A guide for parish and town councils in Leicestershire and Rutland
This information forms part of a LRALC's dedicated webpage on the coronavirus. It should not be used as a substitute for government advice, however, there are some practicalities specific to local (parish and town) 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 contact the LRALC office, but we please ask that you read this page in full first. This is a fast-moving situation and we will be updating the webpage regularly.
This page was last updated on 6th May 2020 at 21.48 (the most recent updates are at the bottom of this page). We will be removing out of date information from this page shortly, but in the meantime please ensure you have read all updates in chronological order.
This page will be updated with information, guidance and answers to frequently asked questions related to the Coronavirus outbreak. The information is for parish and town councils in Leicestershire and Rutland. For general advice, members of the public should visit the UK government's Coronavirus information page.
The Basic Position (updated 23:34 16th March 2020)
Parish and town councils should be aware of Coronavirus and should be thinking about the impact that widespread infection could have on the council's ability to conduct its business.
Parish and town councils have a community leadership role and, at this stage of the Coronavirus outbreak, that probably means having a cautious but realistic and practical stance. Parish and town councils should try not to contribute towards public panic by, for example, promulgating false or alarmist information.
Parish and town councils can play a key role in disseminating timely, accurate and responsible advice to communities via noticeboards, web sites and social media channels.
Schemes of Delegation
Many (but not all) council functions can be delegated to a committee or to an officer. Councils may wish to consider a motion at their March meetings to provide for delegation to an officer any decision that must be made if the council is incapacitated and unable to hold a meeting.
Blanket delegations are unsatisfactory and should be avoided. Any delegation needs to be clear, specific and time-limited. There should also be a requirement to publish any decisions taken under the delegated authority as soon as possible.
A suggested form of words would be "In response to the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK and in the event that it is not possible to convene a meeting of the council in a reasonable time, the Clerk shall have delegated authority to make decisions on behalf of the council where such decision cannot reasonably be deferred and must be made in order to comply with a commercial or statutory deadline. The delegation does not extend to matters expressly reserved to the council in legislation or in its Standing Orders or Financial Regulations. Any decisions made under this delegation must be recorded in writing and must be published in accordance with the relevant regulations. This delegated authority ceases upon the first meeting of the council after the council meeting at which the delegation was put in place".
The Role of LRALC
LRALC will keep member parish and town councils informed as the Coronavirus outbreak progresses. We are liaising with colleagues at the National Association of Local Councils and with county, district and borough councils to help local government bodies in Leicestershire and Rutland to respond proactively and proportionately.
We will communicate any significant developments (e.g. directives from the Government or from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)) to all member councils immediately via this web page and/or email.
UPDATE 09:45 13th March 2020
Councils with General Power of Competence will be able to undertake more local actions to support the community using council resources (and money) than councils without this power. For example one parish council has asked us about taking the lead on organising a shopping scheme for the elderly and vulnerable?
Once a council has contacted its insurers, taken legal advice on the proposal, and carefully considered the risks (e.g. could it actually increase the risk of contamination?) then it is something a council with the General Power of Competence could consider, unlike councils without it (dependant upon the precise nature of the role the council would play in the scheme, e.g. using council funds or not).
This web page will be updated as and when there is new information available.
UPDATE 11:52 13th March 2020
NALC now has its own dedicated coronavirus page: https://www.nalc.gov.uk/coronavirus
UPDATE 12:02 16th March 2020
Many aspects of parish and town council business are discretionary and can be deferred if necessary. There are however several things that must be done by law and that have a statutory deadline. Examples are:
- Holding the Annual Parish/Town Meeting on a date between 1 March and 1 June inclusive.
- Holding the annual meeting of the council on a day in May (for the majority of councils for whom it is a year of ordinary elections, the meeting must be held between 11 May and 25 May).
- Approving for signature the Annual Governance and Accountability Return (AGAR) before 1 July.
Should the Government advise or mandate that local authority meetings should not take place, we would expect the Government to deal with the associated consequences, such as the statutory timeframes. The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) is in communications with the Government and the Local Government Association (LGA) and will make sure that parish and town councils duties are properly taken into account.
Parish and town councils have various powers in the arena of public health but are not the responsible body (that lies with the county council). Powers that could be used directly or indirectly in response to a big public health crisis include for example Section 198 of the Public Health Act 1936, which provides that "…if required by the Minister [parish councils] shall, provide (a) a mortuary for the reception of dead bodies before interment and (b)a post-mortem room for the reception of dead bodies during the time required to conduct any post-mortem examination ordered by a coroner or other duly authorised authority; and may make byelaws with respect to the management, and charges for the use, of any such place provided by them."
UPDATE 10:40 17th March 2020
Many councils who received our advice about emergency delegation received it after their agendas had been sent out for their next meeting. Having given careful consideration to our advice we feel that in the absence of a specific agenda item under which delegation to the clerk is to be considered the only option left to councils is to consider if there is an existing agenda item under which the proposal could comfortably sit. We would suggest that in the absence of something more suitable a council could make a case for putting the delegation in place under the agenda item of "date of next meeting" as the suggested wording we provide allows for decision making in the case of the cancellation of the next scheduled meeting.
A number of our councils are also calling extraordinary meetings in order to specifically put in place coronavirus related actions and decisions. If such a meeting was called today it could be held on Saturday 21st March.
A reminder that council CANNOT delegate decision making to a councillor, eg the chairman.
UPDATE 11:38 17th March 2020
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UPDATE 17:52 17th March 2020
There appears to be confusion that the government's current advice does not allow council meetings to happen. Our interpretation of council meetings is that they are, under the current legal framework, essential meetings if dealing with matters relating to council functions which are not discretionary, including authorising expenditure. Councils cannot operate without decisions on expenditure, actions, etc., being made at properly convened council meetings UNLESS formal delegation has been put in place to the clerk or another officer by a properly convened council meeting. We hope that government will change the law on this asap, but for the moment they have not.
Parish and town councils have a community leadership role and, at this stage of the Coronavirus outbreak, that probably means having a cautious but realistic and practical stance whilst continuing to play a key role in the community's response to COVID-19. Most councils should have sufficient members who are under 70 and do not suffer from a chronic health condition to meet quorum rules (for many councils this is 3 members).
UPDATE 18:38 17th March - Important update from NALC
ENGAGING WITH THE GOVERNMENT
NALC is engaging with Smaller Authorities' Audit Appointments (SAAA) about audit and with the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) as a matter of urgency on a range of issues. A summary of some of the issues we are raising with MHCLG is below:
- Holding of statutory meetings — such as annual parish meeting and the annual council meeting. We are communicating the concerns that councils have around their ability to hold meetings within the statutory deadlines.
