As first was going to press, the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was being administered for the first time in the UK.
The roll-out of a second approved vaccine is a cause for hope, in what has otherwise been a bumpy start to 2021, with rising infection rates and hospitals struggling with more COVID-19 patients than in the first wave.
Schools in England, in particular, had a shaky Christmas and New Year ahead of the 4 January decision to move all learning online (except for children of key workers and vulnerable youngsters) as part of a third national lockdown.
We all know that being in school or early years’ provision is hugely important for children’s life chances, and particularly so for our most vulnerable youngsters.
But parents and teachers who were anxious about the possibility of schools reopening in January will need reassurance that their schools are safe come February when, hopefully, they might open their gates again to more pupils.
That reassurance can be provided, based on the latest local public health advice and data – if schools have the local flexibility to take their own decisions, in consultation with councils.
While the Government must, of course, set the national direction in respect of the pandemic, it really needs to start listening to councils as they have the on-the-ground knowledge to respond to every aspect of tackling the pandemic locally – from school re-openings, to support for vulnerable residents and ensuring as many people as possible are vaccinated.
Meanwhile, before Christmas, you will have received our on-the-day briefing on the provisional local government finance settlement for England.
With the Budget set for 3 March, we will continue to make the case for investment in the council services that will be so crucial in the fight against COVID-19 and to levelling up communities and local economies.