisation proposals to be dropped.

Members of the county council Independent Group, led by Ashfield DC leader Cllr Jason Zadrozny, will put forward the motion at the meeting on 27 May.

Proposals for a single unitary council covering the whole county were drawn-up by the Conservative administration last year.

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Social care evidence

Sarah Pickup, LGA deputy chief executive, used an evidence session before the Health and Social Care Select Committee to discuss the potential options open to the Government on adult social care reform, including increases to taxation and a social care premium to help ease the burden of the cost of care.

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Government to improve reporting and transparency of LGPS

New government guidance will aim to improve reporting and transparency by Local Government Pension Scheme pools to bring them into line with international funds, a civil servant said today.

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Council criticised for handling of COVID-19 business support

A north Yorkshire district council has defended itself after criticisms that there was a lack of transparency in the way it administered the discretionary grant scheme designed to help businesses impacted by COVID-19.

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Auditors defend council governance

Accountancy firms have defended the governance of council finances despite widespread delays in completing audits.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) raised concerns about the lateness of local government audits with Grant Thornton and EY.

Head of public sector assurance at Grant Thornton, Mark Stocks, told them: ‘My view is that council governance is strong across the board.

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County leader in planning power grab

A council leader has called for counties to be given planning powers for ‘big infrastructure’ as he seeks to break the deadlock with a district.

Leicestershire CC had originally been given until the end of last year to accept or decline £15m from the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) towards the south section of the Melton Mowbray southern distributor relief road.

However, wrangling has continued between the county and Melton BC, with Leicestershire leader, Cllr Nicholas Rushton, describing the negotiations as ‘turgid’.

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Ministers lambasted by select committee

Ministers have been lambasted over their performance before a select committee.

Business minister Paul Scully and his local government counterpart Luke Hall were accused of failing to give straight answers to questions about levelling up to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.

Chair, Labour MP Darren Jones, said: ‘Given levelling up is supposedly a flagship policy for the Government, I have to say with respect to the witnesses that was one of the poorest ministerial sessions I’ve chaired.

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Tiers may return if Indian variant takes hold

Ministers are considering contingency plans for local lockdowns or a delay to reopening after 21 June in response to concern about the spread of the coronavirus variant first found in India, it is reported. Officials are said to have drawn up plans modelled on the Tier 4 restrictions introduced last year, under which people would be advised to stay at home and non-essential shops and hospitality would be closed if the new strain was not brought under control.

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New laws for house buyers, renters and homeowners coming this year

New rules will see ground rent banned and a potential ‘lifetime deposit’ come into force this year, giving tenants more rights against law-breaking landlords and excessively high charges in flats. Notice periods, which had been extended to six months as an emergency measure during the pandemic, will be set at four months from 1 June and then return to pre-pandemic levels from 1 October subject to public health advice and progress with the roadmap. LGA Housing spokesman Cllr David Renard said: "We recognise that the ban on eviction enforcement, which provided vital reassurance to renters during the pandemic, cannot continue indefinitely. However, councils remain concerned over the potential rise in homelessness households may face, and the pressure this will add to already over-stretched homelessness services. It is vital there is a plan in place to support and protect households to stay in their homes, in as many cases as possible."

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Covid vaccines offered to teenagers at Indian variant hotspot Bolton

Health officials in Bolton have defied the government and fast-tracked jabs to residents as young as 17 as the town battles to avoid a new lockdown.

More than 9,000 people in the area were vaccinated against the coronavirus over the weekend with hundreds in their twenties and thirties queueing up.

The government said that people younger than 38 would not be eligible for vaccinations but the town’s doctors have offered on-the-spot assessments to everyone in hotspot areas.

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Burnham calls for Labour push on devolution

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has called on his party to provide ‘wholehearted support for true devolution’.

Writing for a national newspaper, he called for Labour to ditch its mind-set of being ‘lukewarm’ about English devolution, a policy that he described as a ‘potential gamechanger’ for British politics and the party.

Mayor Burnham said Greater Manchester had ‘only received half-hearted support’ in its dispute with the Government over tier three restrictions last year and urged his national colleague to ‘come up with a Labour version of levelling up’.

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Green light for councils' legal action worth £10m

Legal action that could see an estimated £10m business rates windfall paid to councils has been cleared for a hearing.

An attempt to have the case struck out by the commercial property owners involved was defeated after Rossendale BC and Wigan MBC appealed to the Supreme Court.

The case centres on rates avoidance schemes in which a short lease is granted to a special purpose vehicle (SPV) company, which is then dissolved or put into liquidation to escape liability for business rates.

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Increasing confidence jabs work against Indian variant

The UK has "increasing confidence" that Covid-19 vaccines work against the Indian variant of the virus, the health secretary has said.

Scientists believe that the variant is more transmissible and cases of it nearly tripled to 1,313 in the past week in England.

But Matt Hancock said early lab data showed vaccines remained effective.

He said the majority of those in hospital in Bolton - a hotspot for the Indian variant - were unvaccinated.

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Lockdowns ease in England, Wales and most of Scotland

People must continue to play their part in stopping coronavirus, Boris Johnson has said, as lockdown rules ease in England, Wales and most of Scotland.

Millions can now socialise indoors in limited numbers, hug loved ones and visit pubs and restaurants indoors.

The ban on foreign travel has also been lifted and replaced with new rules.

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Indian variant: Second jabs could be brought forward to tackle rise

Second vaccine doses could be brought forward and local restrictions introduced to help tackle the Indian variant in the worst-affected areas, the UK government has said.

Minister Nadhim Zahawi said steps could also include vaccinating younger people in multi-generational households.

Meanwhile, a top scientist has warned lifting restrictions on 21 June is in doubt because of the Indian variant.

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Boris Johnson told to deliver 10-year social care plan or risk derailing health reforms

Ministers must draw up a fully costed 10-year plan for social care or risk missing a “1948 moment” for the health service, MPs have said.

The Health and Social Care Committee said today(FRI) that plans to unpick disastrous Tory health reforms, underpinned by a new law in the Queen’s Speech, could be derailed by the lack of a long term plan for social care.

Integrated Care Systems will be set up to boost links between the NHS and local councils, in a move away from reforms by ex-Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to encourage competition between health bodies.

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UK economic bounceback set to outpace peers after big 2020 decline

The 9.8% contraction was the UK’s worst in 100 years and larger than almost all of its peers, with Spain the only major economy to perform worse, according to a paper by ratings agency S&P Global.

The agency forecast 11% growth cumulatively over 2021 and 2022 for the UK, compared with 8.7% for the EU.

“All things going well, despite Brexit, the UK’s GDP growth should outpace that of most of its peers,” the agency said.

A stringent lockdown was partially to blame for the decline in activity, the agency’s paper said.

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Delays for Special Needs Plans

Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are facing up to a five year wait for their education, health and care (EHC) plans to be approved by councils, according to a report by Ofsted. The report comes as official figures show a rise in the number of children with SEND, with 15 per cent of children now classed as having special educational needs and disabilities. Cllr Teresa Heritage, Vice-Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said the continued rise in numbers applying for EHC plans was “a pressing issue” for councils.

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Court ruling closes business rates loophole

The Supreme Court has allowed a group of local authorities to pursue a claim for business rates against landlords who transferred properties to special purpose vehicles, in a case which could result in millions being paid to councils.

The case centred on the transfer of properties by landlords to special purpose vehicles, which were promptly shut down meaning they avoided paying rates to authorities in Wigan and Rossendale.

The High Court and Court of Appeal ruled in favour of landlords in 2019, but the Supreme Court allowed an appeal from local authorities today to challenge the original verdict.

The Supreme Court decision said: “The leases were ineffective to make the SPVs the owners of the relevant properties, with the result that the defendants remained liable for business rates.”

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Employers offer 1.5% 'paltry' pay rise

Councils are facing a £279m increase to the national pay bill after offering 1.5m employees a 1.5% increase for 2021-22.

The offer from the national local government employers, who negotiate pay on behalf of 350 councils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, falls well short of the unions’ joint claim for a 10% rise.

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‘Disappointing’ pay offer for council employees announced

Council employees have been offered a pay increase of 1.50% from 1 April 2021.

The National Employers, who negotiate pay on behalf of local authorities, made the offer to unions today. The three main trade unions - Unison, Unite and GMB - are expected to meet next week to decide whether to accept it or not, but have described it as "disappointing" and "paltry".

The move comes after the negotiating body the National Joint Council submitted a pay claim in February, calling for a 10% rise. The National Employers decided to wait until after the local elections had been completed before they responded.

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Ban on bailiff evictions to be lifted next month as Covid support ends for tenants

A ban on bailiff-enforced rental sector evictions in England will end on May 31, the Government has confirmed.

The ban was introduced as an emergency measure during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bailiffs have been asked not to carry out an eviction if anyone living in the property has Covid-19 symptoms or is self-isolating.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said renters will continue to be supported as national Covid-19 restrictions ease.

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Every patient to have right to see a GP as NHS abandons ‘total triage’

The NHS on Thursday night performed a climbdown over plans to use online and telephone "screening" for GP appointments and announced that every patient would now have the right to see their doctor face-to-face.

The Telegraph revealed on Wednesday that family doctors had been told to introduce a system of "total triage", meaning those seeking to see their GP were being discouraged and told to have an online or phone discussion first.

But NHS England has now ordered that the system be abolished amid a mounting backlash from patients' groups and doctors. New guidance to all GPs will instead say that every practice in England must make "a clear offer of appointments in person" and respect the preferences of patients.

