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News Headlines

High air pollution linked to irreversible sight loss

People living in areas with higher levels of air pollution are more likely to develop a progressive and irreversible type of sight loss, a study has shown.

Researchers from University College London found higher rates of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) among people in more polluted areas, even when pollution levels were within World Health Organisation guidelines.

AMD is the leading cause of irreversible blindness among over-50s in high income countries. In the UK about 600,000 people are affected.

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Depression among children is at frightening levels, doctors warn

Schools must fully reopen with vaccinations for staff to avoid a “calamitous” impact on children’s mental health, some of the country’s top paediatricians have warned.

In a letter to The Times today, ten of the UK’s top experts in child health say that anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts are at “frightening levels” among children and many parents are on the brink of breakdown.

A group of experts including Claire Hogg, a consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine, Andrew Bush, a professor of paediatric respirology, and Ian Balfour Lynn, a specialist in child respiratory medicine, warn that the lockdown is inflicting serious damage on children’s development and wellbeing.

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Quarantine hotel plans set to be announced

Some travellers coming to England will have to quarantine in hotels amid concerns about new Covid variants, the government is expected to announce.

Boris Johnson will discuss proposals with ministers later, but a decision may not be announced until Wednesday.

Most foreign nationals from high-risk countries are already denied UK entry, so the new rules will mainly affect returning UK citizens and residents.

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Other Headlines

Pandemic is 'levelling down' the South, report warns

The economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic will make it four times harder to level up the North and Midlands, a new study has revealed.

Cities Outlook 2021, published by Centre for Cities, warns the pandemic also risks levelling down prosperous places in southern England. It highlights that 634,000 people outside the Greater South East now need to find secure, well-paid jobs to level up the country, compared to 170,000 last March.

The report found Birmingham, Hull and Blackpool face the biggest levelling up challenge, while London, Crawley and Slough are among the prosperous places of concern due COVID-19’s potential long-term impact.

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Councils back postponement of May local elections

Senior council figures have urged the Government to postpone the local elections planned for May, according to a new poll.

The survey by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) reveals that councils are overwhelmingly concerned about their ability to deliver a May poll. Instead, 69% of council officials believe an autumn timetable is more achievable.

Those responding to the poll call on the Government to provide additional ring-fenced funding to make elections safe, and greater expansion of postal voting.

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Government must use 2021 to get levelling up back on track

Urgent action is needed to level up Northern cities and towns – and prevent parts of the South being levelled down, writes the chief executive of Centre for Cities.

After many difficult months there is reason to hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight and our lives could soon return to some form of normality. A speedy vaccination programme could mean that by summer restaurants, shops and pubs can re-open and, despite what some commentators have said, the benefits of face-to-face interaction mean many people will return to their offices.

But the scaling down of the public health crisis will mean a scaling-up of economic crisis – primarily repairing the damage Covid-19 has done to the national economy and the economies of our cities and towns.

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councils to get £23m to encourage high-risk groups to have jab

The government will provide £23m in funding to dozens of councils in England to help fight misinformation around coronavirus vaccines and to encourage uptake of the jab among more high-risk communities.

Councils with plans to contact people from minority ethnic backgrounds, older people and disabled people have been chosen for the financial support, as these groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are more likely to be dealing with its long-term effects.

A number of experts and politicians recently called for people in high-risk minority ethnic groups to be prioritised for immunisation, and for them to be targeted by publicity campaigns aimed at tackling vaccine scepticism.

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Most job roles for youths not yet filled

Fewer than 2,000 young people have so far started new roles under the government's £2bn Kickstart jobs scheme, data shows.

The programme, which launched in September, has created 120,000 temporary jobs to date.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the BBC coronavirus restrictions were making it harder for more young people to get started.

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Councils report nearly 5% dip in parking profits

Local authorities in England have reported a slight dip in parking profits, which they warn could impact their ability to fix potholes and tackle congestion.

An analysis by the RAC Foundation of the standardised financial returns made by 338 English councils to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) found that they made a combined profit of £891m from parking in 2019-20. This was 4.6% lower than the £934m surplus made in the previous year.

Responding to the RAC’s findings, the Local Government Association (LGA) emphasised that any money made from parking management is reinvested in ‘essential transport projects’.

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‘Pressure cooker’ lockdown set to drive rising costs

Councils were facing a Covid-driven funding gap of more than £2bn in 2020-21 even before the latest lockdown led to a further soaring service demand, LGC has learned, as expectation mounts that the gap between government funding and the cost pressures authorities are facing is widening again.

Analysis of the sector’s latest financial returns to the government by the Local Government Association found total in-year Covid pressure projected by councils was around £9.7bn, made up of £6.9bn of cost pressures and £2.8bn of non-tax income losses.

After taking account of additional funding provided by ministers, including via clinical commissioning groups for social care and an estimated £1bn from the sales, fees and charges compensation scheme, the LGA estimated the gap this year is almost £2.3bn.

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Almost four in five of over-80s have received first dose of coronavirus vaccine but supply is 'tight', says Matt Hancock

Almost four in five of those aged over 80 have received a first dose of a COVID vaccine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, Mr Hancock said the government was "on track" to meet its deadline of offering a first dose of a coronavirus jab to 15 million of the most vulnerable by 15 February.

He said more than one in nine of the UK's adult population had now received a jab, including 78.7% of all over-80s.

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UK records lowest daily rise in coronavirus cases so far this year

The UK has recorded its lowest daily rise in coronavirus cases so far this year, with 22,195.

The last time the number of cases by date reported was lower than that was 15 December, according to the government's coronavirus data dashboard.

While there is usually a reporting lag over and immediately after the weekend, resulting in lower increases, it's also well down on yesterday's figure of 30,004 and the 37,535 posted last Monday.

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Schools will be told of reopening plans 'as soon as we can'

The government will tell teachers and parents when schools in England can reopen "as soon as we can", the prime minister has said.

MPs have called on the government to set out a "route map" for reopening amid concerns for children's education.

Boris Johnson said he understood why people wanted a timetable but he did not want to lift restrictions while the infection rate was "still very high".

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English council chiefs back postponement of May local elections

A further postponement to this year’s local elections, in the wake of the continuing difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic, is backed by the vast majority of senior council figures across England, the Observer can reveal.

Only 11% of the senior officials dealing with the forthcoming elections believe they should go ahead in May as planned, despite the government’s determination to press ahead. More than two-thirds (69%) believe the huge set of elections should now take place in the autumn, according to the most comprehensive survey of council chief executives, leaders and officers in charge of organising elections to be conducted on the issue.

A further 14% called for a shorter delay to the summer and 6% backed a postponement beyond this autumn, according to the analysis by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU). Of the more than 350 officials who responded, two-thirds said they were “very concerned” about holding elections in May.

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Swathes of England's vital flood defences ‘almost useless’

Thousands of England’s vital flood defences were in such a state of ruin last year they would fail to protect communities from extreme weather, an investigation has found.

More than 3,400 of England’s “high consequence” flood assets, defined as those where there is a high risk to life and property if they fail, were judged by the Environment Agency to be in such a bad condition they were almost useless.

This means that more than one in 20 of the country’s crucial flood defences were in disrepair in 2019-20, the highest proportion in years. This rose to nearly one in 10 in the regions battered by Storm Christoph last week.

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Fears grow over hidden child abuse since start of pandemic

Vulnerable children are facing an increasing wave of hidden abuse since the start of the pandemic, according to ongoing evidence of a slump in the numbers being identified by social services.

The impact of the pandemic since March has intensified issues such as domestic violence, parental mental health and alcohol and substance abuse – all factors that put children at greater risk.

However, there has been a significant fall in referrals to council children’s services of 10% between the end of April and November, according to research by the Office for the Children’s Commissioner in England.

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UK variant 'may be more deadly'

Early evidence suggests the variant of coronavirus that emerged in the UK may be more deadly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

However, there remains huge uncertainty around the numbers - and vaccines are still expected to work.

The data comes from mathematicians comparing death rates in people infected with either the new or the old versions of the virus.

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Ministers to discuss £500 Covid payment to boost self-isolation rates

Ministers are to discuss proposals to pay anyone in England who tests positive for Covid-19 £500 to self-isolate.

It is among the suggestions in a leaked document from the Department of Health. There are fears the current financial support is not working because low paid workers cannot afford to self-isolate.

But a senior government source cast doubt on the idea, saying it had been drawn up by officials and had not been considered by the prime minister.

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Government finances at 'significant risk' from debt-laden councils due to Covid

Local authorities who are taking on risky levels of debt to shore up dwindling resources during the pandemic present a “significant risk” to the government’s finances, MPs have warned.

The Commons’ public accounts committee urged the Treasury on Friday to detail how it will manage the risk to the nation’s finances as the extra pressures of dealing with coronavirus adds to the pressure on councils.

Meg Hillier, the committee’s chair, criticised the department as having a “worryingly laissez-faire attitude” to the issue as the MPs predicted more authorities will soon be unable to balance their books.

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Councils face legal challenges against pop-up cycle lanes and road closures introduced during Covid-19 pandemic

Town halls are facing at least ten legal challenges against road schemes brought in during the pandemic.

Residents' groups are applying for judicial reviews into measures such as road closures and pop-up cycle lanes at a High Court hearing next month.

The cases include schemes introduced in the London boroughs of Hackney, Ealing, Hounslow, Lambeth, Croydon and Camden which the campaigners want scrapped.

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UK borrowing hits highest December level on record

UK government borrowing hit £34.1bn last month, the highest December figure on record, as the cost of pandemic support weighed on the economy.

It was also the third-highest borrowing figure in any month since records began in 1993, the Office for National Statistics said.

The figures underline Chancellor Rishi Sunak's problems as he prepares his March Budget. Borrowing for this financial year has now reached £270.8bn. That is £212.7bn more than a year ago, the ONS said.

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Council finances a ‘significant risk' to the Treasury

MPs have warned that the financial sustainability of some local authorities presents a “significant risk” to the government's finances, and urged the swift implementation of the Redmond review into council audit.

