News roundup – Latest news for local and parish councils

Council News Roundup

Stay up to date with all the latest news for local and parish councils with our weekly roundup.

News roundup - 24 September 2020

IFS: Councils face £3.1bn Covid shortfall

Councils face a £3.1bn financial shortfall as a result of the financial impact of Covid exceeding additional government funding, according to the latest Institute for Fiscal Studies research.

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Charity warns many council websites are still inaccessible

Inaccessible council websites are preventing millions of disabled people from accessing vital services and information, a charity has warned.
Scope has found that nine out of ten of England’s biggest councils have websites with accessibility errors.

Its research found issues with confusing layouts, problems enlarging text, poor colour contrasts and difficulties with screen reader accessibility.

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Read our guide: Making your council website WCAG 2.1 AA compliant – what you need to know

Data Protection – Important News

You may not be aware that a recent judgement handed down by the European Court of Justice will affect the way that we store our data.

Town and parish councils of every size are responsible for managing large amounts of data which are often held in cloud storage. If this storage is operated within the United States the European Court of Justice ruling has now removed the Privacy Shield which had, until July 2020, been in place between the EU and US.

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Council chiefs call for ‘urgent clarity’ about self-isolation scheme funding

Local authority leaders have called on the Government to clarify how already over-stretched councils will be reimbursed for the new self-isolation support scheme.
Over the weekend the Government announced that people with COVID-19 symptoms will be required by law from 28 September to self-isolate.

Those on lower incomes who cannot work from home will be supported by a £500 payment to help them through the 14-day isolation period.

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News roundup - 17 September 2020

274 councils set to receive housing support for vulnerable people

274 local councils will share £91.5 million of government funding to ensure interim accommodation and support for the most vulnerable people, including by helping people into the private rented sector, secure interim accommodation such as supported housing, and assess the wider support these people need in order to rebuild their lives.

An additional £13.5 million fund will be used to enable local authorities to tackle new or emerging challenges.

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Parents call on councils to improve school air quality

Parents and charities have called on local authorities to improve air quality at schools as research suggests a 50% reduction in pollution could halve the number of children with poor lung function.

New analysis by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) shows that if outdoor air pollution is halved, there could be up to a 20-50% reduction in the number of children with poor lung function across the UK and Republic of Ireland.

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SLCC National Conference Full Agenda Announced

The full agenda for this year’s unique Virtual National Conference has just been announced.

In an absolutely packed week, 12th – 16th October, members can find a session to explore every aspect of their work, whether your interest lies in neighbourhood planning, devolution or crisis management, there is something for everyone.

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News roundup - 10 September 2020

Sector surprise at COVID marshal scheme

Local government has been blindsided by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that an army of COVID marshals will enforce tough new rules.

The MJ understands that Mr Johnson’s announcement that councils will be given tougher powers to tackle businesses flouting COVID-19 rules came out of the blue to senior managers and councillors, with Downing Street’s plan only raised with the Local Government Association (LGA) hours before.

Full story: LocalGov

Government should provide £500m arts resilience fund, says study

The Government should devolve power over arts funding to councils and make a resilience fund available to support art and culture in local areas, report says.

A new report published by the Fabian Society argues that a decade of Government cuts has led to a crisis in arts and culture funding and left the creative sector vulnerable to the lockdown.

It also calls for the devolution of power and funding over the arts so that councils and mayors can repair the damage caused by austerity and the pandemic.

Full story: LocalGov

DHSC offers free PPE but councils cast doubt over its promises

A Department of Health & Social Care pledge to provide free personal protective equipment to councils until 31 March next year has been met with scepticism from senior local government figures.

Full story: LGC

‘Toilet tax’ Bill clears Commons

The Bill to provide 100% mandatory relief from business rates for public lavatories in England and Wales has been passed by the House of Commons. The Bill still needs to be approved by the House of Lords but, If passed in its current form, the relief will be backdated to 1st April 2020.

The relief applies only to public lavatories which are currently rated as a separate ‘hereditament’, normally because they are a self-contained building. Amendments to extend the relief to lavatories contained in public buildings such as libraries and community centres were rejected.