- Audit deadlines — We are communicating the concerns that local councils have around their ability to hold meetings within the statutory deadlines.
- Elections — With the change of date around elections we are seeking clarification on the implications of this.
- Democratic decision-making (e.g. if councils are unable to be quorate for an extended period of time) — We are communicating the difficulties that councils are experiences or expecting. This includes the question of phone/online attendance
On 16 March 2020, local government secretary 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 — read the full press release on MHCLG's website. NALC is awaiting confirmation that these changes will be applicable to local councils, plus legislation will need to be passed for this to come into effect and we are seeking clarification on the detail. In particular, the MHCLG press release states:
- 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
We will provide further updates as we find them out.
UPDATED 18:47 17th March 2020
We have received a query about what happens if some councillors resign due to them being classed as vulnerable. This could cause huge problems for councils if the number of councillors fell below the legal quorum. It is unlikely Borough and District councils would be in a position to prioritise appointing new councillors to allow a parish council to become quorate again if faced with multiple councils facing the same problem, which would mean that council would not be able to operate in any shape or form for a considerable period of time unless delegated powers were already in place for the clerk or another officer. We hope that the government will pass emergency powers soon to enable self isolating councillors to take part in meetings remotely.
UPDATED 14:20 18th March
Internal Audit and Leicestershire County Council
We are currently reviewing how we will deliver our Internal Audit Service to member councils who are with LRALC for this essential part of council operation. These councils are in a strong position with LRALC as our service is centrally co-ordinated and we are ideally placed to ensure any national emergency changes to the current process are communicated and implemented by us immediately due to our direct links with SAAA, PKF Littlejohn, and NALC.
Please note, no changes have yet been made by government and so all councils should still be working towards ensuring their end of year accounts are completed as soon as possible. Please help our Internal Audit team by responding to them in a timely manner, especially if the process changes to a web/email based one rather than physical visits, which is a strong possibility.
Next, LRALC is working closely with Leicestershire County Council to address the challenges being faced by local communities relating to COVID-19. The situation is still emerging nationally but it is a distinct possibility that as the crisis escalates local authorities at every level (including parishes) will be asked to work together to support their communities, especially the vulnerable and elderly.
LCC will be using our Round Robin service to cascade critical information, so can clerks please ensure that these comms are passed to all councillors as standard until further notice. This will help to avoid overloading LCC with queries from parishes.
Also, the scheduled clerks meeting on 29th March is cancelled to visitors (ie clerks), though we are investigating streaming the meeting (from an empty room!) via our website. Watch this space.
UPDATED 21:36 18th March 2020
A website set up to provide resources and to connect people to their nearest local group, willing volunteers and those in need can be found here: https://covidmutualaid.org/. It may prove a useful resources for those parish councils who are shaping their response to the crisis within their communities.
UPDATED 07:36 19th March 2020
Beware Scammers & Fraudsters
Times like these bring out the best in people, and the worst in people. Already we are hearing of unscrupulous exploitation of the situation, including:
- Fraudulent emails containing hyperlinks or attachments, which people in a heightened state of worry are more likely than normal to click on.
- Advice circulating on social media that people self-isolating should physically mark their houses in some way if they need help, e.g. by displaying a sticker in their front window or tying a ribbon to their front door. This is effectively putting a target on the house for people up to no good.
- People offering goods that are in temporarily short supply (e.g toilet roll) or increased demand (e.g. face masks) for sale at knockdown prices, taking payment and then never delivering the goods.
- Fraudsters posing as volunteers and conning vulnerable (particularly elderly) people by taking their credit cards so that they could do their shopping for them, and then making additional unauthorised purchases.
The list above is a small sample of the depths some people will stoop to. It's a time for being extra-vigilant, pausing before clicking, and making sure that online and offline security measures are in place and up to date.
For further information see https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/.
Further Internal & External Audit
The 2020 round of end of year internal audits starts in the first week of April and continues through May and June. As previously stated we are aware of the possibility of significant disruption due to the (potentially sudden) unavailability of the internal auditor, or Clerk, or both. Much of the audit work can now be done remotely, which will help and we are putting in place practical measures to ensure that any necessary audit visits are as safe as possible.
PKF Littlejohn, which is the external auditor for all parish and town councils in Leicestershire and Rutland, intended to issue instruction for the 2020 audit in the week commencing 23 March 2020. We are pressing for the instructions to include specific guidance relating to the possibility of councils being incapacitated during the statutory window for completing the Annual Governance & Accountability Return.
The Government announced on 16 March 2020 that the deadline for local government financial audits will be extended to 30 September 2020, but as yet no details have been released, or final confirmation that this explicitly applies to local (parish) councils, though we can see no reason why it would not.
For the time being, councils should continue with their normal governance and accountability procedures, but organisation and preparedness are key. Try to have the end of year wrapped up as soon as possible, to give the maximum possible chance to carry out the audit and AGAR process.
UPDATE 17:27 19th March 2020
NALC has updated its dedicated webpage on the coronavirus. This includes further information on elections. See the updates below:
The Cabinet Office confirmed to NALC that the local elections scheduled on 7 May will be postponed until May next year, with legislation brought forward shortly in the Covid-19 Bill. The Electoral Commission wrote to the government on 12 March calling for elections to be delayed until the autumn.
On 18 March, Cabinet Office issued the below guidance to electoral administrators about forthcoming elections before legislation postponing them will come into force. We expect this information to be filtered down to local (parish and town) councils by principal councils:
- The government will give its full support to returning officers who make the decision to suspend their polls. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has provided assurance that criminal prosecution in these circumstances is highly unlikely.
- Bringing forward measures within the Covid-19 Bill to postpone the scheduled local and mayoral elections due to take place in England and the scheduled Police and Crime Commissioner elections due to take place in England and Wales on 7 May this year until the next ordinary day of the election on 6 May 2021.
- However, it's recognised that there will be a small number of polls between now and the date of Royal Assent which will not be covered by these provisions.
- The delivery of polls rightly sits with returning officers who are statutorily independent and responsible to the courts.
- Running a poll in present times is likely to come with significant concerns about the wellbeing of those involved, which may be thought to be unfair to both staff and the public.
- It would be both reasonable and consistent with the national position for a returning officer to suspend any poll scheduled within this period, including those due to take place on 19 March.
- The hard work of returning officers is appreciated during these difficult and challenging circumstances.
The Cabinet Office is responsible for the implementation of this legislation.
UPDATED 18:52 20th March 2020
Coronavirus — NALC information for parish & town councils
NALC has updated its dedicated webpage on the coronavirus. This includes further information on government email alerts, holding meetings, local (parish and town) councils supporting their communities and CiLCA deadlines. See the updates below:
Email alerts from the government
If you would like to keep up-to-date with the government information as it comes out then you can sign-up to their Covid-19 response bulletin.