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Pupils in England ‘waiting up to five years for special needs plan’

Children with special educational needs and disabilities face long delays and bureaucratic hurdles before getting extra support from local authorities in England, with those from better-off families able to pay for private services, according to a report by Ofsted.

The watchdog found headteachers complaining that some pupils in mainstream schools waited up to five years for their education, health and care (EHC) plans – making them eligible for additional support – to be approved by councils.

Its report comes as official figures show rising numbers of children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send).

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Half of pools, gyms and leisure centres in England at risk, prime minister told

More than half of public leisure facilities in England could close in the next six months unless the government provides greater financial support, the prime minister has been warned.

Around 400 gyms, pools and community centres have already shut since the start of the pandemic. However Tanni Grey-Thompson, the chair of ukactive, has told Boris Johnson there is a “grave fear” across the industry that more will go bust, with more than 2,000 facing uncertainty and possible risk of closure, widening the health inequalities across Britain.

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Watchdog asks police to investigate council accounts

The national watchdog said it will interview officers and members at Porthcawl Town Council to understand the reasons behind decisions made regarding the council’s accounts for 2019-20.

South Wales Police has been called in amid concerns that some parts of the interviews could be beyond the watchdog’s jurisdiction.

A council statement said: “Audit Wales have now arrived at a position where they will need to interview members and staff of the council to gain a complete view of certain events and decisions.

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New index reveals most and least prosperous local authorities

A new index to track the Government's progress on its 'levelling up' agenda has been launched today by a think tank.

The Legatum Institute has published the UK Prosperity Index revealing the prosperity of every local authority in the UK highlighting considerable variation between and within regions.

It reveals that the most prosperous regions of the UK are the South East, South West, and East of England. The most prosperous local authorities are Wokingham (pictured), Waverley, Elmbridge, Epsom and Ewell, and Woking.

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County Councils Network announces interim chair

The County Councils Network has appointed the leader of Somerset CC as its interim chair after his predecessor lost his seat in last week’s election.

The group had been led by David Williams (Con), who was leader of Hertfordshire CC. However, he became one of the highest profile local government casualties of the elections when he was defeated by just 41 votes.

Somerset leader David Fothergill (Con), who was CCN’s adult social care and health spokesperson, will now take over as chair until July, when a permanent CCN chairman-elect will be appointed following elections within the largest political party, the Conservatives.

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Level best? What the Queen's Speech tells us - and does not - about 'levelling up'

The government has finally plotted a target destination for 'levelling up' but many questions remain unanswered – not least on local government resourcing – says Joe Fyans, head of research at think tank Localis.

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MPs revolt over new planning reforms

MPs have criticised the Government’s proposed reforms to the planning system announced yesterday as part of the Queen’s Speech. The new reforms would ensure that land would be designated for either growth or protection, making it easier for developers to secure planning permission for new housing. Former Prime Minister Theresa May MP said that the reforms would result in “the wrong homes being built in the wrong places”.

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Theresa May leads Tory revolt over push for new housing

Theresa May has said that the government’s Planning Bill will put the “wrong homes in the wrong places” and countryside campaigners said that the reforms would mean “open season for developers” in rural areas.

Boris Johnson has set himself on a collision course with Tory MPs after unveiling proposals in his Queen’s Speech to deliver the biggest shake-up to the planning system in more than 70 years.

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Indian Covid variant calls in question 17 May reopening in UK, say experts

The dramatic rise in UK cases of a variant first discovered in India could undermine the country’s roadmap for reopening, scientists are cautioning.

The variant, called B.1.617.2, is one of three closely related variants that were initially detected in India. Public Health England designated it a “variant of concern” on Friday, acknowledging it appears to be at least as transmissible as the dominant so-called Kent variant in the UK. It is unclear if and to what extent B.1.617.2 can reduce vaccine effectiveness.

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UK economy picks up as lockdown restrictions ease

The UK economy shrank by 1.5% in the first three months of 2021, but gathered speed in March as lockdown restrictions began to ease, official figures show.

The reopening of schools and strong retail spending helped the economy grow 2.1% in March, its fastest monthly growth since last August.

But the economy is still 8.7% smaller than it was before the pandemic.

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Boris Johnson promises Covid inquiry within a year

Boris Johnson has committed himself to a “full, proper” public inquiry in the next year into the government’s handling of the pandemic.

He said such an inquiry was “essential” and pledged to hold one within this session of parliament.

Sessions do not have a fixed length but usually last about a year. Challenged on the timing of an inquiry by Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, Johnson said: “I can certainly say that we will do that within this session — yes, absolutely.”

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COVID-19 inquiry promised within a year

The Prime Minister has committed to holding a “full, proper” public inquiry in the next year into the Government’s handling of the pandemic. He said such an inquiry was “essential” and pledged to hold one within this session of Parliament.

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Dismay at plans to shorten poll lead-in time and require voter ID

Government plans to introduce mandatory voter ID in time for the next UK general election and potentially shorten the time returning officers have to prepare for elections after they have been called has been met with concern by democracy campaigners and the body representing election officers.

The proposals for an Electoral Integrity Bill were unveiled in the Queen’s speech, pledging the government would “ensure the integrity of elections”.

But the proposal to mandate a photographic voter ID card in polling stations for those who do not have passports or driving licences has been greeted with concern from the Association of Electoral Administrators over the tight timeline required to get measures implemented.

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Tony Travers: Levelling up is top down

The Queen’s speech made no reference to English devolution while the UK government signalled its intention to intervene in Scotland and Wales, writes the director of LSE London.

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Tackle high needs before it is too late

High needs. It’s a problem – an almost impossible problem. Ask many directors of finance what their biggest risk is and, it won’t be adult social care or children’s social care, it will be high needs.

High needs has the potential to bankrupt councils. Despite this, over the last year in particular, the pressures in high needs funding, giving rise to accumulating and accelerating deficits, has been put to one side. Maybe this is not surprising in the middle of a global pandemic, but it needs to be brought back to the fore and tackled before it is too late.

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Queen’s Speech: government introduces McCloud remedy bill

The Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill, announced during the Queen’s Speech yesterday, aims to reform pension arrangements and increase the mandatory retirement age for the judiciary.

Changes to public services pensions in 2015 meant that older members could stay in their existing pension schemes but a subsequent court ruling judged this to be discriminatory against younger workers.

In February, the Treasury confirmed that scheme members will be allowed to decide if they want to receive legacy or reformed scheme benefits for the period between 2015-2022 at the point of retirement.

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Government's legislative agenda to focus on Boris Johnson's 'lifetime skills guarantee'

New laws to fulfil Boris Johnson's promise of helping to give people the skills they need throughout their lives will form a central part of the government's legislative agenda for the next year.

The prime minister has promised to put "rocket fuel" into his "levelling up" agenda with the introduction of new laws - to be outlined in Tuesday's Queen's Speech - to build on his "lifetime skills guarantee".

A focus on education and training for older teenagers and adults will be among a series of new bills - reported to number more than 25 - to be unveiled on Tuesday as part of the state opening of parliament.

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Queen's speech: PM's 'live local and prosper' promise

Levelling up, boosting the economy and backing the NHS are set to be the priorities for Tuesday’s Queen’s speech.

Fresh from his election victory, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to reward so-called red wall voters with a centrepiece promise they can ‘live local and prosper’.

The focus is expected to shift from jabs to jobs as the country leaves behind the worst of the health crisis and starts to address the economic crisis ahead.

There is likely to be a planning bill, as mooted last summer, to create a new zoning system and speed up the planning process – amid fears it will take local discretion away from communities.

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No more face masks in schools from 17 May - while all university students will return

Pupils will no longer have to wear face masks in secondary schools and colleges in England, while all university students will return to in-person teaching from next week.

The relaxation of COVID measures will come as part of the latest easing of England's lockdown from next Monday, 17 May.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed this is when the country will move to stage three of his roadmap for lifting restrictions.

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Boris Johnson says 'one-metre plus' rule could be ditched from 21 June - and hints at no 'papers for pub'

A key social distancing measure could be ditched from 21 June, the prime minister has said - while he hinted the government may not proceed with the introduction of COVID "passports" domestically.

Boris Johnson on Monday confirmed England would move to step three of his roadmap for easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions in a week's time, on 17 May.

This will see pubs and restaurants able to serve people indoors again, while people will be able to hug friends and family again - albeit the government has urged caution.

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Indoor pints and hugs with family - Boris Johnson confirms new lockdown easing in England from 17 May

People in England will be able to enjoy a pint or a meal indoors, hug their loved ones and return to cinemas - but not dance at weddings - in a week's time as Boris Johnson confirmed the latest easing of England's COVID lockdown.

The prime minister has said the country will proceed to step three of his roadmap for lifting restrictions from Monday, 17 May.

It comes as the UK's COVID alert level was lowered from four to three, meaning coronavirus is in "general circulation" but that transmission isn't "high or rising exponentially".

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Failure to act on social care reform ‘will be bitter blow for millions’

A failure to act on long-promised social care reform will be a “bitter blow” for care staff and the millions they help, councils have warned.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech and the spending review later this year are “key opportunities” for the Government to make good on its promise to “fix” the sector.

Care groups, charities and politicians have been long calling for a plan, as promised by the PM in his first speech after being elected in July 2019.

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Serving MP set to become county council leader

Serving Mansfield MP Ben Bradley (Con) is set to become the new leader of Nottinghamshire CC, creating a virtually unprecedented situation.

