Omicron and beyond

The latest outbreak underlines the importance of a local response.

It was another busy and challenging year for local government as councils continued to respond to the pandemic – and many of those challenges look set to continue in 2022.

While, thankfully, the Omicron variant appears to be less virulent than its predecessors, it is highly infectious, and this is causing its own problems for our vital public services and local economies.

As first was going to press, it was looking unlikely that there would be any new restrictions in England beyond the ‘Plan B’ measures announced in early December, including the wearing of masks in most public indoor venues and home working where possible.

Regardless, we know the impact of Omicron is being felt by the hospitality and leisure sector across the country, which is why it was good to see the Chancellor announce a £1 billion support package for businesses that have been impacted by the variant. 

This will be a lifeline for businesses and councils as they cope with the knock-on effects of the new variant.   

We know councils will also be concerned about the impact of the Omicron variant on adult social care this winter and the pressures facing frontline care services right now.

Our new briefing on the Government’s adult social care reform white paper provides an overview of its proposals, and outlines our call for a greater share of the Health and Social Care Levy to be redirected to adult social care. 

More generally, Omicron’s high infection rate is taking its toll on already hard-pressed council and other public sector workforces, with several NHS trusts declaring ‘critical incidents’ to manage rising staff absences.

“The vaccination and booster programme remains key”

Waste collection, where a shortage of HGV drivers is already causing problems, has also been affected by coronavirus-related staffing issues, and the LGA has called for councils to be able to prioritise key frontline staff for lateral flow testing.

The vaccination and booster programme remains the key to combating the pandemic and reducing pressure on the NHS, with official statistics cited by the British Medical Journal showing that 74 per cent of covid patients in hospital in England in December had not had all three doses, and 61 per cent of covid patients admitted to intensive care were unvaccinated.

So, we were pleased to see the Government announce new funding targeting 60 councils with the lowest vaccine uptake, to be used to run events in communities. Councils know their communities best and play an essential role in reaching people and groups who might be hesitant, or least likely, to come forward for a vaccine. 

Here at the LGA, we will continue to support you in your vital work in helping our residents through the pandemic.

But with the turning of another year, it’s important we take some time to reflect back on the incredible things we have achieved, and look ahead beyond the pandemic to what more needs to be done.

The provisional local government finance settlement offers a potential 6.9 per cent increase in council core spending power in cash terms, albeit subject to us all increasing council tax to referendum limits.

We are expecting a levelling-up white paper shortly, and councils continue to work diligently to tackle the climate emergency and address health inequalities highlighted and worsened by the pandemic.

Councils have gone above and beyond to carry out their roles and ensure local government is operating in the best interests of residents at a time when they are needed the most – thank you all for your incredible hard work.

See www.local.gov.uk/coronavirus for the LGA’s latest updates on the pandemic, and follow us on social media @LGAnews and @LGAcomms

Previous

New vision for adult social care