In a report on the Whole of Government Accounts, the Public Accounts Committee said that, due to the Covid-19 and investment pressures, it expects more local authorities to issue section 114 notices to stop essential spending.

The PAC expressed concerns about the level of oversight and control that the Treasury is exercising and whether it has a sufficient handle on local government finance, given it would be responsible for bailing out any struggling organisations.

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Councils ‘in driving seat’ over shared prosperity fund, Jenrick insists

The communities secretary has said the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) and the £4bn levelling up fund - both intended to replace current EU funding - will have “localism and local government at their heart”.

Robert Jenrick's comments at a meeting of the Local Government Association councillors' forum this afternoon should go some way to diminishing fears local enterprise partnerships (leps) would be given the primary local role in their delivery, rather than local government.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government will publish prospectuses for the levelling up fund and £220m to pilot projects in preparation for the UKSPF “within weeks”, he said.

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County’s leaders present legal solution to let remote meetings continue

Council leaders from across Essex have written to Robert Jenrick urging him to extend provisions to hold virtual meetings after obtaining legal advice that it would be in his power to do so.

The letter to the communities secretary, seen by LGC, warns that without the ability to hold remote meetings councils will not be able to comply with their duty under the Local Government Act 1999 to secure continuous improvement in services.

It says that as it is “inevitable that social distancing advice will be in place in May 2021 and for many months thereafter”, come May Essex CC will “have the least transparent arrangements it has ever had”. This is because under social distancing requirements it will only be able to fit 49 of its 75 members into the council chamber and no members of the public or press.

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Cambridgeshire’s £24m education boost may not be enough for SEND pupils

Cambridgeshire County Council has announced that £24m will be added onto schooling budgets in the upcoming year, owing to extra demand placed on schools during coronavirus, because of added infrastructure despite schools being closed for most pupils for most of the year.

However, although extra funding is welcomed within the education sector, critics warn that £24m may not be enough to meet the deficit that they’re facing, particularly in relation to SEND pupils.

With rising costs, the deficit for provisions for SEND mean that the Council could be facing a £27m deficit, rising the year after to £38m.

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High Court deals blow to expansion of cycle lanes and wider pavements

Road closures designed to boost walking and cycling could face legal challenges after a judge declared that a big expansion of the plans was “unlawful”.

The High Court in London ruled that the introduction of road closures in the capital was based on guidance that was “seriously flawed”.

Mrs Justice Lang found in favour of black cab drivers who opposed the schemes that were introduced during the pandemic to promote social distancing and exercise. She said it was “possible to widen pavements to allow for social distancing” without seeking to transform parts of central London into “predominantly car-free zones”.

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Johnson raises fears of lockdown in England continuing into summertime

Boris Johnson raised fears that tough Covid restrictions could continue well into the spring and beyond on Thursday as ministers refused to be drawn on plans for any potential easing of lockdown.

While the vast majority of Tory MPs have toed the line since the new variant of the virus sent cases soaring, Downing Street’s reticence is already causing anxiety among a few backbenchers, who are urging an easing of the restrictions if vaccination rates stay on target.

Downing Street is committed to reviewing the current England-wide lockdown in mid-February, by which point all people in the four top target groups for vaccinations should have been offered at least their first injection.

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Auditors raise questions over council transparency

Bristol City Council’s auditors have raised concerns over transparency relating to the council’s failed energy company Bristol Energy.

In a review of the governance arrangements of the council's subsidiaries, published ahead of an audit committee meeting, Grant Thornton said that information on key decisions made by the deputy mayor in relation to the company were not routinely published.

This meant the audit committee was not always sufficiently updated on developments and information relating to the governance and risks at Bristol Energy, Grant Thornton said.

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Council shifts £11m of land to housing account

Reading Borough Council has approved plans to move £11m of land assets to its housing revenue account as part of a major regeneration project.

The move was agreed in a council meeting earlier this week, and will see the transfer four banks of land earmarked for a £44m affordable housing project from the general fund to the HRA.

The council made the move using powers under section 122 of the Local Government Act 1972, as the land is surplus to the general funds requirements and no longer required for its previous purposes.

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Jenrick ‘made arguments within government’ to delay local elections

The communities secretary has told the country’s most senior councillors that he sees a “very strong argument” for delaying the local elections, putting him on collision course with the prime minister who has made it clear he wants to see the polls go ahead.

Robert Jenrick told councillors during this afternoon’s councillors forum that he understands “it isn’t just about campaigning” but the “delivery of the elections” but that “for those people not involved in local government it’s easy to miss that, and that delivery begins now”.

“Your officers will be beginning to think about [polling] and those efforts will ramp up in the month of February and into March which is a time when they need to be thinking about many other things as well. So I can see a strong argument [for delaying] and I have made those arguments within government.”

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£148m to target county lines drug gangs and treat addiction

Police have shut down more than 550 county lines and arrested nearly 3,500 people connected with the drug dealing gangs in just over a year.

The Home Office revealed the crackdown as it announced a £148 million package to cut crime and tackle issues around illegal drugs. It also gives more resources to police to tackle organised urban criminal gangs, which take over provincial drug markets, often exploiting young and vulnerable people. The county line is the mobile phone line used to take drugs orders.

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Fears over coronavirus vaccine supplies as rate drops

Ministers are increasingly concerned about the pace of the coronavirus vaccine rollout after a reduction in the supply of Pfizer-Biontech jabs.

The number of people receiving their first dose on Monday fell for the third day in a row to 204,076 from a high of 324,000 on Friday.

Pfizer said supplies of vaccine would be lower this month and next as it was upgrading its factory in Belgium before increasing production in March.

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Cost of living up despite Covid Christmas curbs

Prices rose at a faster rate in the UK in December, despite Covid curbs that forced non-essential shops to shut.

Consumer Prices Index inflation jumped to 0.6%, from 0.3% in November, pushed higher by rising transport and clothes prices, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Many people rushed to travel and beat Christmas restrictions, forcing up prices.

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London chief takes on national vaccines role

The chief executive of Southwark LBC Eleanor Kelly has taken up a key role in the national Covid vaccine rollout.

Ms Kelly, who has been Southwark chief for the last eight years, is joining the government and NHS’s national vaccinations team, helping to coordinate the local government response.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, Ms Kelly was praised by then-communities secretary Sajid Javid for her role as a key member of a specialist task force publicly fronting the gold command operation in Kensington & Chelsea RBC. She also held one of the senior roles on London's strategic coordinating group when it was convened at the start of the pandemic.

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Croydon ordered to hold May mayoral referendum

Croydon LBC has been told to hold a referendum this May on introducing an elected mayor after the government legislated to make it possible.

A petition that campaigners claim was signed by more than 17,000 borough voters was presented to the council in September, exceeding the required 5% of electors needed to compel Croydon to hold a referendum. However, the council’s then leadership declined to schedule a referendum alongside local elections in May, citing emergency coronavirus legislation that deemed such petitions invalid before 6 May 2021.

The council, which is under new political and officer leadership following a damning public interest report into its commercial and investment decisions and effectively declaring itself bankrupt, has since committed to hold a referendum in October 2021.

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Government greenlights councils’ ambitious zero carbon housing plans

New government measures to improve energy performance of new homes have been welcomed for allowing councils to retain powers to set local energy efficiency standards, but some campaigners have been left disappointed by the failure to adopt a more rapid timetable.

The government yesterday published its response to the Future Home Standard consultation carried out last year, in which it has confirmed that new homes will need to be 'zero carbon ready' from 2025.

The government had previously indicated it would remove councils’ powers to go higher than government thresholds when it comes to housing efficiency standards, which could have potentially watered down more ambitious plans for low carbon homes in areas including Stroud and the Oxford-Cambridge arc.

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UK cities and towns hardest hit by COVID-19 likely to recover fastest, report finds

The cities worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic are likely to make the fastest economic recovery, new analysis has revealed today.

The Good Growth for Cities report by PwC and Demos shows that towns and cities such as Bradford, Liverpool and Southend have seen their economies decrease by more than 12.5% in 2020. However, these cities are predicted to recover faster than others in 2021, with projected GVA growth rates of 5.3% and higher.

However the report warns these places will also be left with smaller economies in 2021 than they were in 2019.

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Inquiry launched into role of local authority pension funds in fighting climate change

A parliamentary group has launched an inquiry into how institutional investors such as local authority pension funds can help drive a ‘just transition’ to a net zero economy.

The Government is committed in law to transition the UK to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 as part of the struggle against climate change.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Local Authority Pension Funds today announced the launch of its inquiry to investigate what local authority pension funds and other investors can do to ensure that no one is left out during the transition.

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New homes will need to reduce emissions by at least 75% by 2025

All new buildings will have to meet tough new energy efficiency standards under plans published by the Government.

The Government said all new homes will be expected to produce 75-80% lower carbon emissions compared to current levels by 2025. An interim target of 31% lower carbon emissions has been set from 2021.

Existing homes will also be subject to higher standards with a requirement for replacement, repairs and parts to be more energy efficient.

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Councils urged to update their Local Plans

A small number of councils are failing to keep their Local Plans up-to-date, the housing minister has warned.

Christopher Pincher urged all councils to ensure they have an up-to-date Local Plan in place by the government deadline of December 2023 in order to ensure they can deliver the homes needed.

Mr Pincher said: ‘Despite the significant challenges caused by the pandemic, I know the majority of councils are doing all they can to build much-needed homes across England. I would like to thank them for the important work they do to deliver the homes, jobs and supporting infrastructure that make such a difference to their local communities.

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Rollout of daily testing of close contacts paused in English schools

The government has paused plans to roll out rapid daily coronavirus testing of close contacts, in all but a small number of secondary schools and colleges.

Testing close contacts of a positive case as an alternative to isolation showed some benefits in trials.

But the emergence of a new variant means the risk of missing infections has risen, health officials say.

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Oxford scientists preparing new vaccine versions to combat emerging Covid strains

Oxford scientists are preparing to rapidly produce new versions of their vaccine to combat emerging Covid-19 variants from the UK, South Africa and Brazil.

The university has confirmed that the team behind the AstraZeneca jab is undertaking feasibility studies to reconfigure the technology at 48 hours notice.

