It has been another busy and challenging month for all the councillors and officers responding to the rise in COVID-19 infections across the country, and those involved in negotiations with the Government regarding local and regional restrictions and wider general support for councils.
As always, councils are demonstrating their local leadership as we seek to balance the importance of keeping people safe and well, manage the impact on public services and navigate the significant social and economic costs of higher restrictions.
As this edition of first was going to press, Wales was going into a “short, sharp” national lockdown, with people told to stay at home; pubs, hotels and non-essential shops closed; and meeting with people outside your household banned both indoors and outside.
The Welsh ‘firebreak’ replaced 17 local lockdowns and also closed down Halloween and Bonfire Night gatherings. But primary schools and Year 7 and 8 pupils at secondary schools were expected to return to their classrooms after the half-term break.
In England, more areas were expected to join Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and Lancashire in the ‘very high’ (level three) category of the Westminster Government’s three-tier system of local COVID alert levels – meaning no socialising with other households indoors or in most outdoor settings, and the closure of all pubs unless they are operating like restaurants and serving substantial meals.
Swathes of the rest of England are in tier two (‘high’), with no socialising indoors with anyone outside your household or support bubble. However, schools and universities remain open in all areas.
I know that increased restrictions will be an adjustment for many of our residents and businesses, and also impact our own personal lives. I would like to thank again the many colleagues who are working around the clock to ensure that we can continue to support our residents and local economies.
As your national membership body, the ongoing need for close and early engagement with councils continually and consistently features in all of our discussions on your behalf with government.
“Councils are demonstrating their local leadership as we navigate the significant social and economic costs of higher restrictions”
In recent weeks, this has included pushing for announcements to include closer working with councillors and councils and locally led solutions to the challenges we face as a nation.
Councils’ expert skills and knowledge of local areas has been illustrated by recent COVID-19 test and trace figures. These show that cases handled by local public health teams are continuing to reach the vast majority of complex cases assigned to them, with a tremendous 97.7 per cent of people contacted and asked to self-isolate.
This compares with the declining figures for those contacted by NHS Test and Trace, who successfully contacted 62.6 per cent of close contacts for the cases assigned to them.
The LGA has used these figures to highlight the measures that can be taken to ensure councils can more quickly respond to outbreaks.
This performance once again demonstrates that councils can innovate to deliver locally where centrally designed and controlled public services struggle – a point we have made repeatedly and will keep on making loudly.