Please find below a precis of the latest update from the Local Government Association.
Today’s Ministerial updates
Today’s Number 10 Press Conference was led by the First Secretary of State, Dominic Raab. He was joined by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Jonathan Van Tam, and the Medical Director at Public Health England (PHE), Professor Yvonne Doyle, Mr Raab noted that today marks the first day where the death toll published includes deaths in all settings, including for the first time deaths at care homes and in the wider community where a positive result for COVID-19 had been given. This new method has been outlined in a press release from PHE this evening. Mr Raab stated that whilst we are continuing to see evidence of a flattening peak, we are still coming through it.
On the subject of deaths in care homes, Mr Raab stated that controlling the flow of people in and out of care homes remains a challenge and a risk. The Government will continue to focus on disseminating and refining their guidance to support those working in these settings.
Professor Doyle said that today’s figure for road traffic was the highest for a working day since March 23. This is worrying, she said, and people must continue to stay home to protect the NHS and save lives. Professor Van Tam stated that relaxing the closure of schools is an option currently being discussed.
As you will have seen in yesterday’s daily press conference all care home residents and staff in England will be able to access coronavirus tests from today, regardless of whether they have symptoms. People over 65 and those who must leave home to work, as well as those they live with, will also be able to get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19.
Anyone eligible can book a test using the new ’getting tested’ online portal. Employers can also refer employees through an employer portal, but presently there is a delay of a few days for registration to complete.
Working with Public Health England, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and ADASS, the Government is piloting the despatch of ‘satellite’ test kits directly to care homes across England to enable the testing of residents. So far, 4,760 tests have been delivered to more than 4,300 locations. Over 25,000 care staff have already been tested.
There are now more than 40 drive-through testing sites across the country, and, by the end of the week, 25,000 home testing kits will be available for ordering each day. A network of mobile testing units is also travelling the country to reach care homes, police stations, prisons and other sites where there is demand for testing. The network is expected to reach more than 70 units by the weekend.
Children and education
The Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, confirmed today during a virtual presentation to the Education Select Committee that schools and colleges will be opening in a phased manner, depending on the scientific advice. He said it would not be realistic or practical for all pupils to return at once and did not expect this term to be extended into the summer holidays. He promised schools would be given time to properly prepare for pupils’ return.
Mr Williamson outlined his main concerns on the impact on children and young people including, safeguarding at-risk children and young people, educational poverty and a growing digital divide for children. The Committee also questioned Mr Williamson on wider issues beyond COVID-19, including the Department’s review of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The Secretary of State confirmed that the outbreak had delayed the publication of the review and said that ensuring the system was right for children and young people with SEND was critical.
The Department for Education (DfE) has published guidance on how councils can use their dedicated schools grant (DSG) funding differently in exceptional circumstances during the outbreak, to ensure they have enough places for children of critical workers and vulnerable children. This also includes information on how the coronavirus Job Retention Scheme interacts with the new flexible funding arrangements. The guidance also confirms that eligibility for the two-year-old childcare offer has been extended to children in families with no recourse to public funds. Following representations from the LGA, the DfE has confirmed councils will be reimbursed for fulfilling this commitment.
I know councils have been overwhelmed with the generosity and support shown by the many thousands of people who have volunteered to help vulnerable people in their communities. Our informal intelligence from councils, charities and voluntary organisations across the country about voluntary sector capacity strongly suggests that there is no shortage of volunteers to support vulnerable people in the community. However, if you are experiencing a shortage of volunteers in your area, the British Red Cross have over 70,000 emergency response and community reserve volunteers. Their emergency response volunteers are fully trained to provide support in emergency situations at any time, while the community reserve volunteers can help provide basic supplies and maintain connections with vulnerable and isolated people. Any organisation, including councils, can make a request for volunteer support.
You will have seen my note yesterday on the May Day Bank Holiday and the celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day on 8 May. The Government has today announced a revised programme that will allow members of the public to remember and give thanks to the Second World War generation from the safety of their own homes. To find out more about how they can take part, members of the public can visit a new website which includes educational resources.
The Government is keen to ensure that as many people as possible across the nation are made aware of the plans and are asking for council support in promoting the activities to your communities. They are asking we all use the #VEDay75 hashtag when sharing activities online via social media. I know many councils have their own virtual plans to commemorate the occasion locally, which we will amplify on our own social media channels (@LGAComms and @LGAculturesport).
Create to Connect is a month-long set of creative challenges to do at home, established by 64 Million Artists. They’ve created free downloadable activity packs for community leaders, teachers and families to run challenges locally. The Get Creative Festival also normally takes place in May and has moved online this year with #GetCreativeAtHome. Over 200 participatory activities are now listed on the website, including the biggest life drawing class ever, and a new series of online masterclasses by leading artists including Sir Antony Gormley and features artist Clare Twomey. The official campaign will launch on 4 May – council communications, culture, and library teams may wish to promote it to your local residents.