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News Headlines

One-off grant sparks financial ‘cliff edge’ fear

Councils face a financial "cliff edge" when the one-year £822m services grant ends, prompting concern among senior figures that ministers have failed to appreciate its threat to councils' future viability.

The provisional local government finance settlement announced last month included a one-off, unringfenced £822m services grant for 2022-23, distributed through the government's existing formula for assessed relative need, and leaving open the possibility for moving to a fairer funding transition in future years. However, the settlement did not explicitly commit to the fair funding review in its full form and made no mention of future business rates retention or the proposed business rates reset.

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DfE ‘drawing up proposals’ for councils to run academy trusts

Councils would be allowed to run their own academy trusts under plans believed to be under consideration by the Department for Education.

Successive Conservative education secretaries have shared a vision of all schools becoming academies, although research has shown there is little difference in the performance of schools in academy chains and local authorities.

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Budget could increase inflation, says Treasury Committee

Parliament’s Treasury Committee has released its report on the Budget and, after hearing evidence from the Office for Budget Responsibility, found that wage growth without an accompanying increase in productivity could be economically harmful.

The report identified increased employer national insurance contributions, policies targeting higher wages and the “large fiscal loosening” in the Spending Review as aspects that pose particular risks.

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Other Headlines

National Insurance: Minister says rise in April 'is going ahead' after reports Boris Johnson is considering delaying tax hike

A rise in National Insurance contributions in April "is going ahead", a minister has told Sky News, amid reports Boris Johnson is considering delaying the increase.

Technology minister Chris Philp said funds are needed for the NHS and social care and the move is a "proportionate way" of finding the cash.

His comments come after it was reported by The Times that the prime minister is considering delaying the looming 1.25 percentage point rise for a year as "red meat" for his critics as he faces pressure over the partygate scandal.

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Gove allows under-pressure councils to drop services

Under-pressure councils can drop some non-statutory services if they need to cope with coronavirus workforce pressures, local government secretary Michael Gove has conceded.

In a letter to the sector last week, Mr Gove said he recognised that councils faced ‘increased short-term pressures’ due to staff absences and accepted that local authorities may need to prioritise.

He wrote: ‘Where prioritisation happens, you will need to protect statutory services including adult social care, children’s social care, homelessness and waste services.

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NAO: Significant weaknesses remain in government financial modelling

Continuing weaknesses with financial modelling within Whitehall is putting public value for money at risk, according to the National Audit Office.

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Authority to publish carbon ‘budget’ alongside finances

Suffolk County Council declared a climate emergency in 2019, and cabinet members believe the “historic” move will help realise their net-zero goals.

The authority will record data including the energy used to power buildings, travel by its workers, waste disposal and fuel for public transport and gritters, for example.

“This is an historic budget, the first full budget of its kind that the council has ever produced,” said deputy leader and cabinet member for finance and environment Richard Rout.

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Levelling up in doubt as £1bn a year cut from post-Brexit regional funding, MPs warn Rishi Sunak

A Treasury Committee report into October’s Autumn Budget and Spending Review highlighted that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is worth just 60 per cent of the EU Structural Investment Fund it is replacing.

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which is due to be launched this April, was described in the Spending Review as the “centrepiece” of the Government’s levelling up ambitions and is due to be worth £1.5bn a year by 2024/25. But the committee’s report highlighted that it is the replacement for the EU Structural Fund programme, which it said had been worth £2.5bn a year before Brexit.

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Rents are rising at ‘the fastest rate on record’

Rents are rising at the fastest rate on record – and there is no sign of the surge stopping in 2022.

Average asking rents have hit an annual growth of 9.9 per cent in the last year and reached £1,068 a month outside of London, according to the property site Rightmove’s Quarterly Rental Trends Tracker.

The highest jump on record has been driven by high demand and a low number of rental properties available following Covid-19’s disruption to the housing market.

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Domestic abuse rises sharply as cause of homelessness in England

The number of households being made homeless because they were fleeing domestic abuse has risen by more than a third in England since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest official figures.

Between July and September of 2021, 6,310 households were accepted as homeless by local councils because of domestic abuse, an increase of 13.7% from the 5,550 recorded in the same quarter last year, and up 34.3% from the 4,700 in the third quarter of 2019.

They accounted for nearly one in five households (17.3%) made homeless during the period, second only to those whose family or friends were no longer willing to accommodate them, which accounted for 30.4%.

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One in five UK councils have no climate action plan, campaigners say

More than one in five of all councils in the UK have no climate action plan, research shows.

In 2019, Theresa May’s government committed the UK to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Since then, hundreds of local authorities have published plans to show how they intend to become carbon neutral.

But analysis by the not-for-profit campaigning organisation Climate Emergency UK, shared exclusively with the Guardian, found that of the 409 local authorities across the UK, 84 still did not have climate action plans, while 139 had not committed to reach net zero emissions by a specific date.

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Key worker pay falling behind rising prices, says TUC

Care home staff and nurses are among key workers facing the prospect of being paid less this year than last, according to the Trades Union Congress.

Pay increases are failing to keep up with rising inflation, leading to another year of "wages gloom" for public sector workers, the TUC said.

That could be a "hammer blow to morale" prompting staff to quit, it said.

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Reinventing schools would boost Britain by £125bn a year, Times Education Commission finds

Reform of the education system would give the British economy a £125 billion-a-year boost to profits, according to a study published by The Times Education Commission.

Today the year-long commission publishes its interim findings, which reveal widespread support by business leaders for an overhaul of schools and universities.

Almost three quarters of companies believe their profitability and productivity would rise by at least 25 per cent if new recruits were better prepared for employment, a survey of businesses by the Commercial Education Trust has found.

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£37.8m government funding for local authorities to boost cybersecurity

£37.8m will be invested to help local authorities boost their cyber resilience as part of the first ever Government Cyber Security Strategy that has been launched.

The government said this will help councils protect the essential services and data on which citizens rely on, including housing benefit, voter registration, electoral management, school grants and the provision of social care.

The new strategy aims to strengthen public services to further protect them from the risk of being shut down by hostile cyber threats.