NALC strongly encourages councillors and staff to follow government guidance on social distancing and self-isolation. This is particularly important if anyone is in an at-risk group as identified by the guidance. We would encourage local councils to consider if they need to hold scheduled meetings at all. The health and safety of councillors, staff and the public should be your primary concern. If local councils do follow government guidance on social distancing and social isolation and so they do not hold scheduled meetings, including annual council meetings, NALC's opinion is that the likelihood of a successful legal challenge is low.
We are expecting government guidance on holding meetings remotely early next week, and NALC will also produce further guidance next week. In the meantime, if local councils decide to not hold meetings and take decisions by email or other remote methods NALC feels it's likely that afterwards if there were a challenge that the courts will accept that exceptional times called for exceptional measures. In the absence of government guidance, we would suggest for now only taking decisions remotely for truly urgent issues. In this case, local councils should evidence their decision making as best they can, for example by asking councillors to confirm their votes by email to the clerk for the clerk to keep as a record of the decision.
Local councils supporting their 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 Huddleston MP (DCMS minister and their representative on COBRA) on NALC's Lobby Day on 10 March, who saw a potentially big role for parishes during the current period, including keeping an eye on vulnerable people and encouraging new volunteers to come forward to help.
NALC has also engaged with Public Health England and communicated the desire from local councils to support their communities and the need for information on how best to do this within the scope of government advice on social distancing. PHE is launching further guidance to support community activities next week which we will share widely.
We know already the coronavirus has affected every community in a multitude of ways, with local councils doing a brilliant job in difficult circumstances. Playing their part to support the community and its residents, businesses and groups at this challenging time.
Such as Woodbridge Town Council, Suffolk, which has set-up an emergency response group of councillors and volunteers which will assist with collection/delivery of medicines, shopping, walking the dog or simply being a voice at the end of the phone. Or Hagley Parish Council, Worcestershire, which is acting as an information hub and plans to publicise restaurants offering a delivery service and contact details for NHS helplines. And Backwell Parish Council, Somerset, has a dedicated team of over 30 volunteers who can organise to have someone check in regularly with the elderly or at high-risk either by phone, Skype or FaceTime.
You can read more about their work, and that of other local councils, in our newly published Coronavirus case studies publication.
But we want to continue to gather your stories about how local councils are responding to the current situation. Which we can share with other local councils to provide inspiration, and importantly to support our engagement with government. Please spend a few minutes to tell us what you are doing in this short survey. Or you can simply email NALC at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @nalc.
CiLCA deadlines pushed back
In light of the ongoing Covid-19 situation, all CiLCA candidates who are currently registered will be granted an additional 3 months to complete their portfolio. This extension will be automatically granted for all candidates and you will not need to contact the CiLCA Administrator. This automatic extension will be reviewed at the end of June. In the meantime all registered candidates who have attended relevant training should continue to submit work when it has been completed to an appropriate standard. New candidates are reminded that they should not register for CiLCA until they have a training programme in place.
This information forms part of a NALC's dedicated webpage on the coronavirus. It should not be used as a substitute for government advice, however, there are some practicalities specific to local (parish and town) 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 contact your local county association. This is a fast-moving situation and we will be updating the webpage regularly.
UPDATED 19:02 20th March 2020
Legal Powers for Local Council Coronavirus Responses
Please see below the advice we have received from Wellers Hedleys Solicitors:
In terms of an area-wide co-ordinated response with principal authorities, Parish Council powers are limited to s.137 and s.111 LGA 1972. Parish Councils do not themselves have emergency powers to act in a civil emergency but could possibly, under s.111 LGA 1972, look to make existing council-run facilities (website/ buildings) available for a secondary purpose connected with the resilience planning.
With regards to the community shopping scheme the general principle is that Councils should ideally first give consideration to whether such activities form part of their statutory functions and powers. Any such activities would then need to be risk assessed, insured, managed and compliant with the law (Health and Safety and GDPR etc.). The precise requirements will probably vary from activity to activity and each would need to be considered on their own merits.
Frances Webster Solicitor
Telephone: 01372 750 118
UPDATED 19:10 20th March 2020
NALC Chief Executive's Coronavirus Update
Chief executive's bulletin
Supporting you during the coronavirusJust a few months ago in her New Year open letter, our chairman, Cllr Sue Baxter, said the role of local (parish and town) councils has never been more important. Back then, of course, she was talking about our contribution to things such as bringing the country together, loneliness and isolation, health and wellbeing, and environmental sustainability. Fast forward to the current public health crisis, and those words ring even more true.
In recent days I have seen the local council sector demonstrate like never before that we will do whatever it takes to support the communities we serve.
Such as Woodbridge Town Council, Suffolk, (my own local council!), which has set-up an emergency response group of councillors and volunteers which will assist with collection/delivery of medicines, shopping, walking the dog or simply being a voice at the end of the phone. Or Hagley Parish Council, Worcestershire, which is acting as an information hub and plans to publicise restaurants offering a delivery service and contact details for NHS helplines. And Backwell Parish Council, Somerset, has a dedicated team of over 30 volunteers who can organise to have someone check in regularly with the elderly or at high-risk either by phone, Skype or FaceTime. You can read more about their work, and that of other local councils, in our newly published Coronavirus case studies publication.
But I am keen to gather more stories of how local councils are responding to the current situation to share with other local councils to provide inspiration, and very important indeed, to support our engagement with government. Please spend a few minutes to tell us what you are doing in this short survey. Or you can simply email NALC at email@example.com or tweet us @nalc.
I wanted to recap on what we're doing to support the sector, what's happened this week, and highlight a few things coming up. As you already know, we created a dedicated webpage, which so far has over 45,000 hits. I want to stress that this 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 and manage your risks. We are updating the webpage daily along with circulating mailouts and sending email updates to county officers.
We've refocused all our work on ensuring the resilience of the organisation and health and wellbeing of our staff, so we can continue to support the sector by providing guidance and information, and engaging with the government. This includes daily meetings of our corporate management team via teleconference.
We have continued to raise issues with government on any impact on the operation of our local councils, such as rules and statutory deadlines on meetings, local audit, and the financial impact such as through loss of income. This week that has included contact with ministers including writing to them directly, and liaising with officials. We have also been in touch with the Local Government Association and Public Health England.
On 19 March, our head of member services facilitated a videoconference with over 20 county officers to share information and provide support. We agreed going forward we would hold these weekly and I hope more colleagues will be able to get involved next week.