The news emerged as new research suggested that the current generation of Covid vaccines may not work against the new South African strain.

A laboratory study found that the 501Y.V2 variant achieved "complete escape" from monoclonal antibodies, the man-made proteins that act like the antibodies produced by jabs.

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Record 343,000 people in UK receive Covid vaccine in one day

A record 343,000 people in the UK received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday as the NHS scaled up its push to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February – but Tony Blair called on ministers to hit 600,000 jabs a day.

Downing Street said it was increasingly confident that it would hit the target as long as the supply was maintained, although with 25 days to go it will require about 400,000 immunisations a day to remain on track.

Blair, the former prime minister who was among the first to advocate prioritisation of single doses before the approach was adopted by the UK, today calls on ministers to increase the pace of vaccinations to 600,000 a day, arguing this could allow a return to normality by mid-May.

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Majority of discretionary self-isolation support applications rejected, Labour say

Three quarters of applications for a £500 discretionary grant, which aims to help those on low incomes self-isolate, have been rejected, figures suggest.

Employed or self-employed people in England who do not qualify for the Test and Trace Support Payment because they do not receive benefits can apply.

Data obtained by Labour and shared with BBC Newsnight suggests just 12,069 of 49,877 applications were successful.

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Covid jabs diverted to over-80s in vaccination blackspots

Coronavirus jabs will be diverted to areas falling behind on vaccinating the over-80s amid concerns about regional disparities in the programme.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said that stocks would be prioritised for areas with a large number of unprotected over-80s, despite a promise yesterday to let GPs begin vaccinating younger patients.

More than four million people across Britain have received a first dose of the vaccine after 1.8 million were reached in the seven days to Sunday.

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One in four UK young people have felt 'unable to cope' in pandemic

Young people are in danger of giving up on their futures and on themselves, with a quarter saying they feel unable to cope with life, one of the UK’s leading charities has said.

The Prince’s Trust long-running annual survey of young people’s happiness and confidence returned the worst findings in its 12-year history.

“The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on young people’s mental health and wellbeing,” said Jonathan Townsend, the trust’s UK chief executive. “Many believe they are missing out on being young, and sadly we know that the impact of the pandemic on their employment prospects and overall wellbeing could continue far into their futures.”

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MPs call for Universal Credit cut to be scrapped - but majority of Tory MPs abstain

MPs have backed a motion calling for the upcoming cut in Universal Credit to be scrapped, with nearly all Conservative MPs abstaining.

There were 278 votes in favour of the motion, with no votes against recorded. Boris Johnson ordered his MPs to abstain, which means not voting for or against the motion.

A £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit was introduced last year to help families cope during the COVID-19 pandemic, equating to an extra £1,000 a year for six million families.

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Babies’ needs overlooked in COVID response

The ‘hidden harms’ of the spring lockdown on 0-2s were broad and significant, and experienced unevenly depending on family circumstances and background, according to the report commissioned by the First 1001 Days Movement.

It reveals evidence that ‘historically inadequate or insecure funding and a rising tide of need has inhibited the ability of some services and areas to respond to the coronavirus crisis’.

For some families with babies, spring lockdown brought some broad benefits, for example around increases in quality family time. But babies in families already experiencing disadvantage ‘appear less likely to have seen many of these benefits’ says the report.

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Return of free school meals voucher scheme

The Government has relaunched the free school meal vouchers following the scandal surrounding 'disgusting' food parcels.

The Government had promised to investigate after pictures appeared on social media of inadequate food parcels.

The voucher scheme will allow schools to order supermarket gift cards for eligible pupils, worth £15 a week per child.

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Casey accuses government of ‘systemic failure’ over no recourse to public funds

Whitehall’s former chief adviser on homelessness and the architect of its ‘Everyone In’ policy has delivered a stinging rebuke of the government’s failure to deal with those with no recourse to public funds.

Giving evidence to the Commons' housing, communities and local government committee yesterday, Dame Louise Casey branded it a “mismanaged policy” and warned that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s rough sleeping team are having to deal with “systemic failure” elsewhere in government with councils left to pick up the tab.

Dame Louise, who has advised both Labour and Conservative governments on their homeless strategies and was tasked with getting all rough sleepers off the streets during the first wave of Coronavirus, told the committee that “one of the causes of rough sleeping is an inability to manage immigration properly”.

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Councils told to visit every supermarket as Covid enforcement ramps up

The communities secretary has told councils to step up their enforcement efforts by paying a visit to every supermarket and corner shop in their area to ensure they are complying with Covid rules, and to have a “stern conversation” with those found to be remiss.

LGC has learned Robert Jenrick told councils on a ministerial webinar last Wednesday to mobilise their enforcement officers over the course of the following two weeks and “make an effort” to visit all essential retailers in their area to “have that conversation” about their Covid procedures.

“Clearly there is an advantage to doing it unannounced,” he added.

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Brexit deal ‘could impact UK credit rating’

The UK’s credit rating could decrease if the Brexit free trade agreement with the European Union undermines economic performance, according to ratings agency Fitch.

In a rating action commentary affirming the UK’s AA- rating with a negative outlook, Fitch said the free trade agreement will cause less disruption than a no-deal scenario would have.

However, the agency warned that the agreement will still entail significant new non-tariff barriers, which could negatively impact the UK.

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Treasury minister warns against tax rises

Jesse Norman, financial secretary to the Treasury, has warned against immediate tax rises in the upcoming budget which could “impede” economic growth.

Speaking to the Treasury Select Committee yesterday, Norman said his department is focused on stabilising Britain’s economy before any thoughts on wider fiscal policies.

He added that a rapid economic recovery could be caused by a “pronounced bounce” in consumer spending and could mitigate the need for tax rises.

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Spelthorne commercial income allows council tax freeze

Spelthorne Borough Council’s controversial commercial investment strategy has allowed it to propose council tax freezes next year despite Covid-19 disruption, according to its finance chief.

The council has been the most high-profile council using cheap government borrowing to buy property – taking ownership of £1bn in properties offices and shopping centres in recent years.

However, Terry Collier, deputy chief executive and chief finance officer at the council, told PF that it has allowed them to propose the freeze in its budget proposals to be published next week.

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Schools might not all reopen at the same time across England, suggests Dr Jenny Harries

Schools might not all reopen at the same time across England as lockdown restrictions are eased, MPs have been told.

Dr Jenny Harries, one of England's deputy chief medical officers, said there was "likely" to be regional differences in COVID measures once the national shutdown ends.

Appearing before the House of Commons' education committee on Tuesday, Dr Harries was asked if there could be a regional or phased approach to reopening schools.

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Covid-related deaths in care homes in England jump by 46%

Deaths in care homes in England have hit the highest level since mid-May, according to the latest official figures, which revealed a 46% jump in coronavirus-related deaths in the last week as the more transmissible variant of Covid-19 breaches care homes’ defences.

In the week to last Friday, 1,260 deaths in care homes involving Covid-19 were reported to the Care Quality Commission, a sharp jump from 824 and 661 in the previous two weeks. The weekly death toll in care homes had fallen to well below 100 in early October.

The rising numbers came after the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, described the inoculation programme as “a race against deaths” and GPs scrambled to deliver vaccines to the half of care home residents yet to receive jabs.

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Nottingham plans £100m asset sale

Nottingham City Council has identified £100m of assets for sale as part of a plan to bring its finances under control.

The recovery and improvement plan, ordered by the Government following a rapid review last year, also proposed closing up to three companies, a complete rewriting of the council's constitution, a management restructure and efficiency savings.

Nottingham's plan will be overseen by an external improvement and assurance board chaired by Sir Tony Redmond, with members appointed by the Government, including council leader Cllr David Mellen.

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Vaccination rollout begins for over-70s in England

People in England aged 70 and over, as well as those listed as clinically extremely vulnerable, will begin receiving offers of a coronavirus vaccine this week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the move was a "significant milestone" in the nation's vaccination programme.

More than five million people - from priority groups three and four - will be invited to have the jab from Monday.

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24-hour vaccination sites to be piloted in London before end of January

Twenty-four hour vaccination sites will be piloted in London before the end of January, the vaccines minister has said.

Speaking to Sky News, Nadhim Zahawi said the NHS will be "targeting forensically who we want to protect" to ensure the most vulnerable people can be vaccinated first.

He said that as there is "limited supply" of the vaccine, "it needs to get into the arms of the most vulnerable" such as those who are elderly or clinically extremely vulnerable.

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Free fast broadband offered in UK to support home schooling

Thousands of families struggling with home learning are being offered free high-speed broadband following a partnership between internet provider Hyperoptic and dozens of local authorities across the UK.

Families in 37 local authority areas, from Tower Hamlets in London to Newcastle and Leeds that are struggling with remote learning due to poor or no internet will be offered the chance to have a high speed connection installed with no usage charges until the end of the summer term.

At that point there is no obligation to stick with the service. Telecoms regulator Ofcom has estimated that more than 880,000 children live in a household with internet access only via mobile phone.

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Green belt at risk from ‘wrong ideas about cities’

Thousands of acres of green space around towns and cities could be built on because of “implausible” population forecasts, campaigners claim.

The Office for National Statistics predicted that Coventry’s population would rise by 32 per cent between 2011 and 2031. That figure has led the city council to plan for more than 40,000 new homes on green belt land that once formed the Forest of Arden.

However, Keep Our Green Belt Green said that the city’s “vital signs” did not reflect the population growth projected. Its research, which four professors have reviewed, found that jobs had grown by 18 per cent in recent years but this was half that of some nearby towns.

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Universal credit: Labour presses PM for action ahead of benefit vote

Boris Johnson has been urged to give millions of families a "helping hand" ahead of a Commons vote on extending benefit increases worth £20 a week.

Labour will use a debate on Monday to ramp up the pressure on the government to keep the universal credit uplift, worth £1,000 a year, beyond 31 March.

Sir Keir Starmer said families "needed certainty" incomes would be protected. Tory MPs will abstain, meaning the non-binding motion will pass but ministers have not committed to implementing it.

