The Chairman introduced the discussion noting that the COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in issues cutting across the remits of multiple LGA policy boards and creating complex challenges for local authorities.
The Chair’s of several boards were invited to discuss these issues, starting with Cllr Judith Blake (Chair, LGA Children & Young People Board). Judith noted the following points;
- The re-opening of schools on w/c 8/3/21 presented a major challenge to local authorities particularly regarding grade attainment, socialisation, mental health and social inequalities. Education recovery was a growing priority, with the need to ensure sport, welfare and mental health were considered equally alongside grade attainment.
- Children from low income households had been more heavily impacted by the pandemic, with additional educational and financial support needed. The recovery process would need to consider housing, access to green spaces and ability to play/socialise.
- Local authorities had illustrated the importance of the role in the education system and supporting schools. Judith encouraged the sector to focus on delivering for children.
The Chairman next invited Cllr Ian Hudspeth (Chairman, LGA Community Wellbeing Board) to speak. Ian noted the following points;
- The Pandemic created a new relationship with the Government, with new ways of working and reporting required to deliver results. Local Government played a key role in the delivery of contain frameworks and local testing. Adequate funding to enable local authorities to fulfil their role was emphasised.
- Testing was outlined as an area of significant cross cutting work. Surge testing illustrated the importance of local knowledge in delivering hyper-localised efforts. Asymptomatic workplace testing was also being expanded in collaboration with businesses.
- Delivery of the vaccination programme required cross sector cooperation.
- Supporting and protecting vulnerable people had seen collaboration across departments and branches of local government, with partners, voluntary bodies and communities. Moving forward the reintegration of individuals who had been shielding long term would require a similar effort.
The Chairman invited Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson CBE (Chair, Culture, Tourism & Sport Board) to discuss relevant issues. Gerald noted the following points;
- Sport was noted a key issue moving out of lockdown, especially with the growing obesity and mental health crises. The need to maintain and develop modern sporting facilities for continue community access, especially in low income areas.
- Welcomed the £100m National Leisure Recovery Fund but highlighted concerns that leisure provision was under threat. A real risk existed that leisure providers could collapse or pull-out of areas due to additional costs, having knock on effects community services.
- Welcomed the dedicated funding for arts and culture, through the Culture Recovery Fund.
- Libraries in many cases continued to remain open and provide services, vital to support an extended re-opening especially for children and the elderly.
- Emphasised that nationwide local government is a major investor in sport, the arts and tourism, often more so than Sport England, Visit England and the Arts Council. Vital that Government should recognise this and include local government in recovery planning.
Cllr Richard Watts (Chair, Resources Board) was invited to speak. Richard noted the following points;
- Funding has been the core issue, with the pandemic costing local government circa £10.2Bn in 2020/21. Consisting of £7.3Bn in extra spending and £3Bn lost in non-tax income. Figures for losses on council tax and sales, fees & charges won’t be assessable until 2021/22.
- The Government put forward substantial packages unringfenced and specific grant-based funding, as well a promise to compensate authorities for 75% of council tax and business rates income. However, support was not available for commercial losses. The LGA was pushing for full compensation of council’s costs, to make up the estimated £2.6Bn shortfall.
- Looking ahead, welcomed £1.5Bn grant funding and council tax support for 2021/22. Foresees a further £2.5Bn shortfall for the next financial year.
- A sustainable settlement for adult social care was seen to be vital given that it can account for 60-70% of upper tier authorities’ spending.
- Final figures for Public Health funding were needed to enable local teams to support vaccination efforts, particularly for harder to reach or hesitant communities.
- For low income households, the Universal Credit uplift and Self-Isolation payments were welcomed, but questions remained over scale of funding and long-term application.
- Programmes to reintegrate experienced Environmental Health, Planning and ICT staff to local authorities’ workforces were launched.
- EU successor funding work has seen £51Mn of ERDF reserves dedicated to re-opening high streets and the European Social Fund money being used to close the digital divide.
Finally the Chairman called Cllr Nesil Caliskan (Chair, Safer & Stronger Communities Board) to speak. Nesil noted the following points;
- Compliance and enforcement were highlighted. Public and environmental health teams played key roles in closing/opening business, health & safety in the workplace and supporting social distancing efforts. Flexible funding had been secured to support this work. These teams were also heavily involved in local Test & Trace programmes.
- Death management was also noted as significant area of activity. Regional coordination was used to manage pressures and mitigate capacity issues. Greater resilience was built ahead of the 2nd wave of infections. The LGA continued to lobby on key issues to the sector.
- Finally, authorities had worked closely with the Police on crime and anti-social behaviour. The increased risk of domestic violence and abuse had necessitated effective police partnerships.
In the subsequent discussion the following points were raised by members:
- A question arose on how to secure greater NHS engagement on reaching the outstanding 15% of the most vulnerable groups who had not yet been vaccinated. Ian responded noting that the NHS had been very guarded about data sharing throughout the pandemic but that work is ongoing. The Chairman added that the Local Outbreak Planning Advisory Board has been stressing the need for data sharing.
- An observation was made on an apparent breakdown of social distancing in schools and by parents collecting children. Judith responded explaining that evidence of such was being seen across the country, regular testing in secondary schools was creating a sense of complacency. Noted that locally, Leeds City Council was preparing information packs to highlight the continued importance of social distancing measures.