Next week auditors will be sending out AGAR forms to local councils. Please be assured that we are continuing to press the government for a change to requirement to approve annual accounts and AGAR and publish them before 1 July. We are also expecting an announcement from the government on holding meetings, but in the meantime do check out our latest advice on the coronavirus webpage.
You might also be interested to know that the local government magazine, The MJ, is being made into an ebook, each week throughout the crisis, with access anywhere, completely free, on their website each Thursday – find out more.
Further to the government's commitment in the recent budget to bring forward legislation to end the toilet tax, which as you know has been a key NALC campaign, I was delighted the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill was introduced to the House of Commons and given its first reading on 18 March, with the second reading scheduled to take place on 30 March.
UPDATED 11:53 22nd March 2020
Local Council Play Areas and Parks
Many bodies who oversee discretionary open spaces (eg National Trust, Bradgate Park, etc) are now closing their facilities due to the public failing to observe social distancing. With the improving weather this is likely to become more of an issue over the coming days.
We therefore recommend that where possible local councils secure facilities (play areas, parks, etc) where people are likely to gather in close proximity until further notice, and that where it is not possible to secure these notices are displayed advising the public not to gather in groups and to maintain distance.
UPDATED 13:11 22nd March 2020
Major new measures to protect people at highest risk from Coronavirus
- Government urges up to 1.5 million people in England who face the highest risk of being hospitalised by the virus to shield themselves and stay at home
- People with specific underlying health conditions, including some being treated for cancer, will be contacted by the NHS this week
- Plans also unveiled to deliver groceries and medicines for those most at risk from the virus where needed
Up to 1.5 million people in England identified by the NHS as being at higher risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus should stay at home to protect themselves, the Government urged today (Sunday 22 March).
They will receive communication shortly with detailed advice on behalf of their GP practice or specialist on how best to protect themselves.
A raft of new measures, including a helpline for the most in need of support, have been set out for those considered to be extremely vulnerable due to their medical conditions, so people know exactly how to care for themselves and others in the coming months.
It was also announced that a new Local Support System will make sure those individuals self-isolating at home and who are without a support network of friends and family will receive basic groceries. Community pharmacies will support those who need help getting their medicines delivered.
The Government is working with a partnership of the groceries industry, local government, local resilience and emergency partners, and voluntary groups, to ensure that essential items can start to be delivered as soon as possible to those who need it. The people identified as the most vulnerable in their communities will be contacted directly – including in person where necessary - as a priority.
Members of the armed forces, already in local communities helping Local Resilience Forums and local councils on their coronavirus response plans, will support this effort and are at the heart of local planning in response to this crisis.
Communities Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said:
Public safety and making sure that those most at risk from the virus continue to get the support they need throughout this period is the Government's top priority. People should stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.
This will be an especially worrying time for those with serious underlying health conditions and that is why we are urgently acting to ensure extremely vulnerable individuals are taking extra steps to shield themselves, and that the essential items they need are supplied to them.
We will ensure that vulnerable and older people in our society are left in no doubt of their importance to us and our determination to protect them as best we can. More people will be required to be by themselves at home. While they are on their own, let's guarantee that they are never alone.
Up to 1.5 million people in England currently live with conditions, or are taking medication or receiving treatment, which health experts have identified puts them at a much greater risk of developing serious complications if they get the virus, which may mean they need hospital treatment.
This includes, for example, those who have received organ transplants, are living with severe respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis and severe chronic bronchitis (COPD) or specific cancers like of the blood or bone marrow. And some – though not all – of those receiving certain types of drug treatments including ones which suppress the immune system – leaving the body less able to fight off the virus.
People identified as belonging to one or more of the at-risk groups will be contacted by their GP practice, specialist or both strongly advising them to stay at home for a period of at least 12 weeks.
In the first instance they will receive a letter this week and, where mobile number is known, the NHS will also send frequent text messages shortly to those in this group, to reach the most at risk as quickly as possible with advice.
These communications will set out to reassure them that their ongoing medical needs will be met by the NHS, and contain advice and guidance on how to manage their condition while self-isolating, including getting prescriptions delivered and accessing support for daily living.
For the individuals most at risk of the illness, these actions will save lives.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:
We are working incredibly hard, day and night, to protect the nation's public health whilst supporting our NHS so it can continue to look after patients in need of care.
It is vital that we do everything we can to protect ourselves, our families and our friends from being impacted by the virus. But for those who are at the highest risk in our society, we have to do even more to ensure they're kept safe.
Whether it's going shopping for a neighbour in need, or keeping inside if you know you're at risk, we all have a part to play in protecting the welfare of those who are most vulnerable.
Dr Paul Johnstone, Director at Public Health England, said:
The NHS are contacting the people who are most vulnerable to developing a very serious illness as a result of COVID-19 with specific advice to stay at home for at least 12 weeks.
If you receive a letter it is vitally important that you act on it for your own protection, don't attend any gatherings of friends or families and don't go out for shopping, leisure or travel.
Those of us who are less at risk can play our part in protecting other people by following the government's advice on social distancing and volunteering to give extra support to vulnerable people who are staying at home.
The guidance for people at the highest risk is:
- Strictly avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough;
- Do not leave your house for at least 12 weeks starting on Monday 22 March.
- Do not attend any gatherings. This includes gatherings of friends and families in private spaces e.g. family homes, weddings, parties and religious services.
- Do not go out for shopping, leisure or travel and, when arranging food or medication deliveries, these should be left at the door to minimise contact.
- Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media.
- Do use telephone or online services to contact your GP practice or other essential services as and when you need.
- A link to the guidance can be found here.
- Full list of those falling into the extremely vulnerable group:
- Solid organ transplant recipients
- People with specific cancers
- People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
- People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
- People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
- People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors.
- People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs.
- People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
- People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell disease)
- People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection
- Women who are pregnant and who also have significant heart disease, congenital or acquired
UPDATED 12:29 23rd March 2020
Business support for parish and town councils - a briefing
LRALC and the Parkinson Partnership have provided a briefing for councils on what business support may be available to them. We are already receiving queries on this, and it should be remembered that this is a very fluid situation.
The briefing can be found here:
If the proper practices have been applied to council finances all councils (regardless of size) should have at least 6 months running costs in contingency funds (i.e. unallocated reserves), and some will have closer to 12 months. These funds can be used not only for local crisis work but also to make up any shortfall in income from fees and rents.
UPDATED 21:17 23rd March 2020
LRALC Office is Closed - Our Service is OPEN!
Please note that as of Monday 23rd March the LRALC office is closed in line with government advice. Please note:
- The answer machine WILL be checked daily, please leave a message and we WILL get back to you (but leave a number!).
- Use the "ticket" system to place queries and you will usually get a same day response.