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LEPs claim survival chances boosted

Local enterprise partnerships (LEP) believe their survival chances have been boosted after a meeting with ministers.

LEPs have been lobbying hard to continue amid a national review and indications from ministers that their powers may be better held by democratically-elected leaders.

One mooted option has been for LEPs to be subsumed into combined authorities, which would be handed control of any capital funding.

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Cumbria continues legal battle against reorganisation

Cumbria CC has vowed to continue its legal battle against local government reorganisation within the county.

The county council is opposed to the Government’s decision to replace the county council and six district councils with two unitaries.

This week it issued a renewal of its claim for permission to apply for a judicial review of the decision in the hope of securing a court hearing.

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Authority to publish carbon ‘budget’ alongside finances

Suffolk County Council declared a climate emergency in 2019, and cabinet members believe the “historic” move will help realise their net-zero goals.

The authority will record data including the energy used to power buildings, travel by its workers, waste disposal and fuel for public transport and gritters, for example.

“This is an historic budget, the first full budget of its kind that the council has ever produced,” said deputy leader and cabinet member for finance and environment Richard Rout.

“Becoming a net zero organisation by 2030 is incredibly ambitious, but I’m committed to doing everything we can to realise that vision.”

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One in six office staff would quit if denied flexible working

About one in six white-collar workers want to change jobs because their employer is forcing them to return to the office.

According to a survey of 1,000 people by the messaging service Slack, those who work in IT, telecoms, sales, legal and marketing are the most determined to continue working from home and are considering switching roles if they are unable to do so.

The research found that while a failure to increase staff pay and a poor bonus scheme were the most common reasons cited for wanting to quit, being forced back into the office also played a part.

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PM ‘committed’ to National Insurance tax rise despite calls to scrap move

Boris Johnson remains "committed" to the proposed National Insurance increase, Downing Street has said, despite some senior Conservative MPs calling for April's increase to be scrapped amid rising cost of living pressures. The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson told reporters Mr Johnson believes the proposal is the "right approach" to "tackling the massive backlog" facing the NHS and to "address the long-standing problem of fixing our social care system".

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At least 4,000 non-Covid excess deaths caused by pandemic in England, report finds

Pressure on the NHS created by COVID-19 led to at least 4,000 excess deaths from other conditions and mean that 32,000 cancer patients who should have started treatment are still waiting, according to new analysis. The figures come from a new report published by the CAGE centre at the University of Warwick and is thought to be the first such report to lay out in detail the potential impact Covid had on people without the virus trying to access healthcare.

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Minister resigns over government record on Covid business loan fraud

A Treasury minister has resigned at the despatch box after criticising the Government's record on tackling fraud in the coronavirus business schemes. Lord Agnew, who was also a Cabinet Office minister, left his role in the House of Lords yesterday afternoon, saying the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy had shown a "lamentable" oversight of Covid loan schemes which has resulted in large amounts of fraud being committed.

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Gove denies levelling-up funding ‘abuse’ amid concerns raised by MPs

Michael Gove has claimed there is “no evidence of any abuse of levelling up funding” after MPs raised “pork barrel politics” concerns. The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary said he “abjures the whole idea of pork barrels”, adding: “What we both believe in is allocating funding on the basis of merit and need.”

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National tutoring programme is scandalous failure, MPs told

A leading academic in social mobility has called for a review into the “scandalous” failure of the national tutoring programme, which is being run by a Dutch human resources firm. Lee Elliot Major, the professor of social mobility at Exeter University, said that it was a lost opportunity to help children who had fallen behind during lockdown.

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Fair Cost of Care fund won't be enough, say providers

The Fair Cost of Care fund aimed at stopping local care markets being destabilised won’t be enough to fix ‘massive staff shortages’ and fix a sector in crisis, says the CEO of the National Care Forum.

Speaking at a King’s Fund webinar today, Vic Rayner said: ‘We are in an absolutely terrible place really for many within social care…. it’s an incredibly difficult moment’.

She said her membership of not-for-profit providers are experiencing an 18% vacancy rate, ‘with a 14% absence rate layered on top of that in relation to Omicron staff shortages and difficulties’.

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Cabinet split emerges over National Insurance increase

A Cabinet split over a controversial plan to increase National Insurance has been exposed as allies of the Business Secretary said he has warned Rishi Sunak against going through with it.

Amid turmoil at Westminster, Kwasi Kwarteng is understood to have privately raised concerns with the Chancellor about a 1.25 percentage point increase in the tax that will take effect in April and cost the average worker an extra £255 a year.

Mr Sunak is understood to be holding firm in favour of the increase. He said on Tuesday that the Treasury has a responsibility to future generations to get Britain's debt under control, despite figures showing the Chancellor's fiscal headroom has increased because the Government borrowed substantially less than forecast last month.

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Green revolution of homes ‘slowed down by flaws and gaps in government support’

Homes are not becoming green quickly enough due to flaws and gaps in government support, councils and environmental groups have said.

Progress in decarbonising both council houses and private properties is being hindered due to the way the schemes work and who can access them, The Independent has been told.

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Star Hobson: Bradford Council stripped of children's and social care services in wake of toddler's death

Children's and social care services at Bradford Council are to be placed in a trust in the wake of the Star Hobson case.

The council had contact with the family of 16-month-old Star before she was murdered by her mother's girlfriend in September 2020.

The not-for-profit trust will be owned by the council but run at "arms-length" under the control of a new independent chair and board of directors.

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UK’s biggest cities lose nearly a year of sales to Covid-related downturn

Britain’s biggest cities have lost almost a year’s worth of sales during the coronavirus pandemic as lockdowns and a lack of office workers and tourists caused a collapse in consumer spending.

As offices have started to reopen following the relaxation of plan B restrictions, the Centre for Cities said Covid-19 had “levelled down” historically more prosperous high street destinations.

London recorded the biggest drop for in-person spending for retail and hospitality, losing as much as 47 weeks’ worth of sales between March 2020 and November 2021 compared with the average value for weekly transactions in 2019 before the crisis hit.