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Jenrick accused of starting ‘culture war’ with new statues law

New laws being drawn up to protect statues by ensuring they can only be removed with permission from the communities secretary have been slammed by the Labour party's most senior local government representative as "profoundly disturbing".

Under proposals announced this weekend, the removal of any of England’s 20,000 historic statues or monuments, whether they are listed or not, will in future require listed building consent or planning permission . Under the new regulations, if a council intends to grant permission for removal of a particular statue and Historic England objects, the communities secretary will be notified so he can make the final decision about the application in question.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government says the new rules will mean historic statues can be “retained and explained” for future generations and only be removed in “the most exceptional circumstances”.

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£120m care staff funding branded ‘gesture politics’

Questions have been raised over how much impact the £120m announced over the weekend for care staffing can have in a sector already facing a workforce crisis.

The cash will be handed to councils to be distributed to care homes to spend on boosting staffing levels by funding extra care staff or administrative support to free up existing staff to focus on providing care. The Department for Health & Social Care said it could also be used to help existing staff to take on additional hours by covering overtime payments or childcare costs.

However, it falls well short of the £480m the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services called for last week to avert an immediate workforce crisis in the sector. It said that Covid infection, self-isolation and “sheer fatigue” were reducing the number of staff able to work in social care teams – on top of the 112,000 vacancies reported in the sector before the start of the pandemic.

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London chief to leave after 17 years

Merton LBC is seeking to appoint a new chief executive to succeed Ged Curran after 17 years in the post.

Mr Curran was appointed in March 2004 after holding senior positions at Newham, Waltham Forest, Lambeth and Merton LBCs. He had previously practiced as a solicitor.

Merton’s appointments committee will discuss the process to appoint his successor on Thursday, with a report outlining a timeline that would see applications close in the week commencing 26 March, and full council confirm the appointment of the new chief executive on 19 May.

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As many as six in 10 care home residents in England still awaiting Covid jab

Wide disparities have emerged in the campaign to protect care home residents from Covid-19, with 100% getting their first jab in Slough, while nearly six in 10 are still awaiting vaccinations in one of the UK’s largest care home chains.

In what the vaccines minister described as a “race against deaths”, care bosses reported struggles to protect the oldest and most vulnerable members of society.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, told a Downing Street press conference that the government is “prioritising the supply of the vaccine into those parts of the country that need to complete [vaccination of] the over-80s”.

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Call to prioritise minority ethnic groups for Covid vaccines

People in high-risk minority ethnic groups must be prioritised for Covid immunisations, alongside a targeted publicity campaign, experts and politicians have said amid growing concerns over vaccine scepticism.

With figures on Monday recording more than 4m Covid vaccine doses now administered across the UK, and the rollout being expanded to all over-70s, public health experts and MPs called for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities to be better protected.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has also raised concerns after research showed up to 72% of black people said they were unlikely or very unlikely to have the jab.

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Fewer UK children 'school ready' after Covid nursery closures

The number of children starting school without basic skills such as being able to go to the toilet unaided, put on a coat or respond to questions is at record levels because of nursery closures, according to research.

Experts say further closures could widen gaps in school readiness between children from rich and poor backgrounds.

Research commissioned by Kindred2, a charitable foundation working to improve early education and child development, found that a record proportion of children were starting school without basic skills.

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Councils raked in £7.3m from rubbish-tip 'tax' last year amid fly-tipping fears

Councils who charge residents to dump non household waste at rubbish tips raked in £7.3m last year from toilet seats, fences and sheds, the Telegraph can reveal...

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Treasury in property tax rethink

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is believed to be rethinking property taxes – including council tax and business rates – in a bid to balance the books post-COVID.

The move comes amid rising calls for change, including a report from think tank Onwards on changing the finance system and 10-minute rule Bill on scrapping business rates, launched by Conservative backbencher Kevin Hollinrake.

The 3 March Budget is expected to continue to fund existing support during the latest COVID lockdown, but any return to normality would also see the Chancellor starting to claw back his financial position through tax rises.

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£269m given to local authorities for social care

The Government has announced that £269m will be given to local authorities for social care purposes as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

£120m of the funding is designed to help staffing levels, including the hiring of more staff, reskilling existing DBS checked staff and also being able to provide overtime pay for existing staff to meet current demands.

The Government says that some of the money can be used for administrative costs for care homes so that higher skilled staff can focus on caring for patients rather than dealing with paperwork.

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Call for inquiry into COVID’s 'devastating' impact on children

A coalition of child health experts has called for a wide-ranging independent commission to examine the ‘devastating impact’ of the pandemic on children.

In a letter to The Observer newspaper, they warn that many families are being ‘swept into poverty’ by the pandemic, which is set to significantly add to the four million children living in deprivation before the COVID crisis started.

According to the letter, whose signatories include the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the National Children’s Bureau and leading child health academics, ‘children’s welfare has become a national emergency’.

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£120m care staff funding branded ‘gesture politics’

Questions have been raised over how much impact the £120m announced over the weekend for care staffing can have in a sector already facing a workforce crisis.

The cash will be handed to councils to be distributed to care homes to spend on boosting staffing levels by funding extra care staff or administrative support to free up existing staff to focus on providing care. The Department for Health & Social Care said it could also be used to help existing staff to take on additional hours by covering overtime payments or childcare costs.

However, it falls well short of the £480m the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services called for last week to avert an immediate workforce crisis in the sector. It said that Covid infection, self-isolation and “sheer fatigue” were reducing the number of staff able to work in social care teams – on top of the 112,000 vacancies reported in the sector before the start of the pandemic.

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Former housing association chair named new MHCLG minister

A former housing association chair has been appointed housing and rough sleeping minister at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government following the departure of Kelly Tolhurst.

Ms Tolhurst, who is the MP for Rochester and Strood announced over the weekend that she was stepping down from the government following “some very sad news to care for and spend time with my family”.

Ms Tolhurst joined MHCLG last September from the Department for Transport, where she had been maritime, aviation and security minister since February. Prior to that she was small business minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

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COVID-19 living standards hit ‘ahead, rather than behind us’, think tank warns

The coming year is set to mark the peak of the pandemic-induced living standards downturn for households, especially those on lower incomes, think tank warns.

Published by the Resolution Foundation, the Living Standards Outlook offers forecasts for living standards growth across the income distribution, both over the next 12 months and the remainder of the parliament.

It notes that despite the UK experiencing a huge economic contraction in 2020, many households have been protected from its impact by the £63bn Job Retention Scheme and the £6bn uplift to Universal Credit (UC) and Working Tax Credit.

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Forget local government, the whole country needs a fair funding review

With the future of business rates under review and council tax reform reportedly attracting the interest of the Treasury the government has some fundamental questions to answer, writes LGC deputy editor Sarah Calkin.

The case for reforming council tax is growing ever louder. That it is a regressive tax, hitting those in lower value homes proportionately harder than those in higher ones, is not disputed.

Meanwhile, as the property values that council tax bands are based on turn 30-years-old this year their relationship with the reality of local property markets grows ever weaker. As the only locally-set tax – albeit within the strict confines of centrally-determined referendum limits – the casual observer may assume councils are quite attached to it.

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School closures could wipe out a decade of progress for less privileged pupils

Closing schools has been one of the most painful consequences of the pandemic - the action Boris Johnson described as his "last resort".

Charities have warned that it could wipe out a decade of progress closing the gap between less privileged pupils and their peers.

New research from the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) has found that half of students from disadvantaged backgrounds believe they won't get the grades they deserve after this year's examinations were scrapped.

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Make May elections in England more Covid-safe, Labour urges

Labour has urged ministers to make May’s elections in England more Covid-secure, after the emergence of a Cabinet Office document that warned the pandemic could severely hamper the process and put millions off voting.

The paper raises the possibility that even if coronavirus infection levels are relatively low, it could be difficult to attract enough election staff, and that safety fears may “disenfranchise large proportions of [the] community”.

Labour is calling for safeguards such as the possibility of spreading voting over several days, or having an all-postal vote, options that have been prepared for elections to the Scottish parliament, also due to take place on 6 May.

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‘Far too many turned away’: Domestic abuse victims left with nowhere to go as services struggle in pandemic

As Covid cases across the country surge, a shadow pandemic of domestic abuse has also grown, with many unable to escape an abusive partner as soaring demand makes it difficult for victims to get the help they need.

Boris Johnson used an address to the nation this week to emphasise those trapped at home with abusers were free to leave the house during lockdown, while home secretary Priti Patel appeared on ITV's This Morning to alert people to the fact pharmacies have launched a codeword scheme to provide a “lifeline” to victims.

But cash-strapped services have not been given any further funding, meaning they are forced to turn away victims fleeing abusive partners.

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All over 18s could have vaccine by 'end of June'

Every adult in Britain will be vaccinated by the end of June, senior Government figures hope, as they grow increasingly optimistic they will be able to accelerate the rollout....

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Councils losing tens of millions of pounds supporting businesses through pandemic

Local authorities are losing tens of millions of pounds supporting struggling business tenants through the pandemic which could have dire and long-lasting consequences for local services, Sky News has found.

Freedom of Information requests reveal English councils have already written off at least £19.7m associated with measures to support local businesses, including rent relief, rent renegotiations, payment holidays or business tenants going into administration.

A further £5.8m was lost as a result of Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs). These are arrangements where companies on the brink of insolvency negotiate debt repayments with their creditors in order to stay afloat - in this case, rent and rates paid to the council.

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Low-paid shun Covid tests because the cost of self-isolating is too high

Families on low incomes are avoiding the Covid-19 testing system because they cannot afford to isolate if they get sick, while red tape is hampering access to the government’s £500 compensation payments.

People in some of the most deprived areas of England, including Middlesbrough, Liverpool and the London borough of Newham, are less likely to request a coronavirus test.

According to the CIPD, the association of HR professionals, when people on low incomes do self-isolate, they find it difficult to access the NHS Test and Trace support payment scheme. Freedom of information releases from 34 local authorities show that only a third of claims were granted.

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Councils making the most cash from parking fines named

Greedy councils are raking in an average £850,000 a year from car parking fines. New figures show some town halls are issuing as many as 307 parking tickets every day.