- Emails will be checked daily but response times may be slightly longer for these.
- Please pay LRALC invoices promptly and by BACS wherever possible, we need to ensure we can continue providing our service to help councils support their communities at this critical time.
UPDATED 19:11 24th March 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic continues and the UK enters this new phase of government measures, we wanted to reach out to the local (parish and town) council sector. These are unprecedented and challenging times, and our first thoughts are for the health and welfare of yourselves and your communities.
Following the prime minister's announcement, we wanted to reiterate the importance of following the new rules on staying at home and away from others. This guidance impacts on all of us and there are the additional need to self-isolate or shield from contact depending on your situation. It essential that we all follow these rules to slow the pandemic and to support our NHS. Both NALC and the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC) are asking local councils to stop holding any physical meetings or gatherings during this time. This includes full council, committee meetings, annual parish or council meetings. These are extraordinary times, and they call for extraordinary measures. The health and safety of your staff, councillors and local communities should be your first concern.
The government is working on a Coronavirus Bill and associated legislation that will allow your council meetings to be held remotely and to make decisions without the need for physically meeting. This will be introduced soon, and so we encourage you to be patient. We are making representations to ministers, parliamentarians, civil servants and the Local Government Association to ensure our sector's concerns are considered and addressed and will be providing updates to our respective members as soon as further information is forthcoming.
NALC and SLCC are in regular contact to share knowledge, understand the sector's concerns and provide mutual support for our members.
UPDATED 21:08 24th March 2020
COUNCIL AND PUBLIC MEETINGS
There is no specific Government directive that council meetings or parish meetings cannot go ahead, but the Prime Minister announced on 23 March 2020 that the Government "will stop all gatherings of more than two people in public, excluding people you live with". Consequently, as of 24 March 2020, the National Association of Local Councils is "asking local councils to stop holding any physical meetings or gatherings during this time. This includes full council, committee meetings, annual parish or council meetings."
There is no statutory provision for cancelling ordinary council meetings convened under Standing Orders, but the opinion of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) is "that the likelihood of a successful legal challenge [for not holding a meeting] is low".
The Government's advice is that everyone should stay at home, only going out when absolutely necessary (e.g. to buy food or collect medicines), and then to strictly observe social distancing.
Local Government Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said on Monday 16 March 2020 that the Government will consider bringing forward legislation to:
- Remove the requirement for annual council meetings to take place in person.
- Allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period.
We are expecting draft legislation and/or guidance to come forward in the next few days.
UPDATED 12:18 25th March 2020
Audit Update from PKF Littlejohn
Subject: 2019/20 AGAR – PKF Littlejohn instructions delayed pending clarity over coronavirus implications
For your information, please see a copy below of our email sent to all 8,830 smaller authorities regarding the delay issuing our instruction guidance for the upcoming 2019/20 year end. Although our website has been updated with all the up to date AGAR forms, proformas and our recently recorded webinar, we will not be issuing instruction emails until such time as there is more clarity over the implications for smaller authorities.
We will continue to keep you up to date with any developments or correspondence we issue as well as updating our website as appropriate.
2019/20 AGAR - PKF Littlejohn instructions delayed pending clarity over coronavirus implications
We are appointed by Smaller Authorities' Audit Appointments Ltd (SAAA) as the external auditor of your smaller authority for the 5 financial years from 2017/18 to 2021/22. We would normally write to you as the 2019/20 financial year ends to provide instructions for the completion of the Annual Governance and Accountability Return (AGAR) for 2019/20.
In light of the government's announcement on 23 March 2020 to introduce stringent lockdown measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic, our instructions for the completion of the 2019/20 AGAR will not be issued until such time as there is more clarity over the implications for smaller authorities.
We are in close contact with SAAA and the National Audit Office (NAO) who in turn are in close contact with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). MHCLG announced changes to the reporting timetable for the principal authorities on 16 March 2020 and we await any news of any changes for smaller authorities.
As an appointed external auditor, we have no power to amend the existing reporting timetable, as it is governed by existing legislation. We recognise the situation is rapidly changing and have agreed with SAAA that it would be inappropriate for us to do anything else at this time but await further guidance from the government as to the approach to be taken for this year.
The most recent Chairman's statement from SAAA is available using the following link http://www.localaudits.co.uk/guidance.html. In addition, the websites for the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC) and the Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA) have specific public pages dedicated to the latest news on coronavirus which are available using the following links:
We apologise for the delay, but it is our view that any other course of action would be inappropriate under the current circumstances. We urge you to follow the governments instructions to limit the spread of coronavirus to keep yourselves, your families and those in your communities safe and well.
We will contact you again as soon as we are able to offer more guidance and appreciate your patience while we await further news.
SBA Team For and on behalf of PKF Littlejohn LLP T +44 (0) 20 7516 2200 firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATED 17:46 26th March 2020
Coronavirus — NALC information for parish & town councils
NALC has updated its dedicated webpage on the coronavirus. This includes allotments, HR issues, national events and celebrations, updates on engaging with the government and the Public Works Loan Board. See the updates below:
The National Allotment Society has issued useful guidance on how to manage allotments in accordance with government regulations.
NALC's partner HR Services Partnership are keeping their website updated with issues related to the coronavirus.
Are national events and celebrations being affected?
Many local councils were planning to get involved in national events and celebrations such as Great British Spring Clean and VE Day 75, these have been postponed. The national commemorations to mark VE Day 75 on 8 May are being scaled back and the government is working on new plans to ensure the nation can still thank the Second World War generation on VE Day in May and provide the fitting tribute they deserve. Local councils are instead being encouraged to support local digital solutions for celebrations. Once this immediate crisis abates, communities may also be encouraged to turn their attention to planning for VJ day on 15 August. The Great British Spring Clean has also decided to postpone its annual event and relaunch later in the year, with the postponed campaign hoping to take place between 11 and 27 September 2020. For these and other events, local councils should check the relevant event website for the latest information and updates.
Engaging with the government
NALC is continuing to engage with the government and other stakeholders (including Local Government Association and Public Health England) on how local councils are responding to the current health crisis and raising issues regarding any impact on the operation of our local councils.
The fast-tracked Coronavirus Bill was considered by the House of Commons on 23 March and House of Lords on 24/25 March. It has now received Royal Assent and is an Act of Parliament. Provisions of particular relevance to local councils are on the postponement of local elections and local authority meetings. We are pressing the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government to work with us on any subsequent regulations. We don't have the timeframe for those at present but will keep you updated.
Public Works Loan Board
We have sought clarification on whether repayments would be subject to deferral in keeping with other measures announced regarding mortgages and loans.