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Councils call for hybrid meetings for budget setting period

Councils have renewed calls for the Government to allow hybrid meetings as they enter their budget setting period. At present, many councils are having to hire costly large venues, such as theatres and sports halls, to enable adequate social distancing and ventilation for the meetings to take place. A spokesperson for the LGA said: “Budget meetings can be the most important councils hold each year and are normally the most heavily attended. Holding these meetings wholly in person is unnecessary when councils have demonstrated over the pandemic that it is possible to meet in a remote or hybrid way.”

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Council tax rebates could offset rises in energy bills

The Government are considering using council tax rebates to limit the impact of rising energy prices, according to reports. Plans being considered would mean people in less expensive homes in council tax bands A to C would receive significant discounts on their bills.

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District authority to use reserves to fund council tax reduction

In January 2021, the authority's medium-term financial strategy proposed increasing council tax rates by 1.99% in 2022-23, equal to £5 per band D property, to help fill a £185,000 budget gap.

However, a MTFS update going to cabinet next week proposes scrapping the rate rise, and reducing council tax bills by £50 with the forecast £993,000 cost funded through reserves.

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Finance round up: District plans council tax cut as county faces £100m shortfall

Harlow BC is proposing to ditch its planned council tax rise for 2022-23 and instead cut council tax bills by an average of £50.

Essex CC is bracing itself for a budget gap of more than £100m within three years, with plans afoot to identify further savings through service redesign and digitisation.

West Northamptonshire Council’s budget plans were in disarray last week after inflation and Covid contributed to cost pressures of £6m more than expected.

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DHLUC official: Voter ID cards ‘by the end of this year’

Councils will be expected to have a system for providing voters with ID cards in place by the end of the year, a senior civil servant involved in the roll out of the policy has said.

Speaking at the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) annual conference this morning, Mark Hughes said the government’s ambition was that voters would be required by law to show ID in time for the May 2023 local elections.

This depends on the Elections Bill which would introduce mandatory voter ID winning parliamentary approval. The bill has been approved by the Commons and is currently being considered by the Lords.

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Entire cabinet 'would back a tax hike delay': Ministers are ready to act as top Tories, business chiefs and economists turn up the heat on Boris Johnson over planned national insurance rise, source sa

The whole Cabinet would back delaying the controversial national insurance hike to help families hit by the cost of living crisis, a top minister claims.

Boris Johnson is being urged to rethink the proposed 1.25 per cent rise, which is due in April when households face a perfect storm of rising energy bills, council tax and inflation.

A string of senior Tory MPs, business leaders and economists have joined the Daily Mail in calling on the Government to delay or scrap Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s plan.

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Council tax rise: Your bills could rise by £220 - are you affected?

This year thousands of Brits could be pushed into poverty as experts forecast a cost of living crisis. National Insurance won’t be the only tax rise to put an increased strain on your finances this year; the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think tank believes that hikes to National Insurance won't be enough to cover the Government's social care plans.

IFS expects that the plan will likely cost around £5 billion a year - nearly three times the amount the Government has currently allocated for the reforms the think tank said.

Now millions of households could face hikes to their council tax bills to help pay for social care reforms.

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Government calls civil servants back to the office

Civil servants were told to get back to their offices to set an example as work from home guidance was dropped yesterday. In the Commons, the Prime Minster said that “across Whitehall, we need to show a lead and make sure that we get back to work”.

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Two more council partnerships scrapped

Two more council partnerships have been scrapped, it has emerged.

Oxfordshire CC and Cherwell DC announced they were splitting this week while a blow has been dealt to the partnership between Gloucester City Council and Gloucestershire CC, with Jon McGinty, who was working across both authorities stripped of his county role.

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Cornwall declares critical care incident

Cornwall Council has declared a critical incident in adult social care.

The council said the move would ‘help alleviate pressure on our hospitals, reduce ambulance waiting times and allow more patients who no longer require hospital care to be discharged back into the community’.

Cornwall could now redeploy staff into different roles to support social care.

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Spending power squeeze amid inflation warning

Councils are bracing themselves for a spending power squeeze amid predictions inflation will soar to its highest level for nearly 30 years this spring.

Rising energy and fuel prices, as well as increasing borrowing costs after the Bank of England increased interest rates to 0.25%, are expected to hit local authorities hard.

Research by bank Goldman Sachs has suggested that inflation will hit 6.8% in April - its highest level on record - with analysts warning this could climb further.

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Sector call for reinstatement of remote meetings gains momentum

A petition calling on the government to reinstate councils’ ability to hold remote meetings has garnered more than 7,500 signatures in just two weeks.

The petition from the Association of Democratic Service Officers and Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) calls on government to change the legislation in order to allow councils the choice to hold online or hybrid meetings, and indicates that this change would be beneficial in the long-term and not only in light of the current spread of Covid-19.

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Council chiefs warn vital health services ‘at risk’

Vital frontline health services are at risk due to a lack of certainty around councils’ public health funding, local authority leaders have warned.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has urged the Government to urgently publish the Public Health Grant funding allocations which councils will receive from April.

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County chief set to revert to district role

Oxfordshire CC’s chief executive is set to return to her “substantive post” as a district chief in the county following the break-up of a partnership agreement between the two councils.

Under a proposal currently being discussed, Yvonne Rees would revert to being chief of Cherwell DC, a post she has held since 2017.

Ms Rees was also appointed to the county council’s most senior officer position in 2018 when a partnership was agreed between the two authorities.

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Ministers acknowledge long-term savings from Everyone In

Ministers have acknowledged that the Government’s Everyone In policy will achieve long-term savings despite arguing it is ‘not a sustainable approach’.

In response to a written Parliamentary question, minister for rough sleeping and housing, Eddie Hughes, did not confirm whether or not the Government had assessed the long-term savings from the policy, but said: ‘We know that moving people away from the streets and preventing rough sleeping in the first instance benefits people’s lives and saves public money in the long-term.’

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Self-imposed housing moratorium costs council £1m

In January 2021, following public pressure, the authority halted high-rise council housing projects in Staines Town Centre until a planning consultation developments in the town was completed.

A report discussed by councillors yesterday revealed that the move had incurred monthly capital pressures of £75,000 (from land holding costs and the inability to capitalise asset management costs) alongside £30,000 revenue costs (from site security and business rates), over the 10 months the moratorium was in place.