Cllr Bradley, who was elected as a Mansfield North councillor last week, was today confirmed by Conservative councillors as their nomination for the new leader after they took control of the council this weekend. The move awaits confirmation by the full council.

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Local elections 2021: Counties buck the Tory trend

County councils have bucked the trend of Conservative success in the local election on Thursday, with a mixed picture for the party.

The counties saw two senior leaders ousted from their seats, while Cambridgeshire CC returned to no overall control after four years of Conservative rule.

In Hertfordshire CC, Conservative leader and chairman of the County Council’s Network (CCN) David Williams lost his seat. The party, which has been in control for 20 years, lost four seats in all, while Labour lost three.

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Fireplaces and stoves are bigger polluters than traffic

Fireplaces and stoves are now the largest single source of primary particle pollution in the UK, greater than traffic and industry. About 40% of the UK’s primary particle pollution comes from just 7% of homes that burn solid fuel. Will the new ban on sales of coal and wet wood in England help the problem or risk making it worse?

In 1950s Britain, replacing coal with so-called smokeless fuel (made from powdered coal and industrial waste coke) was the main solution to our smogs. London’s particle pollution decreased by 66% in just 10 years. A similar ban was implemented in Dublin in 1990 and particle pollution decreased by 70% in one year.

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Poor pupils fall further behind in maths

Poor pupils have fallen further behind in maths as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to research.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) study suggests primary-school pupils eligible for free school meals have fallen another month behind their classmates since the first lockdown.

And the gap is unlikely to narrow without intervention, despite all pupils returning to class in September.

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London borough to refund overcharged water fees

In 2001 the council entered into an agreement with Thames Water to bill tenants for water services at a reduced rate, but it was found Lambeth had not passed on these savings.

A high court ruling in 2019 said that the council was in breach of the Water Resale Orders 2001 and 2006, as the authority was not an agency – and it was ordered to reimburse the costs.

A subsequent appeal failed last year, and a printed decision from Jennifer Brathwaite, cabinet member for housing and homelessness, confirmed on 5 May that the council will begin reimbursing tenants.

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Scale of local authority Covid-19 pressures revealed

Councils in England reported additional cost pressures of £12.8bn relating to Covid-19 in 2020-21, according to outturn figures from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Overall, councils spent £7.2bn responding to the pandemic last year, with the largest share of additional expenditure going on adult social care services at £3.2bn.

Local authorities also recorded losses of £5.6bn, with the majority of the reduction stemming from a lack of income from sales, fees and charges, valued at £2.2bn.

Outturn cost pressures have reduced slightly from previous forecasts in February, which predicted a £13bn hit to authorities last year.

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Covid-19 funding frees up capital investment

The council had previously allocated a proportion of its capital budget to cover expected costs arising from the pandemic. However, having received an additional £7.9m funding from the Scottish Government, it has now approved the transfer of funds back to the capital programme.

Paul Manning, executive director for finance, told an executive committee meeting: “We advised in previous reports that a change in approach might be considered as we get towards to the year-end.

“That change would be to use revenue funding rather than capital funding to pay for these costs.

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New measures to boost recycling rates

New proposals to increase the amount of household waste being recycled have been unveiled by the Government today.

Under the plans, councils may be required to collect rubbish and recycling at least once a fortnight, although the Government will be assessing if this proposal is affordable.

Ministers are also considering providing every household with a weekly food waste collection from 2023 and free garden waste collections for every home.

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Scale of local authority Covid-19 pressures revealed

Overall, councils spent £7.2bn responding to the pandemic last year, with the largest share of additional expenditure going on adult social care services at £3.2bn.

Local authorities also recorded losses of £5.6bn, with the majority of the reduction stemming from a lack of income from sales, fees and charges, valued at £2.2bn.

Outturn cost pressures have reduced slightly from previous forecasts in February, which predicted a £13bn hit to authorities last year.

Geoff Winterbottom, principal research officer at the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities, told PF: “Local authority forecast pressures seems to have stabilised coming to the end of year.

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English elections 2021: Conservatives make gains across country

The Conservatives have taken control of 13 more councils in England in last week's local elections.

The party has gained an extra 236 councillors according to the final count, with Labour losing control of eight councils.

The Conservatives secured victories in Amber Valley, Basildon, Basingstoke & Deane, Cannock Chase, Cornwall, Dudley, Gloucester, Harlow, Maidstone, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Nuneaton & Bedworth, Pendle, Southampton, Welwyn Hatfield and Worcester.

It lost control of Cambridgeshire, Isle of Wight and Tunbridge Wells.

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Drivers could be 'criminally liable' and may be charged for driving over a pothole

However, local authorities would also be likely to “refute” any claim for damages if they stayed on their course and damaged their car by hitting the hole.

The lawyer has called for new “clear guidance” to be issued over what drivers are supposed to do when travelling on a badly maintained road.

He said: “Swerving to avoid a pothole won't afford you a defence in court if you have an accident.

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Social care spending ‘lower than in 2010’

Sector spending in 2019-20 was around £100m more than in 2010-11 – but when accounting for population growth, real-terms expenditure per-person was actually lower, a report from think-tank the King’s Fund said.

While overall spending on adult social care has been increasing, much of that extra spend has been channelled towards paying more money to providers, rather than expanding support, the report added.

“Following a decade of neglect, there is a continuing gulf between what people need and what they receive,” Simon Bottery, lead author of the report and senior fellow at the King’s Fund, said.

“Demand is likely to go on increasing but local authorities do not have the money to meet it.

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Unions talk up judicial review over McCloud reforms

The Public and Commercial Services Union said the Treasury’s proposals to fund additional costs resulting from McCloud would effectively “steal” benefits from scheme members.

The proposals, published in February, give eligible scheme members a seven-year window in which they must choose whether they accrue benefits under their original pension scheme or through the new one introduced as part of the reforms.

However, the union said that the proposals would see scheme members foot the bill, which could see employees miss out on reduced contributions and increased benefits.

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MPs want law to protect care home visiting rights

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has said the rights of care home residents to have visits from loved ones must be “underpinned” by law. It said it was “unacceptable” that some care home providers had argued it was not safe to follow government guidance.

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Covid-19 pressures hit council-funded nurseries

More than a third (34%) of nurseries have cut staff and services to balance their books due to lost income and additional Covid-19 costs, according to the survey from unions Early Education, NAHT, NEU and Unison.

Maintained nursery leaders reported an average deficit of £76,000 in 2020-21, as only 23% of respondents said they could continue to operate with current funding levels.

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1m plus rule could end from 21 June, says PM

There is a "good chance" the one-metre plus social distancing rule will end on 21 June in England, the Prime Minister has said. Boris Johnson said the results of the vaccine rollout are "really starting to show up in the epidemiology”, but any change would depend on the data.

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Social care reform ‘expected to be delayed’

Plans for overhauling social care funding are expected to be delayed until after the Queen’s Speech, due to concerns in government that it will require cuts or tax rises worth up to £5 billion a year, it is reported. The speech on 11 May is expected to mention the Prime Minister’s promise to come forward with plans for the funding of social care this year, but will not give detail.

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Boris Johnson delays social care reform amid cost fears

Boris Johnson is expected to delay the announcement of plans for overhauling social care funding until after the Queen’s Speech over concerns in government that it will require cuts or tax rises worth up to £5 billion a year.

The prime minister met Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, last month to discuss funding for social care, and more talks are expected in coming weeks.

Johnson has taken a keen interest in a decade-long plan from Sir Andrew Dilnot, an expert in social care funding, that would cap care costs for individuals at £45,000 with the state covering the rest.

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Disposable masks pose pollutants risk, study finds

Disposable face masks could be releasing chemical pollutants and nano-plastics into the environment, researchers have warned. Scientists said there needed to be better regulation and more research carried out.

The Swansea University team found heavy metals and plastic fibres were released when throw-away masks were submerged in water.

Back in November last year, the researchers were only originally interested in the plastic waste impact on our environment.

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New ‘levelling up’ adviser to steer government’s agenda

The prime minister has appointed the former senior Treasury aide Neil O’Brien to oversee the government’s levelling up agenda - and announced a white paper on the subject - amid concerns there is widespread confusion over what the term really means.

The Financial Times reported yesterday that the Harborough MP Mr O’Brien will take on the brief. Previously, the only minister tasked with overseeing levelling up was Luke Hall, who holds the portfolio for Regional Growth and Local Government at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Levelling up also falls within the remit of other departments, with the Department for Education doing policy work in this vein around children and the Department of Health & Social Care around health inequalities and social care.

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Government announces ‘levelling up’ white paper

A ‘levelling up’ white paper will be published later this year with the aim of clarifying the government’s agenda and ensuring public spending organisations are able to drive “meaningful change”.

Reducing regional inequalities was a central promise of the current government’s 2019 election manifesto. However, so far ‘levelling up’ initiatives have been limited to infrastructure funds, which have faced allegations of being designed to favour Conservative constituencies rather than meeting genuine economic needs.

The white paper will articulate “how bold new policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country” during the economic recovery from Covid-19, a statement from Downing Street and the Cabinet Office said.

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Call for masks to remain compulsory in England’s schools

Teaching unions, scientists, public health experts and parents have written a letter to the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson calling for masks to remain compulsory in classrooms in England to protect against a third wave of COVID-19.