Full story: SLCC

News roundup - 3 September 2020

£2 million fund for local action on air quality

New round of funding opens for Local Authorities to help clean up dirty air for communities.

Local Authorities can bid for a portion of at least £2 million for a wide range of projects to improve air quality and create cleaner and healthier environments.

Since it was established, the Air Quality Grant scheme has awarded around £64.5 million to a variety of projects benefitting schools, businesses and communities, and reducing the impact of dirty air on people’s health.

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Ministers seek middle path on pavement parking

The Department for Transport (DfT) has published a consultation setting out three options to tackle the issue of pavement parking.

Officials said parking on pavements disproportionately affects people with visual or mobility impairments, those assisted by guide dogs, and wheelchair and mobility scooter users.

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Districts hit back at proposals for creation of ‘Europe’s largest councils’

Plans to abolish district councils in favour of county unitaries have been blasted as “not devolution” but “centralisation” by the District Councils’ Network, which has warned proposals would create a “postcode lottery” in the value of each vote.

In anticipation of the launch of the government’s devolution and recovery white paper this month and following the pre-emptive bids by some county councils for unitaries covering their own council footprints, the DCN has launched a new report slamming proposals and offering their own alternatives.

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Delivery companies to help map potholes

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has launched what his department called a first-of-its-kind audit into the mapping of potholes in England ‘to better target improvements so that roads are in top condition as people return to work and school’.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it will work with highway data and mapping company Gaist alongside businesses such as Deliveroo, Uber, Tesco and Ocado, and local highway authorities to identify ‘pothole hot-spots’.

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News roundup - 27 August 2020

Councils are commissioning the wrong type of website

We are all now fully aware that six weeks from now (by 23rd September 2020) all public bodies who do not meet the exemption criteria must have a website that complies with the WCAG 2.1AA accessibility guidelines.

Introducing these guidelines is a great initiative and means that the large numbers of those in communities who have difficulties or disabilities when it comes to using the internet will be able to better access the information to which they are entitled.

However, while the Government has issued a lot of information on the requirements of public bodies and their websites (which includes parish, town and city councils) it is all very technical and almost completely alien in its language to most clerks and the councillors.

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Ministers urge councils to help ‘boost’ digital connectivity

Government ministers have today written to local authorities setting out how they can help boost gigabit broadband rollout and 5G mobile coverage.

Digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman and local government minister Simon Clarke urged councils to follow new Government advice on land access and valuations so deals granting access for new infrastructure, such as 5G masts and full fibre broadband cabinets on public land, can be reached ‘quicker and with reasonable rents attached.’

The Government has also shared new guidance on the safety and benefits of 5G so that councils can give people the facts and tackle disinformation about this new mobile technology.

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Warning of ‘large gaps’ after income compensation scheme guidance published

Long awaited government guidance on its scheme to compensate local authorities for lost sales, fees and charges income has finally been published, but councils are warning it will still leave “large gaps” in budgets with particular concerns over leisure services.

Guidance on the scheme, announced by communities secretary Robert Jenrick in early July as part of a “comprehensive plan” for sustainable council finances in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, was finally published this week, although a draft had been widely circulated in recent weeks.

It confirmed that councils will be compensated for lost “transactional income” such as car parking and tourist attractions, but not commercial or residential rents or investment income, including from Treasury management.

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UK council finances ‘hardest hit in Europe, claims Moody’s

UK local authorities are set to be hardest hit financially by the coronavirus among the five largest European economies says a report from Moody’s Investors Services.

The research estimates a shortfall of €77bn for local and regional government across the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy, with Spain and the UK facing the highest fiscal pressures. The report says: ‘Spanish regions and UK local authorities face relatively high spending pressures, moderate expected lost revenues and weak pre-pandemic fiscal performance.

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Littering unpunished by many councils in England and Wales

Most councils issue less than one fine a week to litterers, according to data obtained via freedom of information rules, with one in six issuing no fines at all across a year.

Enforcement varied widely, with a handful of the councils in England and Wales issuing more than 100 a week.

