LATEST LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION COVID UPDATE

Please find below the latest Covid update from the Local Government Association:

“Dear Colleague,

Local outbreak planning

We know that councils will want to build on their experience of responding to the pandemic to date in order to strengthen any future responses. We want to ensure that councils are in the best position possible to respond in that event by providing refocused tools and support.  Part of this involves updating our good practice webpages with examples of projects and strategies that might inform local responses.

People who are shielding

The Office for National Statistics has published new data based on research of those who are shielding in line with the advice for people defined as clinically extremely vulnerable. This was carried out between 9 and 18 June 2020. This aims to provide an insight into how this group of 2.2 million people have seen changes in their physical and mental health, whether they and their household are following the guidance and what support is helping, or is needed, to help them shield. Of those contacted, 63 per cent were completely following the shielding guidance. A range of different support mechanisms had been utilised by the proportion of the shielded group (43 per cent) who had not left home since they were advised to shield. 74 per cent had found video or telephone calls with family and friends helpful, 59 per cent had appreciated support with prescription deliveries and 56 per cent with food deliveries or boxes.

The majority (60 per cent) of people had not experienced a worsening of their mental health, but more than two thirds of those who are currently receiving treatment for their mental health reported that it had become ‘slightly or more worse’ since receiving shielding advice. Women were more likely to report a worsening in their mental health than men, irrespective of age group.

Councils may find these findings of interest in developing local outbreak plans and considering what support may still be needed locally to address the ongoing impacts on wellbeing and mental health. We will be continuing to work with the Strategic Engagement Forum and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) as the restrictions for the shielded group are gradually removed and we have a range of publications with key national partners on the mental health challenges emerging within communities.

Schools

The Prime Minister today set out a ten-year rebuilding programme for schools across England. Due to start in 2020/21 with 50 projects, the programme will be supported by more than £1 billion in funding. More details of the programme will be included in the next Spending Review. Schools and colleges will also receive funding this year to refurbish buildings in order to continue raising standards across the country, with £560 million and £200 million for repairs and upgrades to schools and further education colleges respectively.

The Department for Education (DfE) has also confirmed that schools are now able to claim for exceptional costs relating to coronavirus. The claims window is open between now and the 21 July with full instructions on how to submit claims available on the link. Updated DfE policy guidance has been published alongside this. While details of a second claims window are expected to published in due course (covering any costs that schools are not able to submit in time for the July deadline), the Department is urging schools to submit their costs as soon as possible in this claims window to ensure quick payments.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

The Secretary of State for Education has today issued a third notice to modify the duty relating to education, health and care (EHC) plans during the COVID-19 outbreak, covering the month of July.

Waste centres and public toilets

Over the weekend, council leaders will have received a letter on public access to tips and toilets from Simon Clarke, Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, and Rebecca Pow, Minister for the Environment.

On household waste recycling centres, the letter recognises the efforts councils have made to re-open these sites over the last few weeks. It mentions the challenges councils who manage these sites will be aware of – maintaining social distancing and ensuring the safety of staff and residents alongside providing this highly-valued service and reducing the risk of fly tipping. The letter encourages councils to explore “opportunities to improve access to help householders dispose of waste” and “avoid unnecessary tight restrictions like a limited number of pre-booked slots”.

In our discussions on your behalf with Government, and our public communications activity, we continue to make clear that councils are taking individual local decisions about access to public amenities based on a risk assessment and whether social distancing measures can be maintained. As every area and site is different, councils will naturally be managing this in different ways.

On public toilets, the letter “strongly urges” councils to refer to advice on measures that can be taken to open toilets in a safe way. This is summarised on page 3 of the letter. We have previously shared this advice in these bulletins, which forms part of the Government’s official guidance on safer public places. Of course, councils only run a proportion of the public facilities in England. Much of the media coverage we have seen on this issue similarly references reduced capacity at shopping centres and public toilets at train stations.

Public transport

The Government has today published updated safer transport guidance for operators. This now reflects that, from 4 July 2020, transport operators’ risk assessments are expected, where possible, to enable social distancing of two metres or one metre with risk mitigations (where two metres is not viable). Operators should consider and set out the mitigations already in place or that will be introduced, in their risk assessment. Some potential mitigations are provided in this updated guidance.

Marriages and civil partnerships

Today MHCLG published guidance for small marriages and civil partnerships. The guidance outlines under what circumstances marriages and civil ceremonies will be allowed to take place from the 4 July. The guidance states that up to 30 attendees will be able to attend these ceremonies with social distancing. This includes the couple, all guests, the officiant and any staff not employed by the venue. More than 30 people are not permitted and fewer may be necessary depending on the venue. Ceremonies should be limited to the legally necessary elements to reduce the length of services. Receptions are strongly advised against, but if they were to take place would need to adhere to the normal social distancing guidelines i.e. groups of two households indoors or up to six individuals from different households outdoors.

The guidance states that ceremonies should only go ahead where the venue and plans for the ceremony are COVID-19 secure and the venue and officiant are satisfied that the ceremony is safe and can be conducted according to the guidelines. Religious observances which could pose a risk of infection are discouraged for example full body emersion baths, sharing of relics, singing, chanting and some musical instruments. The guidance applies only in England and covers only statutory marriage and civil ceremonies. It does not cover other religious ceremonies, belief ceremonies, blessings or other non-statutory ceremonies