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Devolution White Paper to be replaced by levelling up proposals

A levelling up White Paper will replace the long-awaited policy document on devolution and local recovery.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government confirmed the change as it was announced that a former Treasury aide and now Conservative MP is to spearhead the Government’s levelling up programme amid concern it is failing to make an impact in the red wall constituencies won by the Tories in the last election.

Neil O’Brien, a former special adviser to chancellor George Osborne and Prime Minister Theresa May, has been asked by Boris Johnson to oversee the levelling up programme.

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Social care reform expected to be delayed amid cost concerns

Details of a plan for reforming the social care sector are widely expected to be delayed until after the Queen’s Speech amid concerns from the Treasury over the high cost of proposals to cap care costs.

Three senior sources have told LGC they have been led to believe the government has still not come to an agreement on the exact form that social care reforms will take, and were sceptical that the Queen’s Speech on 11 May would spell out any details.

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Planning reforms to feature in Queen’s Speech

Reforms to the English planning system are due to feature in the upcoming Queen’s Speech, it has been reported. The reforms are due to accelerate the pace at which councils provide new homes and also make councils dedicate land for either development or preservation. It has also been reported that the speech will introduce reforms to the adult social care system.

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Quarantine for Covid contacts could be scrapped

People may not need to self-isolate if they have been in close contact with someone with Covid, if a new trial is successful.

The government-backed research will trial giving people daily lateral flow tests for seven days - instead of quarantining for 10 days. So long as they test negative all week, they can carry on with their lives.

It comes as the foreign secretary said the country was "in a good position" to end almost all restrictions on 21 June.

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Boris Johnson wants planning reforms to feature in Queen’s Speech

Boris Johnson has signed off more than 25 bills to be presented in the Queen’s Speech next week as he seeks to flesh out his coronavirus recovery plan, it emerged last night.

The new legislative programme will feature planning reforms, a post-Brexit state aid regime and a long-awaited bill to reform social care.

The prime minister has told aides that he wants the Queen’s Speech, which sets out the government’s legislative agenda for the next 12 months, to provide a plan for Britain’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

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1m plus rule could end from 21 June, says Johnson

There is a "good chance" the 1m plus social distancing rule can be scrapped on 21 June in England, the prime minister has said.

Boris Johnson said the results of the vaccine rollout are "really starting to show up in the epidemiology" - but any change would depend on the data. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer agreed that caution was necessary.

Mr Johnson also suggested there could be some "opening up" of foreign travel on 17 May.

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Hospitality bosses lose court battle over indoor opening

Hospitality bosses have lost a legal challenge for a faster reopening for indoor dining in England.

The High Court ruled in favour of the government after a case was brought by Punch Taverns founder Hugh Osmond, and Sacha Lord, the night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester.

Pubs and restaurants were allowed to reopen - but only outdoors - on 12 April, along with non-essential shops.Mr Lord and Mr Osmond argued there was no justification or scientific basis for hospitality to be kept closed for five weeks, after retailers in England were allowed to serve customers indoors from mid-April.

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Holidays abroad should be discouraged to stop Covid third wave, say MPs

Holidays abroad should be discouraged even once legal, a cross-party group of MPs have said as part of a suite of recommendations to prevent a third wave of coronavirus and further lockdowns.

Under the UK government’s roadmap to relax coronavirus restrictions, international travel for leisure purposes could resume from 17 May.

Ministers have confirmed that a traffic light system is to be put in place in which countries will be added to green, amber and red lists, with different rules regarding issues such as quarantine of returning travellers for each list.

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COVID-19 vaccine plan for schoolchildren

The Government are drawing up plans to offer the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to secondary school pupils from September, it has been reported. The proposed plans involve offering a single dose to children aged 12 and over when the new school year starts.

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New modelling ‘optimistic’ third wave may not happen at all

A new model has been reported to show the risk of a "third wave" of COVID-19 cases in the UK has been diminished due to the vaccination programme. The modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is due to be presented to the Government’s SAGE Committee.

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Care home isolation rule axed for low-risk trips in England

Care home residents will be able to leave their home for low-risk trips without having to self-isolate for 14 days afterwards, the government says.

The rules will be relaxed in England from Tuesday, allowing for walks or garden visits without self-isolation.

The government says a fall in Covid cases means it is "much safer" for care home residents to go outside.

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NHS draws up Pfizer Covid vaccine plan for schoolchildren

Health officials are drawing up plans to offer the Pfizer vaccine to secondary school pupils from September.

“Core planning scenario” documents compiled by NHS officials include the offer of a single dose to children aged 12 and over when the new school year starts.

The plans, which have been confirmed by sources within the government and the NHS, depend on advice due this summer from scientists on the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation. But officials are preparing for a rollout in schools. A source said: “No decision has been made yet but we are drawing up planning materials for the different scenarios.”

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More than 15 million people now fully vaccinated as UK reports 14 more deaths

More than 15 million people across the UK have now had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine.

It means a large proportion of the elderly and most vulnerable are fully inoculated against COVID-19.

A further 372,304 second jabs were administered on Saturday, bringing the total to 15,329,617.

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Government taskforce urges permanent job flexibility for all workers

Millions of employees could be given the chance to switch permanently to more flexible working arrangements under forthcoming guidance designed to encourage firms to make long-term some of the emergency changes ushered in by the pandemic.

The government’s flexible working taskforce is drawing up guidance – before the expected lifting of the remaining lockdown restrictions, including the requirement to work from home, on 21 June – to support the emergence of new, hybrid ways of working. For example, staff might come into offices only occasionally and work at home or at a neighbourhood cafe for the rest of the week.

Peter Cheese, the co-chair of the taskforce, said the pandemic had demonstrated that people could work productively away from traditional workplaces, with 71% of firms reporting that home working had either boosted or made no difference to productivity

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Thousands head to UK's first club night in more than a year for coronavirus safety pilot event

Clubbers have returned to the dancefloor after more than a year's wait - for a COVID safety pilot event in Liverpool.

Some 6,000 partygoers are expected at the First Dance event, which stretches across two-nights from Friday at the city's warehouse nightclub Circus.

Ticket-holders have not needed to socially distance or wear face coverings, but they did need proof of a negative COVID test result before being allowed in.

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Covid-19 infections in UK back to late summer levels - ONS

Coronavirus infections in the UK are back to levels seen at the end of last summer with around one in 1,000 people infected, ONS data suggests.

In the week to 24 April, infections fell in all four nations of the UK and were 20 times lower than in January.

It comes as a new UK study has found very small numbers of people have been admitted to hospital with Covid several weeks after having one vaccine dose.

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Record rate of online Covid vaccine bookings

The NHS reported a record rate of online bookings after offering jabs to those aged 40 and 41 yesterday, with 120,000 people signing up before 9am.

Those in the current cohort for vaccination were able to use the national booking system from 7am.

On Monday, when booking opened to 44-year-olds, there were almost 300,000 bookings throughout the day and on Tuesday, when 42 and 43-year-olds were included, there were just over 400,000.

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Covid modellers ‘optimistic’ third wave may not happen at all

New modelling to be presented to ministers ahead of stage three of reopening on May 17 will show the risk of a "third wave" of Covid cases in the UK has diminished dramatically and may not happen at all, according to experts.

The last set of projections, published by Sage on March 31, presented ministers with a difficult dilemma because they suggested a third wave of infections could be expected to kill another 15,000 to 20,000 people in the late summer if steps three and four of the exit roadmap were implemented as planned.

Ministers are now expected to proceed with step three of the roadmap, with the return of indoor household mixing and hospitality on May 17, with confidence as the modelling teams which provide projections via the SPI-M subgroup of Sage are said to be more optimistic.

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Covid-19 vaccine offered to people aged 40 and over in England

People aged 40 and over in England are now able to book their Covid jabs, NHS officials say.

Text messages will be sent to 40 and 41-year-olds, directing them to the national booking service.

Meanwhile, about 22 million people in the UK are living in areas that have not reported any Covid deaths that happened in April, BBC analysis shows. Since the vaccine rollout began in December, about 34 million people have had at least one dose in the UK.

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'I moved a few miles up the road and my council tax bill doubled'

Claire Osborne had expected it would go up a bit after she upped sticks from Wandsworth in South West London to nearby Richmond — but not that it would more than double.

Career coach Claire, 35, gets a 25 per cent single-occupancy discount but is still hit for £1,305 a year for her two-bedroom flat when the council comes knocking. That compares to the £579 she would pay for an identical Band C home in Wandsworth where she lived until 2018.

She says: “It’s mad I pay so much more yet there’s no noticeable difference in council services. I expected my bill to go up when I moved, but I was surprised how it went from being just another monthly bill to my biggest bill by a long way.”

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Schools struggle to access tutoring

Schools are struggling to access the Government’s national tutoring programme (NTP) due to a shortage of qualified tutors in some parts of the country. The NTP is aimed at supporting disadvantaged children during the pandemic, and the National Association of Head Teachers want to see greater flexibility to use staff they may be familiar with, in order to meet the needs of the children in their area.

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Grenfell: Bid to shield residents from cladding costs fails

Cladding campaigners say the "rug" has been pulled out "from underneath a generation of homeowners" after attempts to shield them from fire safety costs were rejected by MPs.

It follows a long running parliamentary battle over who should pay to fix defects and faults following the Grenfell blaze four years ago.

Peers had repeatedly tried to stop the owners of blocks of flats from passing the costs on to leaseholders.

The bill will become law later.

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Hertfordshire County Council loses High Court bid to continue remote meetings

A bid to continue online council meetings until after 7 May has been rejected by the High Court.