Nine of the 10 local authorities making the most cash from fines are in London, with each one collecting more than £4million a year.

Newham is the biggest earner, at £10.6million. Second is Haringey, making £9.8million, followed by Ealing with £8.3million.

The biggest parking revenue outside the capital is Glasgow at £5.4million while Birmingham is next with £3.9million.

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Marcus Rashford and top chefs demand free school meals review

Marcus Rashford and a group of celebrity chefs and campaigners have called on Boris Johnson to review the government's free school meals policy.

The group, including Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Tom Kerridge, have written to the PM asking him to "fix" the system long-term. They called for a strategy to help "end child food poverty" before the summer holidays.

No 10 said "no child will ever go hungry" because of the Covid pandemic. The call for a wide review comes after another row over free school meals during February half-term.

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Public could force councils to sell off vacant land and buildings under proposed 'right to regenerate' law

The public will be able to force councils to sell off vacant land and buildings under a proposed new law.

Its aim will be to allow vacant plots of land and derelict buildings to be converted into homes or community spaces.

The ‘right to regenerate’ proposals, to be announced by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick today, would make it easier to challenge councils and other public organisations to release land for redevelopment.

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UK shuts travel corridors and requires negative Covid tests to enter

Boris Johnson has announced a dramatic tightening of the UK’s borders, with all international arrivals to be forced to quarantine as well as demonstrate they have had a negative Covid test.

After months of criticism of the government’s lax border policies, which Labour claimed were “costing lives”, the prime minister said he was tightening the rules to prevent new variants of the virus reaching the UK and safeguard the vaccination programme.

“It is vital to take these extra measures now when day by day, hour by hour, we are making such strides in protecting the population,” Johnson told a Downing Street press conference.

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UK to face delay in delivery of Pfizer Covid vaccine

The UK is among several countries facing delays in delivery of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine due to upgrades in its production capacity, the company has said.

The US pharmaceutical firm is increasing production at its plant in Puurs, Belgium, in an effort to produce more doses than originally planned for 2021, temporarily reducing deliveries to all European countries.

Shipments of the vaccine, produced in partnership with Germany’s BioNTech, to the UK are set to be affected this month.

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Doctors told to throw away leftover Covid vaccines rather than giving second doses

Local NHS leaders are forcing GPs to throw away vaccines rather than give second doses, medics have revealed....

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TfN’s budget cuts to ‘threaten levelling-up’

Proposed cuts to government funding for public transport body Transport for the North would “undermine levelling-up” and put planned improvement works at risk, according to the group’s finance chief.

A report released ahead of a TfN board meeting this week said that core funding from the Department for Transport for 2021-22 would drop to £6m from £10m that was allocated last year.

The body’s annual budget to develop the Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme has also been frozen at £75m, 33% less than the amount requested by TfN during the Comprehensive Spending Review, the report said.

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Second Covid-19 lockdown hurts UK GDP

The UK’s economy shrank by 2.6% in November, as a result of the second English lockdown, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The ONS said November’s contraction was the first month of decline in six months, since April’s record 20% contraction at the beginning of the first national lockdown.

GDP in November was 8.5% below pre-Covid-19 levels in February, and overall, the economy has fallen 8.9% in the 12 months to November, the ONS said.

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The mental health effects of Covid will last for a decade

In the normal course of his work as a GP Gavin Francis would expect to spend about a third of his time dealing with the mental ill health of his patients. The pandemic has changed that. “Consultations about mental health vary from week to week, but are commonly at double what they were before the pandemic,” he says.

From his position at the grass roots of the response to Covid-19 Francis has witnessed the spread of the virus at a community level. Some days every call he has taken was about loneliness, self-harm and the contagion of mental health problems.

In a memoir of the past year he describes panic and anxiety as “the virus’s dark refrains, a second pandemic leaching into everyone’s lives”. When I ask how long he expects this to last he is unequivocal. “For years.”..

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'High bar' for postponing local elections in England, MPs told

There should be a "high bar" for postponing local elections in England this year, a minister has told MPs.

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith said the position would be kept "under review".

She said work was under way to ensure people could cast their ballots in a "COVID-secure" way - but Labour has raised concerns a "lack of preparation" could force people to "choose between their health and their right to vote".

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High Street chemists start vaccinations in England

Some High Street pharmacies in England will start vaccinating people from priority groups on Thursday, with 200 providing jabs in the next two weeks.

Six chemists in Halifax, Macclesfield, Widnes, Guildford, Edgware and Telford are the first to offer appointments to those invited by letter.

But pharmacists say many more sites should be allowed to give the jab, not just the largest ones.

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Social care directors warn of 'exhausted' workforce

Social care needs an immediate cash injection to support exhausted staff and ensure services don’t collapse, service directors have warned today.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said ‘alarming’ gaps are appearing in services due to staff shortages caused by sickness absence, people self-isolating and sheer fatigue.

It also highlights the fact the sector had existing vacancies of 112,000 prior to the start of the pandemic.

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'Shocking' care home Covid outbreaks at levels not seen since first peak

Outbreaks of Covid-19 in care homes have more than trebled in a month, with levels of infections now similar to the peak of the first wave, figures show.

The latest surveillance data from Public Health England (PHE) reveals that, in the week to January 14, there was the second highest weekly total since records began in April.

On Thursday night, senior figures said the numbers were "shocking" and warned: "Care homes cannot be neglected again." It came as the Government closed Britain's borders to Portugal and South America amid fears over a new strain of the virus from Brazil.

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Regulator refuses to approve mass daily Covid testing at English schools

Boris Johnson’s plans to test millions of schoolchildren for coronavirus every week appear to be in disarray after the UK regulator refused to formally approve the daily testing of pupils in England, the Guardian has learned.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told the government on Tuesday it had not authorised the daily use of 30-minute tests due to concerns that they give people false reassurance if they test negative.

This could lead to pupils staying in school and potentially spreading the virus when they should be self-isolating.

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Almost 200,000 patients now waiting at least a year for routine NHS operations

The coronavirus crisis overwhelming the NHS has caused waiting lists for routine treatment to surge to the highest levels ever recorded, figures released on Thursday showed.

More than 4.5 million people are currently on the health service waiting list, while almost 200,000 have been left waiting more than a year for treatment – a figure that stood at just 1,163 less than a year ago.

As hospitals are forced to free up intensive care beds for Covid-19 patients, hundreds of cancer operations have been cancelled across London with thousands waiting over the NHS target of 62 days for urgent treatment.

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UK population 'in biggest fall since Second World War'

The UK population may have fallen by as much as 1.3m - the biggest decline since the Second World War - in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, academics have said....

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Hospital patients to be sent to hotels to free up beds for critical Covid-19 cases

Thousands of hospital patients are to be discharged early to hotels or their own homes to free up beds for Covid-19 sufferers needing life-or-death care, the Guardian has learned.

Hospital chiefs in England intend to start discharging patients early on a scale never seen before, as an emergency measure to create “extra emergency contingency capacity” and stop parts of the NHS collapsing, senior sources said.

Documents seen by the Guardian also revealed that the NHS is asking care homes to start accepting Covid patients directly from hospitals and without a recent negative test, as long as they have been in isolation for 14 days and have shown no new symptoms.

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Retail giants clamp down in bid to halt coronavirus growth

John Lewis became the first big retailer to suspend its click-and-collect service yesterday amid pressure on shops to do more to help to contain the virus.

The chain said that it was acting after a “change in tone” from government, adding that it wanted to help the national effort by removing reasons for non-essential travel.

Tesco, Asda, Aldi and Waitrose joined Morrisons and Sainsbury’s in banning shoppers without masks from stores unless they have a medical reason. Supermarkets in England will be spot-checked by council staff to ensure that they are Covid-secure.

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Laptops for all pupils at only one in ten schools

Only one in ten teachers say that all their pupils have adequate access to laptops despite 700,000 being handed out by the government.

A leading social mobility charity says the situation has not improved since the first lockdown and that the gulf between rich and poor is as wide as ever.

It came as Ofsted backed down on conducting in-person inspections this term after inspectors voted overwhelmingly against going into schools.

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Free school meals: Minister demands 'urgent improvement'

Caterers must "urgently" improve the quality of food parcels being provided to the poorest pupils in England while schools are closed during the national lockdown, a minister has said.

Children's minister Vicky Ford said this would ensure eligible children received "a healthy, nutritious lunch".

It comes after footballer Marcus Rashford shared images of some parcels online, calling them "not good enough".

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Enough children living in temporary housing to fill 450 primary schools

The number of children living in temporary accommodation during the latest coronavirus lockdown is enough to fill 450 primary schools, town halls warn today.

Some 127,240 kids are in accommodation such as bed and breakfasts, according to the Local Government Association.

The average primary has about 281 pupils – meaning 450 schools would be needed to house all the youngsters with no home of their own.

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Council chiefs call for restoration of local welfare funding

Local authority leaders have called on the Government to restore local welfare funding as a study warns of the impact the pandemic is having on people who were already struggling with poverty.

In their annual study on poverty, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that before the coronavirus pandemic began, around 14.5 million people in the UK lived in poverty. This equates to more than one-in-five people.

The report warns that those who were already struggling to stay afloat have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. These include part-time and low-paid workers, Black, Asian and minority ethnic households, single parents (mostly women), and private renters.

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Council chiefs call for mental health services funding

Local authority leaders have urged the Government to ensure that councils’ mental health services receive the funding they require to meet ‘unmet demand’ in response to a landmark reform of mental health laws.

The Government today published the long-anticipated Reforming the Mental Health Act white paper, which builds on the recommendations made in 2018 by Sir Simon Wessely’s Independent Review of the Mental Health Act.

The white paper stressed the importance of empowering individuals to have more control over their mental health treatment. It also promises to deliver parity between mental and physical health services.

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‘Dismay’ over continuing lack of detail on UKSPF

Senior councillors have expressed growing alarm that almost a fortnight after UK completed its exit from the EU they are still in the dark on vital details of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund intended to replace EU funding for the regions.