The report said: “This monthly figure is just over the equivalent of running our homelessness, housing benefits and leisure administration teams for a year.

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Fly-tipping: Government plans to tackle 'new narcotics' of waste crime

The government has announced plans to tackle what the head of the Environment Agency has called the "new narcotics" of fly-tipping and waste crime.

The proposals would see checks on who is able to handle and dispose of waste, as well as a digital tracking system.

Fly-tipping is the illegal dumping of rubbish, like mattresses and bags of waste, in parks, or on pavements.

There were 1.13 million fly-tipping incidents in England in 2020-21, a rise of 16% on the previous 12 months.

The cost, which includes clear-up and lost taxes, has been estimated to be £1bn a year.

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Justine Greening: ‘A thousand levelling up flowers can bloom through councils’

The purpose of devolution is to level up, former education secretary Justine Greening, who helped popularise the phrase, tells LGC.

Although ‘levelling up’ will forever be associated with Boris Johnson and his team, Justine Greening regularly used the phrase when she was education secretary and has since become one of the concept’s most passionate advocates.

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NHS ‘destabilising’ care market by paying ‘over the odds’ for carers and beds

A former care minister and a senior local government leader have issued warnings about the “destabilising” influence of the NHS into the care market, which can “often pay over the odds” for care compared to councils.

The cost of care is also spiralling due to wage rises and other inflationary pressures, with some care providers expecting their overall costs to rise by up to 10% next year while councils are only said to be increasing their settlements for providers by up to 3%.

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Firms fined £33m for role in council pre-paid card ‘cartels’

Five payments providers have been fined a combined £33m for "illegal cartel behaviour" that reduced choice for councils buying pre-paid cards used to distribute welfare payments to the poorest in society.

An investigation by the Payments System Regulator found that card providers Mastercard, allpay, APS, PFS and Sulion agreed not to compete or poach each other’s clients in the pre-paid card market, breaching competition laws.

The pre-paid cards involved were used by local authorities to allocate welfare payments to vulnerable people, including the homeless, domestic abuse victims and asylum seekers.

Mastercard received the largest fine, totalling £31.5m, meanwhile PFS was charged £916,746, allpay £28,553, APS £755,419 and Sulion £572, the PSR said in an infringement decision published yesterday.

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Value of county’s commercial investments plummet

A Surrey County Council meeting on Tuesday heard that a retail park in Worcester and a former Debenhams in Winchester bought for a combined £90.8m were worth just £41.3m in March last year.

Covid-19 has hit the capital value and rental yields of commercial property, after the government introduced measures restricting evictions, the council said.

Repsonding to a question from Liberal Democrat group leader Will Forster, cabinet member for property Natalie Bramhall told the committee: “Online and high street retail are currently on a very, very uneven playing field and the government are currently looking at this in depth.

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Covid-19: The worst yet to come for local authorities

Collectively, councils were over-compensated by central government for the financial impact of Covid-19. But the withdrawal of support means tougher times lie ahead, says David Phillips from the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

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Pay rises fail to keep up with the cost of living

Average weekly earnings - adjusted for price rises - fell for the first time since July 2020. "Salaries are growing reasonably strongly, but some people are saying they are not feeling much better due to rising prices," the ONS told the BBC.

Regular pay, excluding bonuses and adjusted for inflation, fell 1% in November compared to the same month in the previous year. In November, the inflation rate rose to 5.1% and is expected to reach at least 6% in spring, according to the Bank of England.

The Resolution Foundation think tank said: "Real wages officially began to fall in November, and the current period of shrinking pay packets is likely to get worse before it starts to ease in the second half of 2022."

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Hospitality warning on Covid grants

Struggling hospitality and leisure companies have had to cut back staff and operations after many were left waiting for emergency grants promised before Christmas, according to pubs and business groups, despite the need to cover rents and wages at the end of last year. Councils said that detailed guidance for the grants was only issued on 30 December and updated on 12 January. Cllr Shaun Davies, Chair of the LGA’s Resources Board, said that “grants have been a vital lifeline to businesses and councils will work hard to get any new government funding out to businesses”.

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All Covid restrictions in England could end in March under No 10 plans

No 10 is drawing up plans to phase out England’s remaining pandemic restrictions from as early as March, it is reported, as the Prime Minister signalled that he is prepared to let the UK live with the virus. A senior source confirmed that the Government was looking at ending mandatory self-isolation for positive Covid cases, saying it would be “perverse” to keep the measure in the long term and could be replaced by guidance.

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Self-isolation law set to be scrapped in favour of move towards ‘learning to live with COVID-19’

People will reportedly no longer be legally required to self-isolate when they catch COVID-19 under plans being drawn up by Downing Street to learn to live with coronavirus in the long-term. It is understood Boris Johnson wants to permanently repeal emergency coronavirus laws which have governed how the public can live for nearly two years.

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UK households facing ‘fuel stress’ will treble to 6.3m – thinktank

A study by the Resolution Foundation has estimated that the number of households suffering from “fuel stress” – those spending at least 10 per cent of their family budgets on energy bills – is set to treble to 6.3 million overnight when the new energy price cap comes in on 1 April.

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Drivers warned as UK roads in pothole crisis – ‘can cause costly damage’

Latest findings from insurer Admiral show claims for damage caused by potholes in Britain went up almost 40 per cent in the past five years. It follows the RAC revealing it attended more than 10,000 pothole-related breakdowns last year, the highest since 2018. Analysis by the LGA recently found that annual funding for more than 9.5 million pothole repairs has been removed from council budgets in England.

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Boris Johnson prepares mass clearout to save own skin

Boris Johnson is reportedly planning a series of policy announcements including new plans to tackle the backlog of operations in the NHS, extra money for skills and job training and the lifting of coronavirus restrictions on January 26. This will be followed by publication of the levelling-up white paper in the following week.

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Vulnerable adults in England left uncared for as staffing levels fall

Figures show almost 9,000 people in England are waiting for home care services, but the figure is likely to be much higher with the situation having worsened since last spring. Freedom of Information responses from 96 councils in England have shown 8,808 people have “unallocated” or unsourced hours of home care, meaning they are not getting the home care they have been assessed as needing.