UPDATE 12:48 27th March 2020
Further Scam Warnings
It would appear there are people who have no depths below which they will sink. Please share this scam warning via your websites.
UPDATE 18:39 27th March 2020
Additional Key Information For Communities
Leicestershire County Council have asked us to circulated this link to all councils. It provides other links to other website sources of info which councils may wish to use or circulate.
UPDATE 21:11 27th March 2020
NALC has updated its dedicated webpage on the coronavirus. This includes useful national resources for supporting your community: See the updates below:
- On 26 March, the government produced information on how to help people safely
- Public Health England has also produced a range of mate
- The Government aims to get the scheme up and running before the end of April.
- The 80% Grant is based on the higher of (i) the earnings in the same pay period in the previous year; or (ii) the average earnings in the previous 12 months (or less, if they've worked for less)
- Employees who have been recruited after 1 March 2020 are excluded from the scheme.
- Employers can re-employ people who have been made redundant since 1st March, and then furlough them.
- To qualify for the payment, an employee must be furloughed for a minimum of THREE weeks. They can then come off furlough. This means that employers cannot rotate staff weekly between furlough and non-furlough.
- There is nothing in the guidance which prohibits rotating furlough leave amongst employees, provided each employee is off for a period of at least three weeks
- Employees on furlough leave can do volunteering or training, providing it does not generate any money for their employer.
- The scheme is open to all UK employers that had a PAYE scheme in place on 28 February 2020
- Any organisation with employees can apply, including charities, recruitment agencies and public authorities.
- The government does not expect public sector employers to use it as long as central government continues funding wage costs in the normal way.
- With agency Employees, the scheme is only available for agency employees who are not working. Agency Workers who are not Employees, and engaged on a zero hours Contract for Services are not entitled to the Grant, and would simply be laid off in accordance with their contract.
- Employers can reclaim up to 80% of wage costs up to a cap of £2,500 per month, plus (not including) the associated employer NICs and minimum auto-enrolment pension contributions on that wage. Fees, commissions and bonuses are NOT included.
- Employers can choose to top up to 100%, but does not have to (subject to employment law and renegotiating any contractual entitlements)
- If Employees' pay varies form week to week the Employer can claim for the higher of (i) the same month's earning from the previous year (eg earnings from March 2019); or (ii) average monthly earnings in the 2019-20 tax year
- Individuals are only entitled to the minimum wage when they work. So if they are furloughed and do not work, and 80% of their normal earnings would take them below the minimum wage based on their normal working hours, they still only receive 80% as they are not working. However, they are entitled to be paid NMW for any time spent training.
- To be eligible, the Employee must have been on the payroll on 28 February 2020. If they were hired later, they are not eligible. Anybody who was on the payroll on 28 Feb and has since been made redundant can be rehired and put on the scheme.
When agreeing changes in hours (and acceptance of 80% pay), assuming the contract does not already allow for that, normal employment law applies. The employer must be careful not to discriminate in deciding who to offer furlough too.
- Employees on sick pay or self-isolating cannot be furloughed, but can be furloughed afterwards. Employees who are shielding can be placed on furlough.
- Employees on maternity (or similar) leave can continue to draw SMP (or similar) payments. The guidance does not prohibit women on maternity leave agreeing to return to work early and then being furloughed, or electing to change to shared parental leave and then being furloughed.
- Employers can only claim once every three weeks, i.e they cannot get weekly reimbursement. Claims can be backdated to 1 March 2020.
- The government plans issue further guidance on the process of claiming the payment in April.
Please note the above is subject to change. If you have any questions please either call ourselves, or alternatively check the ACAS, NHS and / or Govt. website links below
Chris Moses LLM Chartered FCIPD
UPDATE 12:30 1st April 2020
Some of you may be aware of press coverage relating to Newbury town council holding a "virtual" meeting under "new legislation". We have had sight of the draft regulations and are preparing guidance for when they are implemented but as of now virtual meetings are still not allowable under law.
We will inform you all by email as soon as they are.
UPDATE 18:38 1st April
Virtual Meetings Part 2
LRALC has seen a draft of The Local Authorities (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority Meetings) (England) Regulations 2020. We understand that the regulations will be made either this week or next. The regulations make provision for holding all council meetings virtually, on a platform such as Zoom. They also cancel the requirement to hold an annual meeting in 2020. The draft contains a "sunset clause", meaning all of its provisions fall automatically as of the local elections on 6 May 2021. We will update on this information as soon as we have further news.
LRALC is looking to run an online training session for Zoom meetings asap.
UPDATED 10:57 3rd April 2020
IMPORTANT CHANGES TO MEETING LEGISLATION
Local council meetings
On 2 April, the government published The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020. These regulations come into force on 4 April. NALC will be producing two documents which will be available next week — a legal briefing note on our interpretation of the regulations and practical guidance for local councils on how to hold effective remote council meetings.
UPDATE 18:00 3rd April 2020
CRITICAL INFORMATION - VIRTUAL MEETINGS BRIEFING NOTE
Our colleagues in Northamptonshire have produced some excellent guidance about the new regulations which allow meetings to be held virtually. As with any legislation it is not a simple case of being able to do what you want with no strings attached!
The rules are THOROUGH, but easy to follow once you understand them. Please make sure that before holding a meeting using Zoom, etc., that you read and understand the briefing below, reproduced with the permission of NCALC.
UPDATE 16:08 6th April 2020
NALC UPDATE - AUDIT AND MORE
NALC has updated its dedicated webpage on the coronavirus. This includes information on audit dates and the small business grant funding scheme. See the updates below:
Following NALC's engagement with government around local council audit timeframes final regulations are due to be made the week commencing 6 April which will extend the statutory audit deadlines for 2019/20. It is proposed that:
- The publication date for final, audited, accounts for local councils will move from 30 September to 30 November 2020
- To give local councils more flexibility, the requirement for the public inspection period to include the first 10 working days of July has been removed. Instead, local councils must commence the public inspection period on or before the first working day of September 2020
This means that draft accounts must be approved by 31 August 2020 at the latest or maybe approved earlier where possible.
Authorities must publish the dates of their public inspection period this year, and the government recommends that they provide public notice on their websites (where available) when the public inspection period would usually commence, explaining why they are departing from normal practise for 2020. We will provide updates for our members once these regulations have been made. The Joint Practitioners Action Group (JPAG) will also provide an addendum to the Practitioners Guide to layout fully for councils the new time frames that the government puts in place.
We are pleased the government has listened to the sector and recognises the need for an extension to the timeframes for audit. This extension is for two months and not the minimum of at least three months which NALC called for in our response to the consultation on the draft regulations.