A meeting of the Local Government Association’s people and places board yesterday also heard that the government had yet to set up a promised taskforce bringing central and local government to co-design the fund while there are concerns that rather than devolving more powers to councils, the fund could end up drawing existing responsibilities away from them as it covers a wider remit than current EU funds.

A paper prepared to Tuesday’s meeting warned of an “urgency” to the issue as current EU funding winds down, with all funding programmes completed by the end of 2023.

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Extra cash made available for self isolation support

An extra £20.4m is to be provided by the government to extend the current self isolation support grants scheme to the end of this financial year after many councils reported running out of the discretionary funding provided so far.

Just over half of the funding is to go towards extending the national £500 scheme to support those on in-work benefits required to self-isolate while councils will also be handed an additional £10m of discretionary funding. This is paid to those on low-incomes required to self-isolate by NHS Test & Trace who could suffer financial hardship as a result of not being able to work but who do not meet the criteria for the separate £500 payment.

However, there are still understood to be concerns in the sector that the £500 national scheme is not capturing all those in need as the eligibility criteria too tight, and this is putting pressure on discretionary budgets.

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Mental Health Act reforms aim to tackle high rate of black people sectioned

Reforms to the Mental Health Act will help tackle the disproportionate number of black people sectioned, the government has announced.

Black people are more than four times more likely to be detained under the act and more than 10 times more likely to be subject to a community treatment order.

The package of reforms includes piloting culturally appropriate advocates so patients from all minority ethnic backgrounds can be better supported to voice their individual needs and allow sectioned people to nominate family members to represent their best interests if they are unable to do so themselves.

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Schools in England may not reopen after February half-term, Boris Johnson suggests

Schools in England may not reopen after the February half-term, the prime minister has suggested.

Boris Johnson said the government's priority was to get pupils back in the classroom "as soon as possible", but that whether this would happen after half-term in the middle of next month depended on a "number of things".

The PM told MPs on the Liaison Committee that the determining factors would be the success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, the effect of new variants, any other possible changes in the virus, and the success of lockdown measures.

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Covid hospital patients can be discharged to care homes without a test, say guidelines sent to providers

Coronavirus hospital patients can be discharged into care homes without being tested under draft Government guidelines leaked to the The Telegraph.

Care providers have said they are "deeply worried" about the latest proposed rules, which advise clinicians to release patients without requiring them to have a test 48 hours before discharge if they have no new virus symptoms and have isolated in hospital.

For the first time, the Government appears to acknowledge that people could test positive for Covid but not be infectious, suggesting "it will be appropriate for them to move directly to a care home from hospital... because we now know they do not pose an infection risk to other residents in a care home".

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NHS orders rapid acceleration of care home Covid vaccinations

NHS England has ordered a rapid acceleration of care home vaccinations in response to rising Covid outbreaks in which deaths of residents have risen to levels not seen since May.

GPs have been instructed to complete all care home vaccinations by the end of this week “wherever possible” or by 24 January at the latest. The government’s original target was the end of the month.

The urgent move came as new figures showed 1,200 care residents died from Covid in England in the first week of January. Weekly death tolls in Scotland and Wales have also been rising.

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Care home bosses ‘jumping ahead of elderly’ for Covid vaccine

Care home executives, NHS staff working from home and members of the public are jumping the queue for coronavirus vaccinations.

The joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) prioritisation list begins with “residents in a care home for older adults and their carers”, followed by over-eighties and frontline health and social care workers.

Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said one of his family members, an NHS administrator working from home, had been offered a vaccine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.

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Local authorities to roll out asymptomatic testing

The Government has announced that it will help local authorities to ramp up asymptomatic testing across communities in England.

The new scheme will include all 317 local authorities, with 131 already signed up and 107 already testing asymptomatic people for Covid-19.

The idea behind asymptomatic testing is that by discovering more cases, more people are able to isolate and therefore protect those working on the front line. Many of the councils that have started testing such as Essex and Milton Keynes are focusing on those not able to work from home.

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LGA steps up lobbying over council tax and £2.3bn Covid funding gap

Councils are still facing a Covid-driven funding gap of nearly £2.3bn in 2020-21, the Local Government Association has warned, despite recent additional funding for being made available to places facing the highest tiers of restrictions.

During a session at the LGA’s annual finance conference this morning, deputy chief executive Sarah Pickup said councils’ latest returns on the financial impact of Covid 19 showed they were forecasting full-year pressures of £9.7bn. However, they will have received funding of £7.4bn from emergency Covid funding, money via clinical commissioning groups to support social care and an estimated £1bn to cover lost sales, fees and charges income.

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Labour’s constitution review would put local government on firm footing

Shadow communities secretary has advocated putting the local government sector on a more secure long term footing by enshrining its existence into a new UK constitution, and has criticised the government for not working with councils on the Covid vaccine rollout.

Steve Reed, who believes his party is more supportive of devolution than at any time in its history, has revealed his hopes that the constitutional commission on devolution the party plans to hold imminently will explore the legal basis that national, regional and local government stands on and the resourcing it needs.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19): emergency funding for local government in 2020 to 2021 and additional support in 2021 to 2022

Allocations of additional funding to local authorities in financial year 2020 to 2021 and additional support for local government in financial year 2021 to 2022.

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Khan proposes 9.5% rise in GLA precept

Proposals from London mayor Sadiq Khan would see annual bills rise by more than £31 on average in 2021-22, with £15 to help fund the Metropolitan Police and £15 for Transport of London subsidies for children and over 60s.

The remaining £1.59 per-household would go towards helping the fire service respond to changes recommended by the Grenfell Tower inquiry.

However, in order to implement the proposed increases for TfL, the GLA requires approval from the government to amend its referendum limits as the increase would be greater than its current 2% limit before a referendum was required.

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Tax reforms 'would raise more than wealth tax'

In a presentation to the Local Government Association’s annual finance conference, David Phillips, associate director at the IFS, warned that a wealth related levy could harm the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

He said that trying to capture tax on people who have saved during the pandemic could have a dampening effect on the economy, as the recovery will be reliant on the public spending money.

Phillips said: “Rather than trying to introduce a new wealth tax for a long-term boost to government revenues, it actually makes sense to reform some of the existing taxes, including income tax, capital gains tax, council tax, inheritance tax, so they are actually more efficient, fairer, and raise more for the long-term.”

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High turnout leaves schools struggling in lockdown

Demand for school places has forced almost half of head teachers in England to create priority lists for children of key workers, a survey suggests.

Schools remain open to vulnerable children and those of critical workers but a large number qualify, including some in food production, local government, communications and finance.

Matt Hancock yesterday urged key workers not to send their children to school if they could manage at home. The health secretary told Sky News: “If you’re a key worker and your partner doesn’t work then you shouldn’t be sending your children to school. That’s clear in the guidance. I understand that more people are sending their children to school than they did last time. But we really do need everybody who works in the NHS where at all possible to be able to make it to work.”

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Protect family incomes, Starmer urges ministers Published1 hour ago

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is to urge the government to "protect family incomes" as it deals with the economic effects of coronavirus.

In his first speech of the year, he will demand that teachers, the armed forces and care workers are left out of the public sector pay freeze.

Sir Keir will also call on ministers not to end the temporary £20-a-week boost to Universal Credit.

The Conservatives said ministers were "already taking steps" to help people.

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Care homes at risk of being overwhelmed again as outbreaks triple

Care homes risk being overwhelmed by the coronavirus once again, the government has been warned, with the number of outbreaks having tripled in the past month.

Public Health England figures reveal they went up by 60% in one week alone, as the UK as a whole battles a major surge in COVID cases and growing concerns about staffing levels.

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Test and trace needs radical overhaul to prevent further Covid surges in England – experts

England’s test-and trace system will fail to prevent further surges of coronavirus without radical improvements by spring, experts have said, as concern increases about the use of inexperienced call-centre workers to carry out the role of clinically trained staff.

The government’s £22bn programme is under increasing strain as it attempts to contact nearly triple the number of infected people and more than double the number of close contacts compared with a month ago.

There is increasing concern among test-and-trace healthcare professionals about the use of outsourced call centre staff, often employed on minimum wage by telesales firms contracted by Serco, who have been drafted in to carry out detailed interviews with coronavirus patients.

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Vaccinations begin at seven mass jab centres which have opened today

Elderly people and healthcare workers have begun to be immunised against COVID-19 at seven new mass vaccination sites across England.

The new centres in Bristol, Surrey (Epsom), London, Newcastle, Manchester, Stevenage and Birmingham will have the capacity to vaccinate four people a minute.

Moira Edwards, 88, was the first to receive a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at Epsom racecourse and said it was "extremely important" to get it.

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Government accused of side-lining millions in sugar tax revenue pledged for children’s health projects

The Government has been accused of side-lining millions of pounds worth of sugar tax income that ministers had promised to spend on children’s health projects.

More than £760m of forecasted Treasury income generated by the tax on soft drinks has been failed to be accounted for by Government departments, despite an original promise that “every penny” of the spending raised would go towards improving children’s health.

Sustain, which campaigns for improved food and agricultural policies, said the Department for Education (DfE) has failed to specify where the money has been spent, despite repeated requests to do so.

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2.6 million jabs given to 2.3 million people - but UK is warned vaccine 'not a free pass' to ignore rules

More than 2.6 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been given to almost 2.3 million people, the health secretary has said, as an NHS boss warned the jab is "not a free pass" to ignore national guidance.

Matt Hancock told a Downing Street news conference that the government was on track to achieve its pledge of offering a vaccine to the top four priority groups by the middle of February, a total of nearly 15 million Britons.

Asked whether this was a possibility, Mr Hancock said people should be focusing on sticking to the current rules "as they are".

"The NHS, more than ever before, needs everybody to be doing something right now - and that something is to follow the rules," he said.

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New exercise restrictions in England 'under active consideration'

A ban on people in England walking or exercising with anyone from outside their household is under “active consideration” sources have told the Guardian, although the health secretary, Matt Hancock, on Monday evening insisted that he did not want to have to tighten the rules.

Discussions have taken place in government about returning to the rules of March 2020, which limited people to one form of outside exercise a day – such as a run, walk, or cycle – either alone or only with people you live with.