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Javid guarantees private hospitals up to £270m before April amid Omicron risk

The government has told NHS England to give private hospitals up to £270m before the end of March as part of an arrangement that does not necessarily mean they will treat any NHS patients.

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Bradford has most 'levelling up' potential, Index finds

England's 34 biggest cities and towns outside of London were ranked on each of six key indicators and given an overall levelling-up opportunity ranking.

The Levelling Up Opportunity Index found Bradford had the strongest case for economic support as part of the levelling-up agenda,as well as significant capacity for new economic growth.

It was followed by Wolverhampton and Coventry, with Luton and Plymouth coming joint fourth.

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Further details of Lancashire county deal revealed

Lancashire’s 15 council leaders have agreed to consider the creation of a new formal body to oversee the delivery of a county deal.

Lancashire's proposal for a county deal, worth £5.6bn over a seven year period, will be taken to the government following the launch of the levelling up white paper, which is expected to take place later this month or in February.

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Joanne Pitt: Effective scrutiny vital as budget decisions get even tougher

Good financial scrutiny helps ensure councils intelligently consider the needs of residents, writes the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy’s local government policy manager.

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Strike action ‘doubtful’ as union’s ballot results come in

Strike action by local government's biggest trade union is now unlikely to take place because too few members voted in its ballot on industrial action.

Unison had recommended its members oppose local government employers’ ‘full and final’ offer for the pay period from April 2021 to March 2022, which offered most staff a 1.75% increase and those on the lowest pay a 2.75% rise. This contrasts with the minimum 10% rise which the unions submitted in a joint pay claim for last year.

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Pothole-related breakdowns hit three-year high

The number of pothole-related breakdowns rose by almost 20 per cent in 2020 with the RAC responding to over 10,000 incidents, new figures reveal. Drivers are more than one-and-a-half times more likely to break down after hitting a pothole today compared to in 2006, RAC say. Cllr David Renard, transport spokesperson for the LGA, said: “Greater and consistent long-term investment in local road maintenance is needed so councils can embark on the widespread improvement of our roads that is desperately needed.”

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COVID passes to be scrapped

COVID passes for certain events and venues are reportedly set to be scrapped this month as the Omicron Wave eases, with health secretary Sajid Javid telling MPs he shared their “instinctive discomfort” at the policy. Plan B guidance is set to be reviewed on 26 January, where work from home guidance could also be lifted.

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Economy at pre-pandemic levels in November

Britain’s economy bounced back to pre-pandemic levels in late 2021, according to Office for National Statistics data. Gross Domestic Profit (GDP) had risen 0.9 per cent during the month of November 2021, meaning the economy was 0.7 per cent larger than in February 2020. However, the outbreak of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is likely to have impacted this increase in December and into January 2022.

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Government to cut £50m school grant

The Department for Education intends to proceed with plans to scrap a £50m school improvement grant, despite objections from the sector over financial pressures.

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Consultation on local government finance reform ‘due in the Spring’

The government could consult on reforms to local government funding as early as this Spring, according to local government minister Kemi Badenoch.

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Gove closes tax loophole on second homes

Owners of second homes who abuse a tax loophole by claiming their often-empty properties are holiday lets will be forced to pay under tough new measures.

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Councils should consider pressures index similar to NHS

Local government should look at introducing a pressures index similar to the NHS to measure the risks to the critical services it provides, council chiefs have suggested.

A flurry of hospital trusts in England have declared critical incidents as they continue to face increasing pressure from the Omicron wave.

Chief executive of Hertfordshire CC, Owen Mapley, said it would be worth exploring if a risk rating approach similar to the OPEL (Operational Pressures Escalation Levels Framework) used by NHS trusts could be adopted by councils.

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IFS: Inner London and shire districts likely losers from funding reforms

nner London boroughs and shire districts are likely to lose out from the government’s fair funding review (FFR) and other planned finance reforms, a researcher at the Institute for Fiscal Studies has told councils.

The government plans to consult on the allocation of funding to local government this spring, following a series of postponements to its planned fair funding review which was originally due to be implemented from 2020.

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Half of councils forced to ration care, survey reveals

Staff shortages have forced more than of councils in England to ration social care and support, a new survey has revealed.

A new survey by ADASS found half of councils surveyed are taking at least one exceptional measure to prioritise care and assess risk for at least some of their area for some of the time.

This includes prioritising life sustaining care over helping someone get out of bed or completing other activities.

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Staff shortages are ‘excessively high’, warn care providers

Homecare providers are warning that they are having to refuse new requests for home care because of Omicron and ongoing staffing problems.

A new survey from the National Care Forum (NCF) found that 66% of the homecare providers who responded are now having to refuse new requests for home care.

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Improving health of 'left behind' neighbourhoods could boost economy by £30bn, report finds

People living in England's most deprived neighbourhoods have among the worst health outcomes, a new report has revealed.

The report, published by the All-Parliamentary Party Group for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods and Northern Health Science Alliance, shows people living in these areas work longer hours than the rest of the country but live shorter lives with more years in ill health.

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Short term holiday rentals ‘crippling’ rural communities, warns charity

There has been a 1,000% increase in the number of homes listed for short term lets in the past six years, a charity has warned today.

Research by the CPRE shows that between 2015 and 2021 there has been a ‘surge’ in short stay holiday rentals, which is ‘crippling’ the residential market particularly in staycation hotspots and rural areas.

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The LGA and WPI Economics have Published Research into LG Funding Reform

The LGA commissioned WPI Economics to carry out a review of the current and alternative sources of local government revenue financing and an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses against the principles set out by the LGA: sufficiency, buoyancy, fairness, efficiency of collection, predictability, transparency and incentive.

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Daily cases drop 45 per cent in a week

Daily COVID-19 cases have dropped 45 per cent in a week. A further 120,821 infections were announced yesterday by the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA), compared with a record high of 218,724 reported seven days ago. Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that Britain’s very high levels of immunity seem to be “keeping the virus at bay” as he predicted coronavirus would soon settle down to normal patterns of spread seen with other infections.

