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News Headlines

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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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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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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Other Headlines

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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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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