However Hancock said he hoped that the current rules, which allow people to exercise with one other person, would remain. “We are seeing large groups and that is not acceptable,” he said. “This is one of those rules where if too many people keep breaking it then we are going to have to look at it. But I don’t want to do that because for many people being able to go for a walk with a friend, especially if they live alone, is their only social contact.

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Councils should have key role in getting jabs to the vulnerable, says public health chief

Councils’ knowledge is crucial in order to ‘get the vaccine to people’ in homes and workplaces, rather than expecting the vulnerable to travel for their jabs, says Liverpool’s public health chief.

Writing for The MJ, Liverpool City Council’s director of public health Matthew Ashton said: ‘It is absolutely vital we get the vaccine to people, rather than bringing people to the vaccine.

‘This means getting it closer to their homes and workplaces, rather than expecting vulnerable people – many who are already on the breadline and struggling to make ends meet – to get a bus or taxi to have their jab. And this is where councils come in’, he said.

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Fears over resource implications of rapid community testing scale up

Public health experts have warned that vaccination and contact tracing efforts could suffer as a result of the trade offs that councils will have to make as they answer the government’s call to scale up community testing in their areas.

The government yesterday reaffirmed its pledge to roll out community testing to all local authority areas and is encouraging councils to target testing at key workers who cannot work from home during the lockdown, so they can self-isolate if they are carrying the virus.

Directors of public health are being urged to carry out mass programmes of asymptomatic testing of key workers using lateral flow devices, which give results within half an hour but have been shown to be less accurate than the lab-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

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Starmer demands halt to ‘absurd’ council tax rises

Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for central government to increase funding for local authorities to prevent council tax hikes.

In a speech today, he claimed the Conservative Government had ‘sprayed money on private contracts that didn’t deliver, but won’t give councils the support they need’.

Mr Starmer said the Government should instead be ‘backing local councils to prevent council tax rises’.

In the latest Spending Review, local authorities were permitted to raise council tax without the need for a referendum by 2%, alongside a 3% precept for those that provide social care.

Writing in a national newspaper, Mr Starmer said increasing council tax during the pandemic was ‘absurd’ and laid the blame at the foot of the Government, claiming local authorities had in effect been ‘forced to raise taxes’.

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Council disputes MP allegations on Covid-19 grants

Last week, Ian Liddell-Grainger MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, used parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons to accuse the council of misusing Covid-19 grant funding.

Liddell-Grainger told Johnson that funding which was intended to support services and businesses in the county was used to meet budgetary pressures.

He said: “Somerset County Council has been given huge grants but has then diverted much of the money to balance its books, which is not what it was for.

“The prime minister is Somerset born and bred. I urge him to put a stop to this, so that the money goes to the people who need it most—the people of Somerset.”

In response, Johnson, said: “My honourable friend is absolutely right to highlight what is going on in Somerset."

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Cladding flat owners told not to talk to press

Flat owners applying to a fund to help pay to remove flammable building cladding will be told not to talk to the press without government approval.

A draft agreement, uncovered by the Sunday Times, says that even where there is "overwhelming public interest" in speaking to journalists, the government must be told first.

The government said the wording was "standard".

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Record number of small firms 'set to close'

A record number of small firms could close in the next 12 months, says the Federation of Small Businesses.

Without further government help to cope with the effects of the pandemic, more than a quarter of a million businesses could be lost, it said.

The FSB said it had put forward ideas to help some of those firms, which it hoped ministers would adopt.

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Covid crisis will force councils to make ‘deep cuts’ to services to plug funding shortfall of up to £2.2bn

Councils across England are facing having to make unprecedented cuts to services in the coming years, after coronavirus left them with multimillion-pound black holes in their funding.

The cost to local authorities of the pandemic has been revealed as £1.1bn to £2.2bn, prompting leaders to describe their financial situations as the worst they have ever seen.

Early intervention and prevention projects for vulnerable families, as well as recycling schemes, are among the cutbacks most likely to be in the firing line as local authorities seek to claw back cash to avoid meltdown.

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More fines expected for lockdown breaches as home secretary warns of tighter enforcement

"Strong enforcement" of coronavirus restrictions is needed to control the spread of the disease, the home secretary has warned.

Priti Patel said police forces should focus their resources on people who "are clearly breaking" lockdown rules to "safeguard our country's recovery from this deadly virus".

Government sources have told Sky News this will mean that "more fines will be issued, and quicker".

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Spending watchdog highlights 'litany of failures' on superfast broadband

A 'litany’ of failures by the Government will leave rural homes and businesses without superfast broadband, MPs have warned today.

A new report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) argues the government’s pledge to deliver gigabit broadband to at least 85% of the nation by 2025 will be ‘challenging’ due to a catalogue of failures.

It said that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has failed to make meaningful progress in delivering the policy and legislative changes needed, amongst other problems.

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Sadiq Khan proposes 9.5% council tax increase

The mayor of London has announced council tax will increase by 9.5% to help fund free travel for young people and the over 60s.

Sadiq Khan said the proposed increase includes £15 a year to pay for free public transport travel for under 18s and the over 60s, and £15 to go directly to the Metropolitan Police.

He said the increase was necessary to meet ‘draconian conditions’ set by the Government in return for funding during last year’s emergency TfL negotiations.

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Closure of leisure centres to cost £7.25m in missed health savings

The continued closure of sport and leisure facilities during the latest lockdown will cost £7.25m in missed health savings, new analysis has revealed.

Research for ukactive also found the closure of more than 7,200 gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools is costing the sector around £90m in lost revenue every week in the UK.

The analysis of the first lockdown showed that an extra 3.4 million people were classed an inactive, with anxiety levels doubling compared to 2019.

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Eviction ban extended days before it was due to end

The Government has announced that its eviction ban, which came into force in April 2020, will be extended just days before it was due to come to an end.

The ban has been extended to at least February 21st according to the Government.

Boris Johnson told MPs in the Commons on Wednesday that the eviction ban was under review, and with a third lockdown imposed upon the country, it was almost inevitable that the Government would choose to extend the ban which came into force during the first lockdown.

Although eviction notices will still be able to go through courts and be approved, bailiffs will not be able to enforce the evictions except in extreme cases such as anti-social behaviour.

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Covid: arrivals to UK will need to show a negative test before entry

International travellers will need to show a negative Covid-19 test before being allowed into the UK, the government has announced, in a significant toughening of border controls to try to stem the spread of new coronavirus variants.

The new rules will take effect next week and apply to returning UK nationals as well as foreign citizens. Passengers will need to produce a test result taken less than 72 hours before boarding planes, boats or trains to the UK, and could be fined £500 in border spot checks without a negative result.

Arrivals will still need to quarantine for 10 days, even with a negative test, unless they are coming from one of the limited number of countries deemed low risk on the government’s travel corridor list.

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Councils asked to 'redouble efforts' on rough sleeping

English councils have been asked to ‘redouble their efforts’ to help accommodate people sleeping rough, with the Government finding an additional £10m funding.

The £10m investment, which comes amid rising infection rates, builds on more than £700m government spending on homelessness and rough sleeping?this financial year.

Under the latest plan, local authorities will be asked to ‘reach out again’ to rough sleepers who have previously refused help.

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Council defies government by closing nurseries

A council has closed all of its nurseries to prevent the spread of COVID-19 despite the Government insisting they are ‘safe’.

Brighton & Hove City Council yesterday announced all council-run nurseries were to be closed to all but vulnerable children and children of key workers.

Although the national lockdown rules in England do not require the closure of early years providers, the council said the move was consistent with the restrictions imposed on schools.

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High Court to hear four exit pay cap legal challenges

Another trade union has been granted permission to challenge the public sector exit pay cap at the High Court.

Justice Smith gave the green light for the British Medical Association (BMA) to put its case for a judicial review alongside Unison, a joint submission by Unite and GMB, and another joint legal challenge by the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives and Lawyers in Local Government.

The judge said that the Government ‘accepted that the claim raises arguable issues’ and therefore the BMA would proceed to the High Court.

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People drank more alcohol, exercised less and ate less healthily during first lockdown

Britons drank more alcohol, ate fewer fruit and vegetables and exercised less during the first national lockdown, a study has suggested.

Younger people, women and those who are overweight were more likely to have adopted unhealthy lifestyle choices last spring, the research by the University of East Anglia (UEA) shows.

The study of more than 1,000 people also indicates that women drank alcohol more frequently, but men consumed greater quantities of it in one sitting.

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County may be forced to limit school places during lockdown

Norfolk County Council has warned it may be forced to prioritise who is given a school place during the new lockdown because of high demand.

The council said it may only be able to offer school places to children if both their parents work in emergency life-saving services due to the number of families requesting critical worker places.

It warned that many schools are facing unique factors during the new lockdown such as more staff off sick and self-isolating, and stricter bubble systems.

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Intervention threat over 'unwise' investments

Councils have been warned the Government will intervene if they rely too much on commercial investments.

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick told councils they should ‘consider the future of their investments’ and ‘reduce their dependence’ during a finance webinar hosted by the Local Government Association this morning.

He warned the Government would ‘need to take a more active role’ if the sector failed to respond.

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Rishi Sunak’s business Covid support is a £4bn ‘sticking plaster’

Businesses were told yesterday to wait until March for any further help despite increasing evidence that the UK is heading back into recession.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, sought to relieve pressure for more support with a stop-gap package to keep the worst affected businesses afloat through the latest lockdown.

Pubs, cafés and shops are to be given one-off cash grants worth up to £9,000 in a £4 billion injection into the high street, with a further £600 million for other businesses.

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Thousands of children sent to unregulated care homes amid Covid

Thousands of the most vulnerable children have been sent to unregulated care homes during the pandemic at a cost of millions to the taxpayer, a Guardian investigation has found.

Council bosses say they have nowhere else to put those most at risk as there are not enough places for the number of children in need, which has soared during the Covid crisis. The result is young people are placed in supported living facilities not monitored by Ofsted and therefore deemed a safety risk. One council chief described these homes as the “wild west”.