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Councils to lose out following Jamie’s Italian collapse

Documents published by KPMG, which is managing the insolvency of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain ‘Jamie’s Italian’, show that 19 councils will lose out on £1.44 million in unpaid business rates and taxes as a result of the firm's collapse.

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Levelling up funding failing to focus on social issues, finds research

Analysis by think-tank New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) today hit out at the failure of funding to be spent on tackling social issues such as homelessness, crime and poverty, with investment instead being put towards physical infrastructure such as high streets and buildings.

The think-tank called on ministers to use the Government’s long-awaited levelling up White Paper, which has been delayed until later this month, to address this after its previous research found social issues were priorities for people when judging levelling up’s success.

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Councils chosen to pilot planning schemes

People living in deprived and urban areas will be encouraged to engage more with the planning system under new schemes being piloted by 11 councils.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has announced the 11 areas selected to boost participation in neighbourhood planning.

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Council tax rise cancellation call

Conservative MPs and low tax campaigners have called for planned council tax rises in April to be cancelled, after an economic think tank’s research found that local authorities experienced a smaller financial hit from the pandemic than initially believed. The Institute for Fiscal Studies report said that local authorities' spending increased by only £4.1 billion more than expected before the pandemic, just over half the £7.8 billion rise first suggested in initial estimates.

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Gove clashes with Treasury over bid to boost manufacturing

Michael Gove is said to have clashed with the Treasury over plans to overhaul British manufacturing because of concerns about the costs involved. The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary has reportedly been warned not to go ahead with a White Paper meant to map out the future of the industry, as this would suggest new investment which is not coming.

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IFS: Councils overestimated financial hit from pandemic

The financial impact on councils of the first year of the pandemic was about half what local authorities originally estimated, according to new research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

But councils have said the findings indicate how demand for some services was suppressed during Covid restrictions and that their finances remain under pressure as this re-emerges.

A report from the IFS today says in a survey from last April, councils told the government the pandemic had increased their net spending on non-education services during 2020-21 by about £7.8bn.

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Councils can offer rough sleepers cash as ‘incentives’ to get jab

A spokesperson for the Department of Levelling up, Housing and Communities yesterday confirmed to LGC that “the discretion given to councils include[s] the ability to offer cash or food vouchers as incentives for vaccination”.

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Too many people living in expensive, unsuitable, poor quality homes – report

The Lords Built Environment Committee has said barriers to housebuilding must be removed urgently as too many people are living in expensive, unsuitable and poor quality properties. In a report, it said skills shortages must be addressed, planning departments need more resources, and money spent on housing benefit should be invested in increasing the social housing sock over time. Cllr David Renard, LGA housing spokesperson, said: “We fully support the committee’s call for more investment in increasing social housing stock, if we are to tackle the housing crisis. By giving councils the powers and resources to build 100,000 much-needed social homes a year, we can help the Government meet its annual target of 300,000 new homes. This should include further reform of Right to Buy.” The LGA’s response was also reported by LBC Online and the Evening Standard.

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‘We are coming for you’: Gove’s warning to unsafe property developers

The Housing Secretary Michael Gove is to set out his plans to crack down on unsafe property developers, as he attempts to put pressure on developers to spend money on replacing dangerous cladding. Mr Gove is also expected to announce that leaseholders in buildings 11 to 18 metres tall will no longer have to contribute to replacing cladding.

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Boris Johnson drawing up plans for UK to learn to live with COVID-19

The Prime Minister is expected to set out the Government’s strategy on how the UK will learn to live with COVID-19 in the coming weeks. The measures are expected to include a winding down of the testing regime, with free lateral flow tests ended for all but the most high-risk settings and a possible reduction in isolation periods.

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Scrap business rates due to energy costs – Labour

Labour is calling for business rates to be scrapped to help companies struggling to cope with increasing energy prices.

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Planning U-turn lets residents keep right to reject new builds

Homeowners will still be able to object to individual planning applications after the government confirmed a U-turn on reforms to the system.

Ministers had planned to replace the planning application process with a zonal system and mandatory housebuilding targets, stripping homeowners of their right to object.

The Times reported in September that the shake-up of planning laws was to be abandoned after a backlash from voters and Conservative MPs in southern England. A change of approach from the government, however, was contained in a submission to the Lords built environment committee.

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Council calls on staff to volunteer for social care roles

North Yorkshire County Council has urged staff working in non-critical services to volunteer for social care roles due to the pressures caused by the spread of Omicron.

The council has already reorganised staff into different roles due to reduced staffing levels across critical care services and the wider care sector.

It is also asking employees in services such as highways, planning, and back-office jobs to step into social care roles if needed.

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County leaders hit back at Gove’s governor notion as a ‘recipe for disaster’

Mr Gove sparked controversy last month when he told the Spectator he likes the idea of a governor of Wiltshire as part of the extension of devolution to rural areas. But the idea has been roundly dismissed by the two leaders of the historic county, Wiltshire's Richard Clewer and Swindon's David Renard.

The concept of governors and mayors for county areas has not gone down well with shire leaders across England. A recent County Councils Network survey showed just three out of 28 county leader respondents – one in 10 leaders – felt a directly elected mayor was suitable for their area.

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Cutting self-isolation to five days would be helpful, Nadhim Zahawi says

Cutting the Covid self-isolation period to five days would "certainly help", a cabinet minister has said.

Nadhim Zahawi also denied the government planned to stop supplying free lateral flow tests - after a report in a Sunday paper.

People who test positive for Covid are required to self-isolate for at least seven days, but several sectors are experiencing staffing pressure.

Mr Zahawi told the BBC the country was on the road "from pandemic to endemic".

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Plea for return of online council meetings

Preventing local politicians from meeting virtually is hampering councils, worrying older councillors and shutting out new participants, according to Jackie Weaver, who rose to fame following a viral video clip of an ill-tempered parish council meeting 10 months ago. A recent LGA survey of councils, conducted before the emergence of Omicron, found that 72 per cent had recorded a decline in councillor attendance at statutory council meetings and 73 per cent had reported a fall in public attendance. The LGA has called on the Government to urgently bring forward emergency legislation, saying the gathering of up to 200 people in one room is an “unnecessary public health risk”. LGA Chairman Cllr James Jamieson said emergency legislation would help curb the spread of the virus and make sure “councils can continue to make democratic decisions, even during times of emergency”.