Emergency legislation was passed in the Commons last year allowing councils to meet online due to coronavirus, but it ends the day after local elections.

Hertfordshire County Council applied to extend measures but it was dismissed.

Judges said primary legislation would be needed to extend the use of online meetings and it was not for the courts to set that legislation.

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Grahame Morris MP: Replace council tax with a proportional property tax

The current system is broken. Councillors should put pressure on their parties to support long-term sustainable reform, writes the Labour MP and former shadow communities minister.

My preferred option for moving forward is replacing council tax and stamp duty with a proportional property tax set at 0.48% of a property’s value.

The tax would see every property owner paying a flat 0.48% of the value of their property, with the burden moving from renters to landlords. Around 76% of households would stand to gain under this system, seeing a reduction in the amount of tax they pay on their primary residence. To protect those in expensive properties from unduly large rises in property tax, the increases will be capped at £100 per month and it will be possible to defer paying the tax until someone sells their home.

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Legal bid to continue virtual council meetings fails

The High Court has dismissed an attempt to allow council meetings in England to be held online past 7 May when existing Covid-19 legislation expires.

Claiming the decision is “for Parliament, not the courts”, the court said the arguments for and against continuing remote meetings, which have been held for the past 12 months, show “difficult policy choices” need to be made.

Many in the local government sector had hoped for a different outcome, with Local Government Association chairman James Jamieson branding the decision “very disappointing”.

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Councils obliged to meet burdensome finance data requests

A council acted unlawfully by refusing a resident access to thousands of financial documents on the grounds it would have taken five weeks of staff time, a court has ruled.

The case against London Borough of Kingston was brought by Derek Moss, who had requested access to invoices, purchase orders and contracts relating to the council’s housing revenue account.

A High Court judge last week ruled that the council had breached laws governing local audit by turning down the request due to the burden on its staff.

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Social distancing not needed at big events, Boris Johnson to be told

Social distancing for large events can be scrapped from June 21, Boris Johnson will be told next week after initial results from a pilot scheme found no spike in Covid cases among attendees. ...

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‘More congestion, more pollution’: Clean air campaigners concerned about 20,000 more Ubers

Clean air campaigners have expressed dismay at Uber’s announcement that it will recruit 20,000 more drivers in the UK following a surge in demand since lockdown was eased.

The ride-hailing app said it has seen usage rise by 50 per cent since pubs and restaurants began to serve customers outdoors on 12 April.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, a clean air campaigner whose nine-year-old daughter Ella died in 2013 after suffering a series of severe asthma attacks, said the move appeared at odds with the government’s pledge to “build back greener”.

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Trial period offer for schools to join academies

Schools will be offered a trial period on joining academy trusts, the Government will announce today. The Education Secretary will say that schools will be allowed to form partnerships with academy trusts for up to 18 months, without making any commitment.

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One dose of vaccine halves transmission - study

A single dose of a coronavirus vaccine can reduce household transmission of the virus by up to half, a study shows.

Those given a first dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines - and who became infected three weeks later - were between 38% and 49% less likely to pass the virus on than unvaccinated people, PHE found.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock described the study's results as "terrific news". He has urged "everybody to get their vaccines as soon as they are eligible".

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40m people in England live in areas almost free from Covid

More than 38 million people in England live in areas that are recording virtually no new cases of Covid, an analysis by The Times has shown.

Seven in ten people live in areas where a maximum of two infections were reported during the most recent week for which data is available.

Scientific advisers to the government said the figures signalled that the schedule for lifting lockdown measures remained on track. Ministers are expected to meet next week to decide whether the next step will go ahead as planned on May 17.

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Vaccinating adolescents could help prevent third wave of Covid in UK – study

Vaccinating older children and slowing down the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions are among measures that could help to prevent a third wave of Covid in the UK, according to a report from an organisation set up by the former prime minister Tony Blair.

The government’s roadmap suggests all Covid restrictions could be lifted in England on 21 June. However, scientists have warned that even with an ongoing vaccination programme, the plan could lead to a resurgence of the virus and thousands, if not tens of thousands, of additional Covid-related deaths by summer next year.

It is a scenario the prime minister, Boris Johnson, himself has acknowledged, saying on Monday another wave is a possibility we have “got to be realistic” about.

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‘Try before you buy’ offer for schools to join academies, Williamson to announce

Schools will be offered a period of “try before you buy” on joining academy trusts in an effort to entice more of them to leave council control, Gavin Williamson will announce today.

The education secretary will say that schools will be allowed to form partnerships with academy trusts for up to 18 months to experience what the organisation can offer, without making any commitment.

Academies were introduced 20 years ago by the Labour government but the programme accelerated under the Conservatives. Two years ago it was announced that half of all children were attending academies.

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Gavin Williamson wants to turn more state schools into academies

The education secretary has said he wants to end the “pick and mix” of school types in England, unveiling a push to get more state schools managed by autonomous trusts rather than headteachers and parents.

With about half of England’s state schools still locally governed, Gavin Williamson wants more of them to become academies and join multi-academy trusts (Mats) as part of the government’s main policy for school improvement.

However, school leaders reiterated their opposition to “forced academisation”, arguing the structural changes are an unnecessary additional distraction given all the other pressures facing schools, particularly funding shortages.

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Social care ‘needs 1948 moment’

Adult social care leaders have called for a '1948 moment' for the sector with £7bn of extra funding per year and better pay for staff.

Charity directors and chief executives, politicians and the chair of leadership body NHS Confederation wrote an open letter to prime minister Boris Johnson this week.

They said the care workforce does vital work – not least during the pandemic – but the sector “is on its knees, and is in desperate need of reform”.

“Successive governments have promised social care reform but have not delivered and now the situation is desperate,” the letter said.

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Complex and failing: the social care provider market

Next month’s Queen’s Speech must outline reforms to the social care market as well as a funding solution, says Camille Oung, researcher at health care think tank Nuffield Trust.

It is very clear to those who use social care, and those who provide it, that for too long the system has been hung out to dry, with years and years of delay to the long-promised reform plans for the sector.

Reforms to social care are ‘likely’ to feature in the Queen’s Speech next month, although that is not yet a given.

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Former Bexley finance director appointed chief executive of London Councils

A former borough council finance director will take the helm of London Councils, which represents the capital’s 32 local authorities.

Alison Griffin, currently chief executive of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, will take up the role in July to lobby for more resources and powers for London authorities.

She was director of finance and corporate services at Bexley between 2014 and 2017, overseeing millions of pounds of savings while funding from central government was cut.

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Summer schools programme opens for bids

Schools are being encouraged to bid for a share of £200m to offer summer schools to help children recover lost learning. The funding will enable school to provide a range of group activities, as well as academic catch up and mental health support.

The Government is encouraging incoming Year 7 students to get involved to help them navigate the transition between primary and secondary school.

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Schools to share £1.8bn for building repairs

Funding to repair and maintain schools in England has increased by 20% this year to almost £1.8bn.

The Government said the increase in annual allocations provided to maintain school buildings will help ensure the condition of school buildings will not hold back any child back from achieving their potential.

Local authorities have been allocated condition funding in accordance with the latest data on their estates.

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Lockdown fines should be reviewed, say MPs

All fixed penalty notices for coronavirus lockdown breaches should be reviewed, according to a cross-party parliamentary committee. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is made up of MPs and peers, said it had "significant concerns" about the validity of fines, the inadequacy of the review and appeal process, the size of the penalties and the criminalisation of those who could not afford to pay.

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Boris Johnson: We’re on track to lift all Covid restrictions by June 21

Boris Johnson has said there is now a “very good chance” of ending coronavirus restrictions completely on June 21 in his most optimistic assessment yet.

The prime minister said that he still expects a third wave of the virus but vaccination had built “some pretty robust fortifications” against it.

While cautioning that the virus was not “totally licked”, Johnson expressed confidence that legal restrictions on social contact would come to an end as planned. This would mean the return of mass gatherings, nightclubs, conferences and other events that did not reopen last summer.

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Newham to appeal loan fraud claim verdict

London Borough of Newham has been granted permission to appeal a High Court decision which rejected its claim against Barclays Bank over historic Lender Option Borrower Option loans.

In February, the court ruled that a claim by Newham and seven other councils had been frauduently offered the loans had no real prospect of success.

A spokesperson for Newham told PF that at the end of last month it was granted leave to appeal by High Court judge Mrs Justice Cockrill. It is understood the other councils are not involved in the appeal.

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£50m boost to London local government pension investment fund

A local government pension scheme has invested a further £50m into a London-focused investment fund it created to finance home-building in the capital.

The move from the London Pensions Fund Authority brings the London Fund’s total investment capital to £150m, with the announcement coming just as the latter made its debut investment.

The beneficiary of the London Fund’s first investment is Delancey and Oxford Residential’s Door SLP, a build-to-rent housing platform working in London – particularly in East Village in Stratford and the Elephant and Castle.

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Scottish unions reject 2% council pay offer

Unite and GMB said the proposals, which included a 2% pay rise with a guaranteed £800 increase for low earners, are insufficient after the work put in by staff during the pandemic.

The offer, from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which campaigns for the sector as well as negotiates pay, was rejected by 93% of GMB members who voted and by 83.3% of Unite members.

“It’s been a wretched year and a desperate decade for council workers, especially the lowest paid and the services they deliver,” GMB Scotland said in a statement on social media.

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Time to replace fiscal rules, think-tank says

The government’s “arbitrary” fiscal rules are not fit for purpose and should be replaced by a more flexible framework, according to a leading research institute.

