Localising test and trace

Councils are to get additional national resources to help them reach more people with COVID-19.

The scale of the international coronavirus crisis means there have undoubtedly been challenges for governments across the world. 

Minimising the spread of infection by testing, tracing and isolating the contacts of those who are infected is just one of those issues it has been difficult for national leaders to get right. Given the World Health Organization’s message that these prevention and response measures are key to tackling this global pandemic, it is in all our interests for our Government’s national plan to test and trace people for COVID-19 to work effectively.

This pandemic has highlighted the value of local knowledge, supported by national coordination and resources. In local government, we are lucky that our directors of public health and their teams have unrivalled skills and vast experience of contact tracing. 

This is alongside a whole host of teams, across the local government family, who want to play their full part in stopping the spread of infection. This includes those working in environmental health, emergency planning, trading standards and infection control.

Since this outbreak took hold, the LGA has consistently made the case for councils to have the necessary powers, resources and authority to be able to lead the response locally and tackle outbreaks swiftly and effectively. 

We know that COVID-19 is best understood as a pattern of local outbreaks, rather than a national pandemic with a similar impact in every community. Even where powers were initially constrained and data did not flow as it should have, councils went above and beyond to deliver localised responses.

The success of any programme depends on the continued cooperation of the public. The LGA’s recent polling shows that 73 per cent of residents trust their local council to make decisions about how services are provided in their local area, compared to 18 per cent who said they trusted the Government. Empowering councils to provide much needed reassurance to their residents therefore make sense.

So it is good news that the Government has announced additional national support to local authorities, in order to reach more people. Councils have already made a success of their own contact tracing programmes in areas including Blackburn with Darwen, Luton and Leicester. 

All local authorities with public health responsibilities will now have dedicated, ring-fenced teams from the national service to support their local activity. This integrated national and local system merges the best of both worlds, combining specialist knowledge, essential data and additional resources. 

As we move into the next phase and what could be a challenging winter period, it is important that councils continue to have the tools to be able to understand where the outbreaks are happening and be able to act quickly to contain them. This will require local leadership and local responsibility, backed by necessary funding.

The LGA will continue to make these points as the Government expands on its plans to merge Public Health England, NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre into a new body – the National Institute for Health Protection – to tackle COVID-19 and protect the nation’s health.

The LGA continues to push for the powers, flexibilities and funding councils need to support our communities and shape our places. This includes lobbying for long-term, sustainable funding through our engagement ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review. 

 For more information and coronavirus resources, please visit www.local.gov.uk/coronavirus.

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