Small business grant funding scheme
In response to COVID-19, the government announced there would be support for small businesses, and businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. You can check government guidance to see if any businesses run by your local council would be eligible for this support. This support will take the form of two grant funding schemes, the Small Business Grant Fund and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund. The schemes will be delivered by principal authorities – if you are eligible, your principal authorities will be in touch with you to arrange payment.
UPDATE 17:33 8th April 2020
NALC UPDATE and AUDIT PART TWO
NALC has updated its dedicated webpage on the coronavirus. This includes new regulations to extend audit deadlines, neighbourhood planning, more information on understanding how the new remote meetings regulations affect all local authorities and a correction on the small business grand funding scheme. See the updates below:
New regulations to extend audit deadlines
Regulations related to local council audit timeframes were published on 7 April and will come into force on 30 April. These extend the statutory audit deadlines for 2019/20. The Joint Practitioners Action Group (JPAG) will also provide an addendum to the Practitioners Guide to layout fully for councils the new time frames that the government has put in place.
The government has provided guidance where the coronavirus situation impacts on neighbourhood planning including the referendum process, decision-making, oral representations for examinations, and public consultation — find it by scrolling to the very bottom of the neighbourhood planning guidance.
Local Council meetings
For those interested in understanding how the new remote meetings regulations affect all local authorities – not just parish and town councils - Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) and the Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) have also produced guidance on the regulations on how they affect all local authorities – NALC was pleased to contribute to sections related to local councils.
Small business grant funding scheme
We previously included information on government small business grant funding schemes. Unfortunately, this funding is not eligible for organisations which raises a precept, so local councils would not be eligible.
UPDATED 22.29 9th April 2020
Virtual Meetings – The Local Authorities (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority Meetings) (England) Regulations 2020 are now in force. A description and initial advice was published last Friday. Notice of meetings can be given on a web site, there is no requirement to put notices in noticeboards. The notice and agenda can be signed electronically, either with an image of a signature or by simply typing a name.
Similarly, minutes can be signed electronically, by the person presiding at the meeting at which they are approved for signature. All councils should now be holding or trying to hold council and committee meetings virtually. If your council is struggling to hold virtual meetings, for whatever reason, please contact LRALC and we will try to help.
The Annual Meeting – The requirement to hold an annual meeting of the council is suspended, but the council can hold one if it wants to. Councils are advised to hold an annual meeting in May 2020 as normal, unless there is an extremely good reason not to. Any decision to not hold an annual meeting must be made by the council, not by the clerk or chairman unilaterally.
External Audits & AGAR – The government has extended the audit timetable by two months, so the Annual Governance and Accountability Return (AGAR) must now be completed by 31 August 2020 at the latest.
This provides additional flexibility; although most councils won't need it because they can hold virtual meetings as required. Further details about the timetable and the AGAR forms for the year ending 31 March 2020 will be circulated next week.
Funding for Councils – Tesco is the latest organisation to make Coronavirus Response funding available to parish and town councils and community groups. Grants are available up to £500 for organisation who are supporting vulnerable people. See the Bags of Help website at https://tescobagsofhelp.org.uk/grant-schemes/tesco-cv-fund/ for details.
Bye-Elections & Co-option – The Local Government and Police and Crime Commissioner (Coronavirus) (Postponement of Elections and Referendums) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 came into force yesterday. The regulations suspend all elections, referendums and polls until 6 May 2021. This includes parish polls and Neighbourhood Plan referendums.
Casual vacancies should be notified in the usual way; if a bye-election is demanded, it will be held on 6 May 2021, if no bye-election is demanded the council must co-opt to fill the vacancy as soon as is reasonably practical.
NALC Web Site – Check out the National Association of Local Councils web page at http://www.nalc.gov.uk/coronavirus for all sorts of useful resources, including an updated copy of Coronavirus Case Studies, which now features 220 good ideas from around the country. There's also a useful guide to holding remote meetings, which will be updated as the sector gains more experience.
And Finally – As homeworking and self-isolation continue, it is a time for clerks and councillors to go the extra mile to support each other. Make sure there is frequent contact between the clerk and chairman and consider all the councillors and officer(s) getting together (virtually!) maybe once a week for a short operational update and just to check in with each other.
UPDATED 08:08 15th April 2020
NALC Financial impact survey
NALC needs your help to gather evidence on the financial impact of the coronavirus on local councils.
This information is vital to our representation to the government on the loss of income to local councils during these difficult times, and the need for a tailored financial support package for the local council sector.
The short survey includes questions on precept, staffing and income so it would be helpful to have this data to hand when completing the survey.
Please help us to help you by taking a few minutes to complete the survey as soon as possible or by 24 April at the latest.
NALC's Super Councils Network has already completed a separate survey, therefore do not need to complete this survey. We are also working with county officers on a separate survey on the financial impact on county associations.
UPDATED 16th April 2020 23:59
Parish and town councils across our two counties are holding virtual meetings using Zoom, Teams or Hangouts. Even Principal Authorities are now holding their Cabinet meeting virtually. It is the new normal. LRALC favours Zoom and recorded a training video with Northants CALC this week to demonstrate how straightforward it is and to show how to deal with councillors joining by computer and phone, declarations of interest, public participation, and confidential items where members of the public and press are excluded.
The video will be used as part of our online training course for virtual meetings (book by emailing us at the usual address) and you can watch the whole video there. Understandably some councillors and clerks might be anxious using new technology, but the video aims to demonstrate that there's nothing to be afraid of; in fact, although it was a mock council meeting, it felt very real indeed! The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) thought it had negotiated a discount for councils but wasn't told that there was a 10-licence minimum order. NALC is still working on it, but in the meantime Zoom is just £11.99 per month if paying monthly, or £9.99 per month if paying annually (or completely free but with a 40-minute time limit, so for longer meetings participants would need to log off and log back on again).
Please remember, virtual meetings are not optional, they are now the law when it comes to local council operation. Whatever our views on virtual meetings as elected councillors and employed officers we have a duty to run our councils within the statutory framework provided by government. It could be many many months before physical meetings occur again and during this critical time in our nation's history it is essential that the operation of our councils remains transparent, participative, and democratic.
UPDATED 17:50 18th April 2020
GENERAL UPDATE FROM LRALC
Amendments to standing orders during the COVID-19 crisis for Parish and Town councils
Due to the current situation COVID-19 crisis and the changes in legislation to allow Parish and Town councils to meet and operate/function via virtual methods, amendments to standing orders will need to be adopted during this time. Please see the copy of suggested amendments to the NALC model standing orders attached to the Round Robin sent to all councils on Friday 17th April. You will need to adapt the suggested Standing Orders to facilitate your individual council, these are suggested wording that can be used if you so wish.