Analysis from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research shows fiscal rules have limited use because they do not account for unforeseen circumstances.

Institute director Jagjit Chadha said responding to uncertainty is one of the main reasons for governments to spend money – a factor emphasised over the past year during the response to Covid-19.

“With the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to pose difficult questions of our policymakers, now is the time to consider the role of fiscal policy,” he told a press conference.

“It simply makes no sense to be in thrall to arbitrary rules that do not match society’s broader needs.”

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All-female team create new guide to support safer public spaces

A new guide to help local authorities create safer journeys for women has been published.

The guide, which was developed by an all-female team of transport planners in Atkins, sets out six areas that local authorities can focus on to improve the safety of public spaces, with particular focus on creating safer first and last mile journeys for women.

This includes improving visibility through low to the ground planting and the removal of walls and barriers. It also recommends providing digital wayfinding apps and active building frontages to provide ‘eyes on the street’.

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Funds unveiled to support uptake of neighbourhood planning

The Government is urging local planning authorities to apply for funding or take part in a pilot project to boost the uptake of neighbourhood planning. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has warned there is a lack of take up of neighbourhood planning in urban and deprived areas, with a decline in the number of new groups being established.

It has launched two new funds to support more neighbourhood planning in towns and cities.

Fund 1 is looking for 10 local planning authorities to test a 'lighter touch' approach to neighbourhood planning.

Fund 2 is a funding pot of £2.1m open to for proposals from 40 to 50 local planning authorities in under-represented areas who are interested in increasing the uptake of neighbourhood planning.

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MHCLG intervention – what is going wrong?

The current system, rather than building in checks and balances, has built a bank of spectators unable or unwilling to intervene until the vehicle has crashed, says councillor Graham Chapman.

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Scottish party manifestos united by ‘disconnect from fiscal reality’

Manifestos from Scotland’s largest parties do not honestly reckon with the devolved government’s likely financial situation in the coming years, according to Institute for Fiscal Studies researchers.

Billions of pounds of additional pledges have been set out without accompanying details of either tax rises or cuts to other areas of spending.

The damning analysis from the think-tank was presented to an online event today, ahead of parliamentary elections on 6 May.

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‘Battle not over’ amid jab campaign for under-50s

The Department of Health and Social Care has launched a new campaign to encourage younger people to get the COVID-19 vaccine when their turn comes, as the rollout continues down the age ranges. It follows research suggesting younger people are more likely to be hesitant.

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Scrap social distancing in June to give people control of their lives, say scientists

An open letter signed by 22 leading scientists and academics has said that social distancing should be abolished in June to allow people “to take back control of their own lives”. It says “a good society cannot be created by obsessive focus on a single cause of ill-health”, and calls for all restrictions to end on 21 June.

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The pothole pimpernels filling in for the council

Ask what Stoke-on-Trent does best and the first answers may be oatcakes or pottery bowls, but the Staffordshire city risks becoming famous for another circular entity — potholes.

The state of Stoke’s streets has been causing a hole lot of trouble for residents. It was the worst place in the UK for repairing potholes last year, according to the insurance website GoCompare, which used freedom of information requests to discover that the city’s residents wait 126 days for road defects to be fixed — almost a month longer than in Southampton, its nearest rival.

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Bank considers risk of financial collapse from cladding scandal

The Bank of England is assessing whether Britain’s building safety scandal could cause a new financial crisis. Its Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), which monitors risks across the financial system, has questioned mortgage-lenders on their exposure to leasehold flats and blocks with fire risks.

Analysts at the bank are understood to be concerned about the scandal’s effect on property values. A collapse in house prices triggered the global financial crisis in 2007.

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Cap on cost of care in old age reportedly being considered

Boris Johnson is reportedly considering a cap on the amount older people pay for social care and is trying to reach a deal with Rishi Sunak on reform. He hopes to give a taste of government plans in the Queen’s Speech next month. It comes as the heads of the King’s Fund, Health Foundation and Nuffield Trust say in a letter that Johnson “has a chance to succeed where his predecessors failed”.

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Johnson presses Sunak over cap on cost of social care in old age

A cap on the amount older people pay for social care is being closely considered by Boris Johnson as he tries to reach a deal with Rishi Sunak on reform.

The prime minister met the chancellor recently to kick-start intensive government work intended to solve the crisis in social care this year. He hopes to give a taste of it in the Queen’s speech next month.

Johnson has taken a keen interest in decade-old plans that would cap the amount an individual had to contribute towards their own care, with the state picking up the rest of the bill, seeing it as a potential way to meet his manifesto pledge that people should no longer have to sell their homes to pay for help.

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Half of UK population has had first jab - and more than 12 million fully vaccinated

More than half the UK's total population has now had a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

The number of initial inoculations stands at 33,508,590, while the population is estimated to be 66,796,807.

A further 119,953 first doses were given on Friday, while 448,139 people received a second one.

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Scrap social distancing in June to give people control of their lives, say scientists

Social distancing should be abolished in June to allow people "to take back control of their own lives", a letter signed by 22 leading scientists and academics says....

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20,000 children off school register

Over 20,000 children had fallen off the school register by the reopening last autumn, according to the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. Councils have also reported a rise in the number of children being electively home schooled, with over 75,000 now opting for this style of education, a rise of 38 per cent on the previous year.

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UK borrowing

Public sector borrowing in the year to March reached the highest level since records began at the end of World War Two, with £303.1 billion needed according to the Office for National Statistics. The furlough scheme alone has cost almost £60 billion, with Test and Trace, the health service, vaccines and support schemes adding to the total.

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Fears over MHCLG’s weak influence in Whitehall

There is a growing concern in the sector that the relationship between councils and central government has become “damaged” during Covid, with Whitehall becoming “too used to giving out orders”.

This is exacerbated by an ongoing sense - which has worsened in recent months - that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government is not able to effectively champion the causes of local government within Whitehall.

Despite the government’s recent drive to ‘focus on outcomes’ and encourage more joined up working between departments, MHCLG’s voice is being continually drowned out by those of bigger departments that have more sway with Number 10 and the Treasury, two very senior sources close to local government have told LGC.

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Charity warns over 60,000 families 'tipped into homelessness last winter'

The number of homeless households living in temporary accommodation has increased by 8% in a year, new figures have revealed.

The latest figures on homelessness in England show almost 100,000 households recorded as homeless at the start of 2021.

Homelessness charity Shelter warned that even with the ban on evictions in place, councils found 62,250 households were homeless or at risk of homelessness between Oct and Dec 2020.

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Charity warns over 60,000 families 'tipped into homelessness last winter'

The number of homeless households living in temporary accommodation has increased by 8% in a year, new figures have revealed.

The latest figures on homelessness in England show almost 100,000 households recorded as homeless at the start of 2021.

Homelessness charity Shelter warned that even with the ban on evictions in place, councils found 62,250 households were homeless or at risk of homelessness between Oct and Dec 2020.

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Mask-free summer on the cards, as vaccines take control of the pandemic, say experts

The public should be able to ditch face masks over the summer as vaccines do the heavy lifting in controlling COVID-19, experts have said.

Step four of the government's road map for England currently states all legal limits on social contact will be removed by 21 June at the earliest, when restrictions on large events such as festivals are also expected to ease.

Scientists advising the government say there is nothing currently in the data to suggest people will not be able to enjoy a relatively normal summer, though coronavirus cases may well rise as the autumn approaches.

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Cameron ‘persistently’ lobbied Treasury officials for Covid-19 relief

Former prime minister David Cameron “quite persistently” lobbied Treasury officials to allow now-defunct Greensill Capital to access government Covid-19 support, according to the department's top official.

Cameron exchanged emails and texts with officials in a bid to have Greensill, a company he was an advisor to, access to the Covid Corporate Financing Facility, MPs were told this week.

This would have enabled the Bank of England to purchase short-term debt from the firm to help with cash flow.

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Public sector pension reforms ‘on track’

Increased contributions by members are on track to deliver the expected savings to public sector pension costs, according to senior civil servants.

The government implemented pension reforms between 2011 and 2015 to remove final salary benefits and increase employee contributions to help reduce the taxpayer burden.

However, a National Audit Office report published last month said that the taxpayer’s proportion of total pension funding in 2019-20, remains the same as 10 years ago, at around 2% of GDP.

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Questions over impact of reorganisation on Levelling Up Fund

MPs have sought ‘clarity’ over the impact of local government reorganisation on priorities for Levelling Up Fund investment.

Local authority areas have been ranked into three groups, with preference being given to bids for funding from areas of the country with ‘most significant need’.

The index of council areas uses ‘a combination of metrics’ including need for economic recovery, improved transport and regeneration.

Now, the Lancashire All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has written to the Government asking what the impact will be should local authority boundaries be radically redrawn.

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Ministers defend Levelling up Fund criteria

Some deprived areas missed out Levelling Up Fund prioritisation because they have better transport links – not for political reasons – according to chief secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay.

Speaking to the House of Lords Public Services Committee yesterday, Barclay said that schemes funding focused on regions with lower levels of connectivity, which is why some authorities received lower allocations.

Critics of the scheme allocation said that the funding favoured wealthier rural regions, over poorer urban areas and were biased towards areas of the country with Conservative MPs.