Campaigners at Clean Up Britain said the level of littering was “shameful” and that enforcement of fines by councils should be made compulsory. They said the maximum on-the-spot fine of £150 was “derisory” and should be increased to £1,000.

Full story:

News roundup - 13 August 2020

Funding boost to help communities plan their neighbourhoods

Housing secretary, Robert Jenrick MP has announced funding to help communities in urban and deprived areas plan their local neighbourhoods will almost double.

The government grants to individual neighbourhood planning groups in both urban and deprived areas will increase to £18,000, which follows the increase from £9,000 to £10,000 in May to help with the impacts of coronavirus.

The government also announced it is providing these groups with access to additional technical expertise free of charge, such as for assessing their area’s housing needs or developing masterplans.

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Road safety charity launches £300,000 COVID-19 fund for local authorities

A £300,000 fund has been opened to help local authorities respond to changing road use and emerging road safety issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Launched by the Road Safety Trust, the fund will be open to applications on 15 September for five weeks. Each project will get between £20,000 and £50,000.

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Councils awarded £40m to set up more home-to-school transport

Local authorities have been given a £40m funding boost to increase home-to-school transport provision from September.

Councils will use the money to set up new dedicated school and college transport to ensure pupils can travel to school safely during the pandemic, without putting extra pressure on public transport.

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LGA calls for urgent investment into mental health for councils

The Local Government Association (LGA) has published a joint report today with the Centre for Mental Health, calling for urgent investment into mental health recovery in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This should come in the form of funding for councils to spend with local partners, including the voluntary and community sector for successful recovery planning, according to the report.

Schools reopening, workers returning from furlough, people who have been shielding and the economic and housing consequences will all have an impact on the wellbeing of residents.

Mental health problems currently cost UK employers £35bn a year in sickness absence, reduced productivity and staff turnover, this and further research has prompted the report to call for a ‘shift in national focus’ towards a locally-led approach to supporting mental wellbeing in people’s lives.

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News roundup - 6 August 2020

Local government facing unprecedented cybersecurity threat

The threat of cyberattacks targeting local authorities has spiralled this year and has been compounded by increased homeworking during lockdown, a new report from the government-run National Cyber Security Centre has warned.

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Call to scrap two-tier local government system in rural areas

The ‘confusing’ two-tier model of local government should be abolished and replaced with single unitary councils, a report has argued today.

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Councils urge extension for grants support scheme

Fresh calls have been made for councils to be allowed to dole out to businesses the £1.6bn unspent from the Government’s small firms grant funds.

The calls come after the Government confirmed that local authorities should close their small business grants fund, the retail, hospitality and leisure grants fund and the discretionary grant fund by Friday August 28.

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Councils call for adequate funding to tackle modern slavery

Council leaders have warned children’s services are under significant pressure after the number of child modern slavery referrals increased by 1,400% in five years.

The number of council referrals of suspected child victims of modern slavery in England to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) has risen from 127 in 2014 to 1,971 in 2019.

Children accounted for 91% of all referrals made by councils in 2019, according to the figures.

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News roundup - 30 July 2020

England’s social care plans ‘need timetable and to be a radical rethink’

Ministers must publish a timetable for changes to social care before parliament returns in September and that their plans must envision a “radical rethink”, a coalition of councils and charities is demanding.

Any overhauled system for England must acknowledge “the importance of social care’s local dimension”, the coalition says in a clear warning against a centralised national care service modelled on the NHS or merger with it. The group said any proposals must not just be a funding change to save people from selling their homes to meet costs.

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Majority of councils lack expertise to deal with flood risk, survey reveals

Local authorities are facing a critical shortage of the expertise needed to plan for climate change, a new survey has found.

The survey, conducted by the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA), found only 12% of local authorities strongly agree they have the skills and expertise needed to take account of flood risk now and in the future.

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Councils welcome £2bn active transport ‘revolution’

Thousands of miles of new cycle routes will be built in towns and cities as part of the Prime Minister’s £2bn ‘cycling and walking revolution’.
Under the new measures, more cycle racks will also be installed at transport hubs, city centres and public buildings. More on-street storage and bike hangers will be provided for those people who don’t have space to keep a bike at home.

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