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said the children’s care system had been “left to slip deeper into crisis” this year and that children were now being put at risk of “abuse or exploitation” after being let down by the authorities.

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Councils grapple with multi-million pound budget deficits

Councils are mulling service cuts and council tax rises as they attempt to balance next year's budgets.

Cuts totalling £28m will be made at Lewisham LBC next year as it attempts to bridge a £40m budget gap.

A second round of cuts worth £13m has been announced on top of £15m already agreed by members, blamed on ‘a decade of Government cuts and underfunding’.

The council is also to review its adult social care service, and conduct service reviews into its libraries, street cleansing, housing needs and legal service under proposals to be considered at a meeting next week [commencing 11th].

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Call for ‘urgent clarity’ on elections

Speculation over whether local elections will take place in May as scheduled has been labelled ‘unhelpful’ by councils.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson prompted doubts after he refused to rule out postponing the vote for a second time, following the cancellation of the elections last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has claimed there are currently no plans to postpone May's local elections.

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OECD says public will not accept austerity post-Covid-19

Unprecedented stimulus measures taken by governments to fight the pandemic have changed the public perception of spending and debt, meaning sharp tax hikes or spending cuts would risk popular backlash, the OECD’s chief economist has said.

Laurence Boone told the Financial Times that public officials will struggle to argue for austerity during the recovery from Covid-19, and may not be in a position to pay for certain measures – such as those to combat climate change.

“People are going to ask where all this money has come from,” she said, referring to the programmes rolled out by governments to address the coronavirus pandemic.

She said countries should continue to use higher spending and low taxes to help their economies throughout the recovery period, taking a lesson from the last global financial crisis.

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Council rejects social care precept rise

Councillors at Lincolnshire County Council have rejected the option of using the 3% increase to the adult social care precept next year which was announced during the local government settlement.

The move was approved in an executive committee meeting held yesterday, which outlined the draft budget proposal for 2021-22.

The council has opted for a 2% increase in council tax next year, which it said would raise £6.2m next year.

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The Brexit deal: financial implications for local government

The list of current events that one would not have predicted a year ago is a long one.

But pretty high up would be that the Brexit deal and the end of the transition period should have had such fleeting prominence on the front pages and in the public consciousness.

Instead, our attention has been consumed once again by the Covid-19 pandemic...

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English schools struggle with demand for key worker places

Schools have pleaded with parents to be “completely honest” about whether they are really key workers after some primaries received requests for hundreds of children to come to class in the latest lockdown.

Across England, schools reported struggling to cope with the demand for places in school while also offering remote teaching.

One primary headteacher in Greater Manchester said staff had spent all of Wednesday “interrogating” parents after they received 210 applications from key workers, some of whom they discovered were able to work from home.

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Worcestershire Council aim to plug £26m gap

Worcestershire County Council are to discuss plans to increase their portion of Council Tax by 2.5% in the coming year to plug the £26.5m funding gap that awaits in 2021.

The increase will amount to approximately £5m extra for the Council to use towards its budget.

This would equate to a £33 increase for the average band d household in the area, providing that other parts of tax aren’t increased.

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Pupils without laptops can still go to school in England lockdown

More than a million children in England who have no access to laptops have been designated as “vulnerable children” and can turn up at school for face-to-face learning, it emerged on Tuesday night.

The development raises questions about whether schools will be ready for the resultant influx of children, when they have been told to restrict teaching for at least six weeks as England begins its third national lockdown.

The new guidance came as a surprise to the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, who learned of it after she had called for pupils to be designated vulnerable if remote learning equipment could not be provided to them. Sources at Longfield’s office questioned when the advice had been updated and why the Department for Education (DfE) was making no effort to publicise it.

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Borrowing from PWLB jumps following rate cut

In October 2019, the Treasury raised the PWLB rate by one percentage point, which led to monthly borrowing dropping as low as £40m in November.

However, the rate rise was reversed at the Comprehensive Spending Review and in December more than 40 PWLB loans, averaging £5.9m each, were agreed, according to figures from the Debt Management Office.

David Whelan, managing director of public sector treasury at Link Group told PF: “Local authorities sat on their hands, and had not borrowed much, since the rate increase was announced.

“Following the rate reduction, they have now gone in and borrowed quite a lot.”

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Covid has exacerbated inequalities

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has released its first report of the year, titled Deaton Review of Inequalities: a New Year’s message.

The report outlines how Covid has not only highlighted inequalities in Britain, but how it has also made them worse.

The report focuses on key areas such as income, employment and education to objectively demonstrate that those from poorer backgrounds are worse off as a result of Covid, than those who are from privilege.

The report found that graduates were less likely to be out of work because of Covid, falling just 7% when compared to non-graduates who saw employment rates rise by 17% over the same period, showing that there is still a gap between those that go to university and those that don’t. Non-graduates are also more likely to have lost out on income due to an inability to do their job from home, having to choose between their health or their income.

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No third section 114 for Croydon this year

In November, Croydon became only the second council in two decades to issue a section 114 notice, freezing all non-essential spending as it forecast a £66m funding gap this year.

A second notice was issued by the council in early December.

However, the council told PF that, following discussions with CIPFA, a third notice will not be necessary for 2020-21.

A council spokesperson said: “Following the extraordinary council meeting on 16 December, the council’s chief finance officer sought advice from CIPFA about whether to issue another section 114 notice, given that there had been no substantial change to the council’s financial position.

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Union calls for nurseries to be closed during lockdown

Pre-schools including nurseries must be closed except to educate the children of key workers and those who are vulnerable, union says.

The Government has decided to keep nurseries open during the new lockdown with the Prime Minister promising that ‘everyone will still be able to access early years’ settings such as nurseries.’

However, Unison has urged the Government to close nurseries to everyone except the children of key workers and those who are vulnerable.

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Property searches face delays from underfunded councils

The trade body representing property search organisations has written to the communities secretary urging him to provide councils with more funding to speed up the provision of searches to homebuyers.

According to data from the Council of Property Search Organisations (CoPSO), more than 35% of local authorities are taking more than 20 working days to process search requests and for many of these the delays are more than 30 working days.

CoPSO warned that these delays are impacting on the progress of property transactions, which they say is particularly problematic because of the imminent expiry of the stamp duty holiday.

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Park services ‘need £500m funding boost’

The government has been warned that council park services require a £500m boost after a report revealed the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. A Local Government Association study, co-funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, focused on six council case studies and found that...

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New Year Honours awarded to local government workers

Figures across local government have been recognised for their response to the pandemic in the 2021 New Year Honours list.

Pat Richie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council, was awarded a CBE for her services to local government and public service reform.

Professor Graeme Betts, director of adult social care at Birmingham City Council, was awarded a CBE for services to adult social care.

A knighthood was also awarded to David Charles Pearson, the lately director of adult social care at Nottinghamshire Council for services to health and social care integration.

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Councils resist pressure to reopen schools

Councils have raised concerns over the return of primary school pupils to classrooms amid soaring COVID-19 infection rates.

Secondary schools are due to remain closed this week but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that primary schools are 'safe’.

However, Essex CC said its primary schools would remain closed to all but vulnerable children and those of key workers, and Brighton & Hove City Counil has advised its schools to do the same.

Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Wolverhampton city councils said they would back schools that decide not to reopen.

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High streets across England secure cash boost for regeneration

More than 70 towns and cities across England are to share up to £830m to help boost high streets, the government has said.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the funding plan, initially revealed before the Covid pandemic, would help areas to "bounce back" through regeneration.

Sunderland and Swindon will each get £25m to fund railway station and town centre improvements.

Some 15 areas share £255m, with 57 others provisionally granted £576m.

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Leader of England’s largest council calls for Government to “act now”

The leader of Birmingham City Council has urged the Government to “act now” in order to avoid the catastrophic case numbers that are currently being seen in certain boroughs of London.

The leader, Ian Ward, cited the 36% increase in cases in Birmingham over the past week, with hospitals being at breaking point in the region

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Council backs calls for new national lockdown

Liverpool City Council has called on the Government to introduce a new national lockdown to stop the rapid spread of the new strain of coronavirus.

The council warns that COVID cases have reached ‘alarming levels’ after they trebled in the past two weeks across the city.

Acting mayor, Cllr Wendy Simon, said a new national lockdown, coupled with mass testing, is the only way to slow the spread of the new strain of the virus.

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Exit pay cap judicial review granted

A judicial review into the public sector exit pay cap will take place in March.

The joint application by the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives (ALACE) and Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) has been granted by the High Court today.

The two-day hearing will take place towards the middle of March.

LLG president Quentin Baker said: ‘In a year when local authority key workers have given their all, LLG has fought to preserve pension rights for those suffering redundancy at a late stage in their career, rights which were unjustifiably stripped away by the exit cap regulations.

‘The granting of permission to apply for judicial review gives us all a glimmer of hope that common sense and justice may prevail in 2021.’

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Major incidents over COVID declared

Essex, Oxfordshire and Berkshire have declared major incidents amid fears the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases could overwhelm health services.

The declarations, which allow the areas to seek further support from the Government, came in response to growing demand on health and social care services due to coronavirus.

Leader of Buckinghamshire Council, Martin Tett, said: ‘Our rate in the over 60 years population is now putting our health and social care services under very severe pressure.

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Former CIPFA presidents receive New Year honours

Gardner, who was auditor general of Audit Scotland from 2012-2020 and CIPFA president in 2006, was awarded a CBE for her services to the Scottish public sector.

She had worked at Audit Scotland since its inception in 2000 and was also chair of CIPFA in Scotland in 2001.

Roberts, who was CIPFA president in 2016, was awarded an OBE for his services to local government and public sector finance.

He was appointed as one of two finance commissioners to help advise at Northamptonshire County Council in 2018, after the council issued two section 114 notices.

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Prime Minister commits to uplift in public sector jobs

The Prime Minister has committed to continuing to invest in public sector jobs as the country aims to “build back better” after the Covid-19 pandemic.

2020 saw record numbers of nurses recruited with 13,313 new nurses joining the NHS in England, taking the total figure up to 299,184.

41,000 trainee teachers were recruited last year, with every teacher in the country receiving an above-inflation pay rise.

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