However, Barclay said: “The reason the criteria is not uniform for all schemes is because the purpose of the funding varies…”

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The beginner’s guide to freeports

At March’s Budget, the UK government announced the location of eight ‘freeports’ – areas with higher tax reliefs, simplified customs rules and government support – around England

In October last year, the government described the freeports policy as a “comprehensive package of measures designed to boost trade, employment and innovation”.

The eight freeports to be established in England were designated as East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber Region, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth & South Devon, Solent, Teesside, and Thames (Thames Gateway, Tilbury port and Dagenham).

Yet, much is still unknown regarding the specifics of these bids as they remain confidential due to commercial sensitivity.

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Councils at 'forefront' of climate change action

To mark Earth Day, the Local Government Association (LGA) has highlighted the work being done by councils to help tackle climate change and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The new statistics show councils collected over 15.5 million tonnes of waste and recycling, reusing or composting in 2019/20, and have installed over 17,000 electric vehicle charging devices across England.

The figures also show councils spent an average of over £125 on environmental services per person last year, spending just under £40m on defences for flooding;

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District's loophole to allow virtual meetings

A district council has come up with a loophole to allow it to carry on with virtual meeting when the legislation expires on 6 May.

Rather than delegating decisions to the council’s chief executive, as suggested in a letter to leaders by local government minister Luke Hall, councillors will carry on meeting virtually and make recommendations to the chief who would then take the formal decision.

Council papers said: ‘This would allow for Member debate and decision making but the technicality over when the decision is actually made would not fall foul of the current meetings legislation.’

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Treasury to look at public health spending

Councils are facing increased scrutiny from central government over public health spending.

Ministers were pressed on concerns over the level of the public health grant for the current financial year at a meeting of the House of Lords' Public Services Committee yesterday.

Baroness Claire Tyler also raised questions over the impact of funding before the pandemic on public health teams’ preparedness for the crisis.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay said it was important to look not just at the ‘quantum’ of the public health grant, but also ‘data that shapes and enables effective challenge from the Treasury and the centre as to how effectively that’s being spent’.

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Brit Awards to have live audience as part of COVID-19 event trials

The Brit Awards will go ahead with a live audience at London’s O2 Arena next month, in the latest addition to the Government’s Events Research Programme, which examines how venues and events can reopen safely after the pandemic. The 4,000-strong audience won't need to wear masks or be socially distanced, but will need a negative COVID-19 test. Meanwhile, the Express reports that a pilot scheme at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre for the World Snooker Championship recorded no follow-up cases of COVID-19, paving the way for a gradual reopening of other events.

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Children and families need £12.5bn over three years, says new ADCS president

The growing number of children and families who need support 'to thrive, not just survive in the wake of the pandemic' will need investment of around £12.5bn over three years, says England's new children’s services chief.

In her inaugural address yesterday, incoming president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Charlotte Ramsden said ‘everyone has everything crossed for a multi-year spending review settlement for April 2022 onwards’.

She added: ‘There are crystal clear moral and economic imperatives for investing now in children and their life chances. ADCS members believe that’s a lot of money but it would be worth every penny to create a country that works for all children.’

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Children and families need £12.5bn over three years, says new ADCS president

The growing number of children and families who need support 'to thrive, not just survive in the wake of the pandemic' will need investment of around £12.5bn over three years, says England's new children’s services chief.

In her inaugural address yesterday, incoming president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Charlotte Ramsden said ‘everyone has everything crossed for a multi-year spending review settlement for April 2022 onwards’.

She added: ‘There are crystal clear moral and economic imperatives for investing now in children and their life chances. ADCS members believe that’s a lot of money but it would be worth every penny to create a country that works for all children.’

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Watchdog urges 'revaluation' of councils' role

The ‘role and value’ of councils in Wales should be re-evaluated in face of rising demand and financial pressures, according to a new report.

While local authorities are ‘not confident that they can continue’ to deliver services in high demand they are ‘neither effectively nor consistently involving’ citizens willing to run services, Audit Wales concluded.

There is also a lack of comprehensive data to inform spending reductions, according to the report looking at discretionary services.

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Jury finds Derek Chauvin guilty of murder

A US jury has found a former police officer guilty of murder over the death of African-American George Floyd on a Minneapolis street last year.

Derek Chauvin, 45, was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes during his arrest last May.

The widely watched footage sparked worldwide protests against racism and excessive use of force by police.

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Rising fuel costs drive UK inflation to 0.7 per cent in March

The UK inflation rate rose to 0.7 per cent in the 12 months to March, up from 0.4 per cent in February, pushed up by the increased cost of fuel, transport and clothes.

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MPs hit out at decision to scrap Green Homes Grant

The Government’s decision to scrap the Green Homes Grant scheme could lead to a ‘postcode lottery’ in local energy efficiency schemes, MPs have warned today.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) said it was disappointed the Government rejected its recommendation not to end or wind down the scheme.

It has now written to the business secretary calling for clarity, arguing the decision must pave the way for a multi-year energy efficiency programme within the next Spending Review.

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Homeless charity warns calls from young people up a third in past year

Vulnerable young people have struggled to access the support they need in the past year, a charity has warned in a new report. The report, published by Centrepoint, examines the impact the past year has had on youth unemployment, homelessness, poverty and mental health.

It reveals that calls to its Helpline increased by a third since March 2020, with a rising number of young people sleeping rough at the time of their call.

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MHCLG to continue monthly data returns ‘for some time’

The regular data returns that councils and care providers have been compelled by the government to make during the Covid pandemic could be put on a more permanent footing, top Whitehall mandarins have indicated.

But there are concerns at the burden being placed on council finance departments in providing the information, and fears that data could be used by the centre to justify diverting funding to tackling one particular challenge to the detriment of other services.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s director general Catherine Frances told the public accounts committee on Monday that the ministry would keep its monitoring of local government through the monthly returns councils have been making “switched on for some time…as we see what happens to their expenditure, to give us some assurance that we really understand what's happening in the sector”.

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MHCLG proposes more flexible audit rules

The government has launched a consultation paving the way for reforms to make the fee structure of local audit more flexible, and another on how it will allocate £15m to help councils meet the costs of rising audit fees.

But more controversial and wide-reaching proposals around strengthening the leadership of local audit are not expected to be made public until next month.

The consultations published yesterday take forward some of the recommendations made by Sir Tony Redmond in the review of local audit he undertook last year for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.

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A “proper” transitional system could improve funding predictability

Adrian Jenkins argues local government needs a system that provides a “stable and predictable resource base” not just the right funding levels.

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Government proposes extension to audit fee deadline

Under current local audit regulations, oversight body Public Sector Audit Appointments must publish its fee scales the month before the start of the financial year.

However, a government consultation proposes moving the deadline to 30 November each year, in a bid to ensure that auditing costs included in budgets are more accurate.

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Homelessness charity calls for Home Office rules to be scrapped

Home Office rules ‘undermine’ efforts to end rough sleeping and should be ‘scrapped immediately,’ a charity has said.

Chief executive of Homeless Link, Rick Henderson, warned the rules, which will allow the Government to consider refusing or cancelling permission to remain in the UK on the grounds of rough sleeping, would ‘drive people away from the support they need and will hamper efforts’.

He said: ‘Fundamentally, this policy goes against decades of good practice and learning on what works to support people who are sleeping rough, especially those who struggle to engage with services.

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LGA calls for clarity on exit data request

The Local Government Association (LGA) was blindsided by the Government’s demands for data on exit payments, it has emerged, and it is now asking for clarity.

The Association has written to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to find out exactly what data is required. It has also called to the Government to define what it means by exit payments and ex gratia payments.

According to local government insiders, the LGA had no advance warning of the Government’s plans to ask for exit payment data and it has raised concerned at the short deadline for councils to complete the forms.

The LGA is also reportedly worried that the data would breach confidentiality in smaller councils where there are fewer exits – although payments for senior staff already appear in council’s annual accounts.

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Pothole figures 'a watershed moment'

Drivers are having to use roads that often ‘resemble the surface of the Moon’, the RAC has said after revealing a 37% year-on-year rise in pothole-related breakdowns in the first three months of 2021.

The motoring organisation said that in the first quarter, despite lockdown, its patrols went to the aid 4,694 drivers who had most likely broken down as a result of hitting a pothole.

This represents a 37% increase on the 3,426 breakdowns in the same period of 2020 for the ‘classic symptoms’ of having hit a pothole – broken suspension springs, distorted wheels and damaged shock absorbers.

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Government to set new 2035 emissions target in law

The UK Government has announced that it will set the world’s 'most ambitious' climate change target into law to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.

In line with the recommendation from the independent Climate Change Committee, the sixth Carbon Budget limits the volume of greenhouse gases emitted over a five year period from 2033 to 2037, taking the UK more than three-quarters of the way to reaching net zero by 2050.

The Carbon Budget will ensure the UK remains on track to end its contribution to climate change, while remaining consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts towards 1.5°C.

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Warnings of financial shock for care sector

Civil servants have warned of financial challenges ahead when the care home sector emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee heard financial support from the Government during the crisis had resulted in fewer care homes closing down.

Director general of adult social care at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Michelle Dyson, said: ‘We have seen fewer exits than we would expect in a normal year and we would surmise that’s to do with the support we have put in.'

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Councils wait on capitalisation directions

MPs have raised concerns after it emerged councils are still awaiting confirmation on emergency funding.

Senior officials told the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee that external reviews that will enable capitalisation directions to be implemented by councils that have struggled to balance their books during the pandemic have yet to take place.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is appointing consultants for the reviews to take place in the summer.

