CORONAVIRUS — INFORMATION FOR LOCAL (PARISH AND TOWN) COUNCILS

UPDATE 10am 17th March - from NALC

ROBERT JENRICK MP REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR COUNCILS IN THEIR CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE

  • Local Government Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP has today addressed over 300 council leaders in England
  • Jenrick reaffirmed Government's commitment to giving councils the support they need to contribute to the national effort
  • He also confirmed a series of practical measures which will give councils greater flexibility to respond to coronavirus

The Government stands ready to do whatever is necessary to support councils in their response to coronavirus, the Local Government Secretary confirmed to council leaders today.

Local Government Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP addressed over 300 council leaders and sector bodies in a call on the Government's response to coronavirus.

He reaffirmed the Government's commitment to supporting councils to focus their efforts on the priority area of social care, providing vital support for vulnerable people and supporting their local economies.

He also confirmed additional military personnel will now work with Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) on their coronavirus response plans, following the initial announcement of 38 planners supporting the forums in England.

Local Government Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said:

"As part of the national effort to keep the public safe and deliver essential public services, this Government stands with local councils at this difficult time.

"My absolute priority is to ensure they are well placed to respond to coronavirus and protect vital services, including social care.

"Everyone needs to play their part to help the most vulnerable in society and support their local economy, and the Government will do whatever is necessary to support these efforts."

During the call, he also reiterated the practical measures introduced by Government which will give councils greater flexibility and allow them to further focus their resources on the response to coronavirus.

In addition to measures previously brought forward by the Government, including the relaxation of restrictions on supermarket deliveries and the postponement of local, mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections until May next year, the Government has now confirmed:

  • Routine Care Quality Commission inspections will be temporarily suspended for the duration of the COVID19 outbreak
  • Ofsted will look very favourably on any requests to defer inspections because of coronavirus
  • Councils will be able to use their discretion on deadlines for Freedom Of Information requests
  • The deadline for local government financial audits will be extended to 30 September 2020
  • It will consider bringing forward legislation to remove the requirement for Annual Council meetings to take place in person
  • It will consider bringing forward legislation to legislation to allow Council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period

UPDATE 5pm 16th March - From BBC News

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said "everyone" in the UK should now avoid "non-essential" travel and contact with others and to fight coronavirus.

He said people should work from home and avoid pubs, club, theatres where possible, as part of a range of stringent new measures.

In the first of a series of new daily briefings, Mr Johnson also said elderly and vulnerable people would have to begin self-isolating for "around 12 weeks" in "a few days time".

Please note that we await further information as to holding council meetings but councils should consider whether their schemes of delegation will enable essential council business to continue without a meeting taking place.

Message on 13th March 2020:

ABOUT

This information has been provided by NALC to provide local (parish and town) councils with information related to the coronavirus. It should not be used as a substitute for government advice, however, there are some practicalities specific to local councils where we hope this information will help you plan ahead and manage your risks. If you would like further advice and support on any of these topics for your local council then please us.

SOURCES OF ADVICE

The coronavirus situation is fast-moving and there is an increasing amount of misinformation online. We should be using government advice to inform decisions and be checking that advice regularly.

MANAGING RISKS TO THE COUNCIL

We would recommend that local councils consider different scenarios and what actions might help mitigate any risks to the council. This will vary for individual councils and it may be that no specific actions or changes are required. As examples:

  • It may be helpful to review your scheme of delegation to ensure it is fit for purpose and would ensure minimal disruption to the work of the council if councillors are not able to attend meetings and committees. For example, you may wish to consider if certain decisions could be delegated to the clerk, in consultation with the chairman and vice-chairman, as a contingency plan in case council meetings are postponed due to the coronavirus
  • You may wish to review critical functions or services and consider how these would continue in the case of staff absence
  • You may have local residents with queries about coronavirus, in which case we would advise you signpost them to government information and advice as highlighted above

WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY ABOUT HOLDING COUNCIL MEETINGS?

There are a number of statutory meetings and deadlines that apply to local councils – you can find out more about these from your county association or by reading our Legal Topic Note 5 (located in member's area of our website —login required). There has been no change to legislation or government guidance to amend these statutory duties.

Where the law does not provide for a particular scenario (e.g. the holding of the annual council parish or town meeting outside of the statutory timeframe, if the government advises against meetings being held) we would be guided by the government as to what should happen. We will be engaging with government on this and a range of other issues and will keep you updated on any developments.

WHAT ABOUT THE FINANCIAL YEAR-END AND AGAR?

After the completion of accounts at the close of the financial year (31 March), they must be certified by the council's responsible financial officer (RFO), considered and approved by full council by no later than 29 June, and published by 30 September. If a planned full council meeting is not able to approve the accounts e.g. the meeting is not quorate due to councillor absence, then an extraordinary council meeting can be called at a later date as long as it is within this timeframe. If councils are concerned about potential delays they may wish to consider approving the AGAR as early as possible, for example, at an April meeting rather than waiting for the May/June meetings.

NALC and Smaller Authorities' Audit Appointments (SAAA) have discussed and agreed to keep an eye on the situation. SAAA will keep in close contact with auditors as well.

WILL THE ELECTIONS IN MAY BE AFFECTED?

There are elections scheduled on 7 May and currently, there are no plans to change this. The Electoral Commission wrote to the government on 12 March calling for elections to be delayed until the autumn. We will keep a close eye on this and provide updates if there is any impact on election timeframes

SUPPORTING LOCAL COMMUNITIES

Local councils are ideally placed to inform and support residents as they already do in so many spheres — from assisting during flooding and other emergencies to supporting vulnerable or lonely people. And this will almost certainly be the case in the current situation. Cllr Sue Baxter, chairman of NALC met Nigel Huddlestone MP (DCMS representative on COBRA) who saw a potentially big role for parishes during the current period, keeping an eye on vulnerable people and encouraging new volunteers to come forward to help. We are assessing the implications of this week's budget and other announcements and will keep you informed.

CORONAVIRUS AND CYBERSECURITY

NALC partners Microshade have provided additional advice for local councils as fraudsters are exploiting the spread of coronavirus to facilitate various types of fraud and cybercrime — read of the blog.

This page was last updated on 13 March 2020.

Posted: Mon, 16 Mar 2020 17:10 by Wendy Amis

Tags: Useful