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Cost of living crisis and social care

Households are facing a cost of living crisis with every home set for a £1,200 increase in bills this year as energy prices and taxes rise, it is reported. The Bank of England predicts inflation could rise as high as 7 per cent, a level not seen since 1991. The average Band D council tax bill increased by 4.4 per cent in England last year, although some councils increased bills by more than 7 per cent. The LGA says that the social care shortfall alone will be £8 billion this year.

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Auditor fined over local audit failings

The Financial Reporting Council has fined accounting firm Mazars £250,000 over "insufficient and undocumented” challenge on the valuation of refurbishment costs in a local authority audit.

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Care providers call for ‘emergency army of volunteers’

Independent care providers have called on the Government to create an emergency army of volunteers to help solve the social care staffing crisis.

The Independent Care Group (ICG) has written to the health secretary appealing to him to tackle the social care staffing crisis by setting up an army of volunteers which can step in and help in care settings.

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NAO qualifies opinion on BEIS accounts due to fraud in Covid-19 schemes

Fraud and error in pandemic support programmes have led to head of the National Audit Office Gareth Davies qualifying his opinion on the 2020-21 accounts of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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Three-day Covid test wait adding to spiralling workforce pressures

Waits of up to three days to receive Covid PCR test results are adding to social care's workforce capacity crisis, LGC has been told.

Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president Stephen Chandler also said workforce pressures were resulting in a “legacy of tiredness” among those working in the sector, with the "psychological impact" of the pandemic on staff not fully appreciated yet.

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County seeks approval on care worker payment incentive

Cambridgeshire County Council is set to approve a retention payment scheme for social care workers, to help improve staff retention.

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McManus: Public health funding delay may lead to service cuts

England’s most senior director of public health has warned delays in announcing councils’ public health funding allocation could lead to interruptions and cuts to vital services such as health visitors and drug and alcohol treatment.

The public health grant allocation for 2021-22 was £3.3bn, an increase of 1.4% from the previous year. At October’s spending review, the government promised to maintain the grant “in real terms” until 2024-25, but it has not yet confirmed the amount for 2022-23.

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Hit services or your residents? The great council tax dilemma

Data from the first 50 councils for which figures had emerged showed over two-thirds were going for the maximum rise permitted without a referendum. A number of those which were not going for the maximum were going for only a fraction under it.

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Widespread concern at ‘pointless’ business grants red tape

Councils have warned that administering the government’s new support grants for businesses hit by the omicron variant will be a “tough ask”, with some calling for conditions to be relaxed to allow them to distribute the funding more quickly.

The government on Friday confirmed details of more than £700m in government grants that will be distributed by councils to businesses impacted by Covid-19.

Hospitality, leisure and accommodation businesses will be able to apply for one-off cash grants of up to £6,000 from the new £635m Omicron hospitality and leisure grant scheme.

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Stephen Hughes: Business rates system still needs fundamental reform

The government’s review was an opportunity lost and radical intervention is needed to sustain viable businesses, writes the former chief executive of Birmingham City Council and non-executive director of the Valuation Office Agency, 2017-21.

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People who test positive on lateral flow tests won't need follow-up PCR, govt to announce - as 'around a million' isolating

The government is expected to make changes to testing rules today meaning those who test positive on lateral flow tests will no longer need a follow-up PCR, Sky News understands - as "around a million people" are currently isolating as a result of coronavirus.

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More than 90 care home operators in England declare red alert over staffing

Care operators are facing acute staffing shortages caused by Omicron with more than 90 declaring a “red” alert, which means staffing ratios have been breached.

Over 11,000 care home workers are off for Covid reasons, according to internal health system staffing data seen by the Guardian. One of the UK’s largest private operators, Barchester, is dealing with outbreaks in 105 of its 250 homes. It said that rules meaning homes with Covid cannot accept hospital discharges will cause backlogs in the already struggling NHS.

Across England, 9.4% of care home staff are off work, according to government live data, with close to 3% absent because of Covid. The figures, which may be an underestimate because of the festive break, are drawn from submissions by thousands of care providers.

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Less than half social care staff have had Covid booster

Concern has been expressed over the reluctance of social care staff to receive the Covid booster jab, as LGC has been told that less than half have received their third dose of vaccine.

Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president Stephen Chandler told LGC that the latest data he received - which does not appear to have been publicly released - shows that as of yesterday just under 50% of the social care workforce had received their booster.

He said percentages were in the “very late 40s” for care homes and “mid to late 40s” for home care - both figures much lower than the more than seven out of 10 of eligible adults in the general population who have received their booster.

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Over two thirds of councils set to raise council tax by maximum

More than two thirds of councils are considering raising council tax by the maximum amount permitted without having to hold a referendum, LGC research has suggested.

Our analysis of the 50 councils whose plans we have so far seen reveals 68% are considering raising their council tax to the maximum amount permitted without a referendum.

For upper and single tier authorities, this is a 2.99% increase, including the 1% social care precept and 1.99% for general council tax. District councils may choose the greater of a 1.99% or £5 rise.

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Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi says 'we must do everything we can' to keep schools open as he announces extra help

Nadhim Zahawi announced a vaccination service at schools will be available for eligible children from Monday, while a review of secondary school pupils having to wear face coverings in classrooms will take place on 26 January.

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District Council proposes U-turn on council tax rise after government boost

Mansfield District Council’s cabinet said in October it wanted to increase its portion of council tax by 1.99% in 2022-23, which would have raised £115,000 of extra revenue.

But the one-year local government settlement in December confirmed the authority would receive an additional £401,000 of grants, and the cabinet now wants to reverse its original plans.

“This would be good news for Mansfield residents, many of whom continue to be affected by the pandemic,” said corporate and finance portfolio holder Craig Whitby.