Committee chair Clive Betts told mandarins: ‘Authorities won’t know what they have to spend and what resources are available until halfway through the year.’

Director of local government finance Alex Skinner responded: ‘I don’t anticipate that waiting until potentially later in the summer will be a problem.’

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Shielding scheme took too long to identify up to 800,000, says PAC

MPs have hit out at the Government’s ‘quickly drawn up’ COVID-19 shielding programme for taking too long to identify up to 800,000 people who may have missed out on help. Selective application of ‘at risk’ criteria led to some elderly and vision-impaired people struggling to access food at the start of the pandemic, according to a report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published today.

Almost half of the 800,000 were unreachable because of missing or incorrect telephone numbers in NHS records and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) still does not know whether councils have been able to reach them.

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Plans to overhaul recycling collections suffer delays

The government’s long anticipated shakeup of the waste and recycling system has suffered a setback as a critical consultation on proposals to standardise recycling collections across the country has been delayed.

Two other recycling consultations by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, based on policies set out in the Environment Bill, were launched earlier this month - one on introducing a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, and another to make the producers of packaging responsible for the full costs of the waste it produces.

But a third consultation on making recycling collections consistent across the country, which had been widely expected to take place at the same time, has been delayed until after the local elections.

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Minister urged to ‘grasp the nettle’ and prioritise local government standards

The Committee on Standards in Public Life has still had no response from local government minister Luke Hall to indicate when the government will respond to a report on standards in the sector more than two years after it was published, despite “regular chasing” by the committee’s staff.

There is mounting pressure on Mr Hall to publish the response, particularly after he sent a letter to the chair of the National Association of Local Councils more than six weeks ago pledging that he would respond “shortly” to the report, admitting that the response was "overdue".

However, at the committee's last meeting, it was reported that nothing had been confirmed by the ministry and there had been no response from them to “regular chasing by the secretariat”.

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MHCLG: No plans to extend Covid financial support beyond June

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has no current plans to extend its Covid-19 financial support for councils beyond June, its permanent secretary has said.

Jeremy Pocklington confirmed to the Commons housing, communities and local government committee yesterday that the ministry had provided £1.55bn for councils in unringfenced Covid grants for 2021-22 and extended the sales, fees and charges income compensation scheme to the end of June.

“We're also continuing to fund some other priorities, including our support for rough sleepers,” he added.

“We haven't got any plans to extend our support beyond this quarter,” said Mr Pocklington. “But it is obviously something that we will need to keep under a continuous review through this financial year.

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No simple north-south divide, says report

There is no simple north-south divide, a new report by Legal and General (L&G) has argued. The L&G Rebuilding Britain Index (RBI) said the levelling up agenda should focus on the lack of economic investment in the north but shortages of housing in the south.

It found ‘pockets of affluence and deprivation in all parts of the UK, challenging the notion of a north-south divide,’ with Cornwall scoring below average but some areas of the north well above average.

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County reverses decision to leave LGA

A county council that was on the brink of leaving the Local Government Association has reversed its decision.

Lincolnshire CC leader Martin Hill (Con) told LGC the council would remain a member of the body after receiving "reassurances" from its chair James Jamieson (Con) that had persuaded him to stay

However, Leicestershire CC is sticking to its decision to quit the LGA, and may devote the £100,000 savings to filling highway potholes.

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No simple north-south divide, says report

The L&G Rebuilding Britain Index (RBI) said the levelling up agenda should focus on the lack of economic investment in the north but shortages of housing in the south.

It found ‘pockets of affluence and deprivation in all parts of the UK, challenging the notion of a north-south divide,’ with Cornwall scoring below average but some areas of the north well above average.

Citing Edinburgh, Leeds and Cheshire East as the highest scoring, the report added: ‘Levelling up, therefore, needs to be focused at a local level - not regionally or nationally - addressing each communities’ challenges and priorities.’

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More children worried about pollution near schools

Nearly half of children in the UK are worried about air pollution near their school - up from 39% in 2018 - a new survey has revealed.

A survey by Sustrans found almost three fifths (57%) of pupils said there were too many cars around their school, with 40% saying more people walking, cycling or scooting to school was the best way to bring down levels of air pollution.

The survey found 71% of pupils are worried about climate change, with 62% thinking adults aren’t doing enough to tackle the problem.

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Unemployment puts hundreds of thousands more at risk of poor mental health

An extra 200,000 people are at risk of poor mental health due to unemployment, new analysis has predicted.

Research by the Health Foundation shows that by the winter there will be a total of 800,000 unemployed people with poor mental health.

The charity said the pandemic has highlighted an opportunity for the benefits system and employment support programmes to have a positive impact on the nation’s mental health.

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Young people who have had coronavirus will get £5,000 for being deliberately re-exposed to the virus

Young people who have previously had COVID-19 are going to be deliberately exposed to the virus for a second time - in a new study that aims to see how their immune systems react.

The University of Oxford's "human challenge" trial also hopes to discover what dose of coronavirus is needed to cause a reinfection, and what this may mean for developing protective immunity against the disease.

People aged 18 to 30 who have previously been naturally infected with COVID will be recruited and re-exposed to the virus in a safe, controlled environment.

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Under-30s less compliant with Covid rules, UK data shows

People under 30 were less compliant with Covid rules over the past year, according to survey data from more than 50,000 adults in the UK.

While the still to be peer-reviewed analysis suggests most people followed lockdown and social distancing rules, one in seven – about 15% – reported decreasing levels of compliance over time, particularly during the second wave.

These tended to be those under 30, in relatively good physical shape, who rated themselves as not particularly empathetic or conscientious but described themselves as risk-takers.

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UK reports four more COVID deaths - lowest rise since early September

The UK has recorded another four coronavirus-related deaths - the lowest daily increase since early September.

It takes the total number of people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19 to 127,274.

That is the lowest daily rise since three deaths were reported on 7 September.

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

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

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

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

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LGA welcomes Covid-19 grant scheme extension

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

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

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

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Power of local government eroded over decades, report concludes

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

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

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

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Welsh council funding gap to hit £178m next year

Councils in Wales face funding pressures of £178m by 2022-23 as Covid-19 and slower growth in Welsh government funding impact on authority budgets, according to new analysis.

A report from Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre said a smaller spending envelope for the Welsh Government outlined during March's UK Budget, alongside pandemic pressures, has created a challenging fiscal outlook for authorities.

It said that Welsh authorities would require an average annual increase in spending of 3.4% from the Welsh Government in cash terms until 2025-26 to prevent the funding gap.

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England's R number drops slightly as coronavirus infection level falls across UK

England's R number has dropped slightly to between 0.7 and 1 - while the average level of coronavirus infection has fallen sharply across the UK, according to the latest data.

Last week, the figure was estimated to be between 0.8 and 1 by the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

R represents the average number of people a person with the virus goes on to infect. When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially - but it is shrinking if it is below 1.

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Pregnant women should be offered Covid-19 vaccine in their age group

Pregnant women should be offered vaccination against Covid-19 at the same time as everyone else, government scientists said yesterday, in a shift from their earlier stance.

They should ideally be given the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna jabs, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said, because there is more evidence for their use in pregnant women, largely gathered in the United States.

The decision not to recommend the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was not, they stressed, because of any concerns over blood clotting risks being higher in pregnant women.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sector raises worries over homes bonus threshold proposal

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

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

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

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Storm brewing over exit payment data demands

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

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

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

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Debate should move from survival to stability, says NAO lead

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

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

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

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Welsh PPE procurement praised despite pandemic challenges

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

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

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

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Jenrick moves to quell districts’ plan for reorganisation referendum

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

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

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

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

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

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England gets third jab as Moderna rollout begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Commission calls for abolition of Spending Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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UK records lowest deaths and cases figures since September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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People can start thinking about foreign travel - Shapps

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

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

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

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MPs call for review of 'dangerous' obesity strategy

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

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

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

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Shapps announces £18m cycle training fund

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

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

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

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Children ‘bearing brunt’ of mental health crisis

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

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

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

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Councils urged to bid for £15m traffic signals cash

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

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

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

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Public back more city devolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Local government SEND funding ‘pitiful’

A finance chief has labelled as ‘pitiful’ the amount of money his authority has received through a new £280m allocation for councils to manage and expand special educational needs and disabilities provision. The government said the single-year funding increase would allow authorities to create new places in schools and early years education for children with SENDs.

However, Gary Fielding, corporate director of strategic resources and section 151 officer at North Yorkshire County Council, told PF that his authority's £1.7m allocation is a drop in the ocean compared to its needs.

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

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

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

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

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High Street sales tipped to surge 50% on 12 April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Virtual meetings case ‘helped’ by Jenrick move

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

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

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

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£36.5m council funding to support Hong Kong arrivals

Councils across the UK will receive £36.5m worth of government funding to help Hong Kong British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) families settle in the UK and to provide additional help for new arrivals where needed, including support with housing costs and learning English.

Backed by over £43m of funding, the Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) Integration Programme will help status holders access housing, work and educational support to ensure they are able to quickly integrate and contribute to their newfound communities.

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

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

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

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

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Shoppers may need Covid vaccine passports

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

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

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

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More help for new and expectant mothers in England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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COVID passports have ‘significant implications’ for councils

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

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Campaigners in legal challenge to Levelling Up Fund criteria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tests to be offered twice-weekly to all in England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunset clause planned to head off vaccine certificate revolt

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

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

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

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Parents forced to crowdfund to stop playgrounds in England crumbling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Appetite for PWLB borrowing returns in March

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

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

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

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

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