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Councils in £450m ‘truck cartels’ compensation challenge

The group of councils launched the challenge in November 2020 against 15 truck companies, after the European Commission found in 2016 they had colluded between 1997 and 2011 to fix prices.

The authorities’ claim that the collusion meant “materially higher” costs for leasing and purchasing of heavy good vehicles used for refuse collection, street cleaning, waste disposal as well as contracts for such services that relied on the use of trucks.

Written defences and replies were submitted to the High Court in December, with disclosures and witness statements set to be filed next, but PF understands progress on the case is likely to progress slow due to a courts backlog caused by Covid-19.

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Ministers reject calls for council meetings to be held online

Councils must continue holding meetings in person, the Government has said, as it rejected calls to introduce laws despite the spread of the Omicron variant. Lord Greenhalgh, a minister of state at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, confirmed the policy in response to a written question. Last month the LGA had called on ministers to urgently bring in emergency legislation to enable councils to return to hybrid meetings.

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Bins ‘overflowing’ in parts of England as COVID-19 hits collections

Bins across England are reportedly “overflowing” with waste from the festive period as a result of coronavirus-related staff shortages. Councillors in London, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Buckinghamshire have warned that bin collections are being scaled back due to staff sickness. An LGA spokesperson said: “As cases of COVID-19 rise in light of the Omicron variant, councils are concerned that these existing staffing issues may get worse.” The LGA’s lines were reported in the Independent, Star, Mirror, Sky News, Evening Standard and Mail.

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NHS trusts declare critical incidents amid COVID-19 staff crisis

Multiple NHS trusts have declared “critical incidents” following rising staff absences caused by COVID-19, as health leaders warned pressure was increasingly spreading to hospitals outside London.

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More COVID-19 absences expected as UK schools return

More coronavirus-related staff and pupil absences are expected this term as schools return following the Christmas break. Teaching unions warn it is likely some classes and year groups will be sent home to learn remotely at times.

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Arthur Labinjo-Hughes: More vulnerable children to be let in school during future lockdown closures

More children have been added to the list of those who should remain in school even if they are closed, following the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. The Department for Education has updated guidance on “vulnerable” pupils who would be eligible for a place in the classroom should there be another national lockdown.

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‘Super stranded’ patients take up 3,000 more NHS hospital beds in a year

Official figures show at least 3,000 more NHS beds are being taken up by “super stranded” patients compared with last year. Charities have said elderly people were being left on hospital wards for weeks and even months for want of social care.

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Sugar tax diverted away from fighting childhood obesity

Revenue from the soft drinks levy has reportedly been diverted from specific projects to fight childhood obesity into the Treasury. According to a Freedom of Information request, the Department for Education has said that the levy “is no longer directly linked to any specific programmes, or departmental spending”.

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‘Cost-of-living catastrophe’

Households in Britain face an average hit of £1,200 as a result of rising energy bills and taxes, according to The Resolution Foundation (RF). With inflation forecast to peak in spring at 6 per cent, the energy price cap increasing and National Insurance contributions rising by 1.25 per cent, RF says families are facing a “cost-of-living catastrophe”.

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Counties' concern at care funding

County councils have expressed concern at the level of central funding to rebalance care markets.

CCN’s adult social care spokesperson, Cllr Martin Tett, said: ‘We remain concerned that the funding committed for this policy - £1.4bn for the whole country over the next three years - will not be sufficient.

‘We estimate that the move to allow more private care users to access lower local authority rates is likely to cost up to £761m per year in county areas alone and this excludes homecare.’

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Councils call for billions of pounds to be diverted from NHS to social care

Councils in England are calling for billions of pounds a year earmarked for the NHS to be diverted to social care amid warnings of severe care worker shortages and hundreds of thousands of people not getting the help they need. The LGA wants a rethink of the government policy announced in October, where the majority of receipts from the Health and Social Care Levy has been reserved for the health service and warned the measures fail to deal with “immediate, frontline pressures facing care services right now”. The LGA has calculated that councils need up to £9.5 billion a year more by 2025 to cover unmet care packages, increase pay and finance care homes fairly. Cllr David Fothergill, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “We recognise the NHS faces a significant backlog which needs to be tackled, but so does social care, which faces huge challenges in addressing unmet and under-met need, workforce shortages and care worker pay. Otherwise we are building towards a future based on inadequate foundations.”

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Extra £60m to support adult social care services

Local authorities will receive an extra £60m to support the adult social care response to COVID-19 this month, the Government recently announced.

Local authorities will be able to use the Omicron Support Fund to protect people from infection and support the sector.

This includes increasing the use of direct payments to give people more control over their care and support arrangements, and paying for COVID-19 sickness and self-isolation pay for staff.

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Bins ‘overflowing’ across parts of England due to Covid-related staff shortages after Christmas

Overflowing bins have been spotted across parts of England as Omicron-related staff shortages have resulted in delayed waste services.

London, Essex, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Birmingham are some of the areas affected bylacked of workers, and bin collections have been halted as a result.

In the London borough of Enfield, Conservative councillor Stephanos Ioannou said: “I’ve been driving round my ward and seeing bins overflowing and Christmas trees left outside.”

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Covid: Boris Johnson plans to 'ride out' Omicron wave with no more curbs

Boris Johnson says he hopes England can "ride out" the current wave of Covid-19 without further restrictions.

But he acknowledged parts of the NHS would feel "temporarily overwhelmed" amid a surge of Omicron cases.

The prime minister said there was a "good chance" he would not impose fresh measures and would recommend continuing the government's "Plan B" strategy in England to ministers on Wednesday.

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Levelling up to wait as No 10 confronts Covid

Speculation around details within the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper – due to be published this month – continues with a suggestion that the Government is considering introducing a statutory levelling-up quango, which would monitor every aspect of government policy for its impact on regional inequalities.

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Government drawing up plans to prioritise key workers during test shortages

Nurses, lorry drivers and government officials could be prioritised for COVID-19 tests, it is reported. Health officials are also considering whether to free up capacity by scrapping the requirement for a positive lateral flow result to be confirmed by a PCR test. It is modelled that up to a quarter of public sector workers could be off work due to COVID-19.

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