To ensure that your council operates within the new legislation regarding 'meeting virtually' You will need to ensure that you use a platform that allows the public to log in and participate via video and or audio function. Whilst we encourage video links this is not always possible for everyone so a dial in option should be made available. The link, meeting ID, password and dial in number should be clearly printed on the agenda. The public need to be able to log in and join the meeting online or via telephone. We would advise that app's such as whatsapp are not used for council meetings as this limits who can access the meeting. If you need advice or help with this then please raise a ticket and we will assist you where possible.
The Government has legislated to get the country moving again in these unprecedented times and local councils being able to function again is critical to the recovery of local communities, and also the response to the ongoing crisis. We would encourage Council's to embrace video conferencing methods and techniques if they are not already using them in order to comply with the new legislation, especially as we are now officially in lockdown for a further period of time.
See here for NALC's practical guidance on how to hold remote meetings: https://www.nalc.gov.uk/library/news-stories/3232-holding-remote-meetings-3april
2020/21 Budget review
One last thing to remember, Councils should be re visiting the budget set for 2020/21, due to COVID-19 you may need to make amendments or changes to your budget and to the expenditure set out for the year ahead.
UPDATED 18:23 18th April 2020
IMPORTANT UPDATE ON PARKS AND OPEN SPACES
The Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick gave a speech today on the COVID-19 response of local authorities.
"…..there have been examples of some parks around the country closing.
This cannot be right.
While the virus does not discriminate, we know that the lockdown is much harder for people who don't have a lot of living space, who don't have a garden, and who don't have anywhere for their children to run around.
People need parks.
That's why I have made it clear to councils that all parks must remain open.
For the health of the nation, people should be able to safely enjoy fresh air and green space.
And, for the health of the nation, people must abide by social distancing rules and not congregate in groups in parks"
All parish councils should be considering their response to this request, ie working towards reopening these spaces if closed. Part of this will include ground staff and contractors re-commencing their work, an essential element of safe and risk managed operation of open spaces.
UPDATE 10:53 21st April 2020
OPEN SPACES AND PARKS - GRASS CUTTING AND MAINTENANCE
Following the government announcement at the weekend (see above) many parish and town councils are moving towards formally reopening open spaces and parks which had previously been closed. Whilst undertaking his daily exercise in his village our Chief Executive noted contractors at work mowing Anstey Parish Council's recreation land. We are aware many contractors and employees ceased such activities initially but as long as an assessment of the risks and basic steps are taken in order to minimise the risk posed by COVID-19 there is no reason why this work cannot recommence as soon as is practicable.
UPDATED 10:38 24th April 2020
NEW VIRTUAL MEETINGS RESOURCES
Remote Council Meetings Hub
The LGA has launched a remote council meetings hub, in collaboration with Socitm, Lawyers in Local Government (LLG), National Association of Local Councils (NALC), Centre For Public Scrutiny (CfPS), Association of Democratic Officers (ADSO), as well as the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). The Hub is a central pool of information, advice and guidance from these partners across local government, including:
- Regulations: Guidance around what the regulations mean for councils.
- Guidance: On some of the practicalities, skills and etiquette required when holding remote council meetings both for officers and councillors.
- Case studies: Examples and resources of councils that have piloted virtual meetings using various video conferencing platforms, including key points to consider and contacts to follow up with.
- Video Conferencing and audio platforms: An A-Z of video conferencing and audio platforms (though please note this is not an exhaustive list and inclusion does not mean endorsement).
- Peer to peer support: List of upcoming and previous virtual Council meetings and webchats/online discussion forum/webinar which colleagues can access to observe, share good practice, problem solve and learn from.
UPDATE 28TH APRIL 2020
ANNUAL MEETINGS FAQ
We are receiving lots of queries about annual meeting (both for the council and the annual parish meeting) so have created the following FAQ:
Q: My council doesn't feel confident enough for the first virtual meeting we run to be the Annual Parish Council Meeting, can we run a council meeting in May that isn't the annual meeting?
A: A council can run a normal council meeting in May if they wish, it doesn't have to be the Annual Parish Council Meeting but it makes sense to do it as the Annual Parish Council Meeting, in reality the annual meeting poses no challenges that any other Zoom meeting would.
Q: If we decide not to hold an Annual Parish Council Meeting what happens with regards to our Chairman, especially if they don't want to do another year?
A: If the council is not holding the Annual Parish Council Meeting then the Chairman stays in situ for another year. However, there should be a good reason not to hold this meeting. The initial Government advice given was to cancel it, but this was before the new legislation came out. Of course it has all changed with the new regulations so there is no reason not to hold it.
Q: What about the Annual Parish Meeting?
A: The Annual Parish Meeting is not covered by the legislation as it is not a parish council meeting so the current NALC advice is to cancel it. NALC are seeking clarification on this from government but as and when (and if) they get this is an unknown at this time.
UPDATED 11.03 30th April 2020
Zoom and Leics County Council advice
We are aware of an email from Leicestershire Traded Services (part of Leics CC) to school governers which has now entered the parish council domain (there is a lot of membership overlap between Governing Boards of schools and Parish Councils). This gives the impression that the formal view of LCC as a corporate body is not to endorse the use of Zoom.
We have clarified with LCC that this is NOT their corporate view on Zoom, this is advice to people undertaking a particular role and relates to a very specific area of operations (schools) where there are huge safeguarding issues, probably the biggest you could possibly have for any user of such online meeting services. They have to act with an abundance of caution.
However, some Governing Boards elsewhere in the country are being given very different advice, there is no consistent view, see here.
We are aware that there have been media reports in the past about Zoom's security, but Zoom now has a specific page detailing their almost daily updates to their security arrangements, you can view it here.
LCC's corporate advice to all staff who have to take part in Zoom meetings is:
1. Do not discuss or disclose any sensitive information
2. Join the meeting via the web browser only, do not install any apps onto your council device, even if prompted
3. Do not use the chat feature
This mirrors the advice LRALC already gives in our Zoom training. Don't forget that LCC's advice to their staff will mainly relates to meetings which are not public, and their "sensitive information" will more often than not relate to their statutory services such as schools, social services, adult social care, etc. Also, there are many local authorities that DO use Zoom for their meetings, such as Rutland CC (see here).
Our advice at present is that Zoom is a package which is appropriate for our councils to use for their public meetings. LRALC is using still using it for all our webinars and meetings.
If you are going in to closed session and are discussing information which is truly sensitive (which is not often the case for most parish councils) then our advice would be to circulate a written report regarding the business to councillors in advance, detailing the recommendations, and then when you discuss the item you can refer to the report contents rather than having to publicly discuss the details which are sensitive.
UPDATED 11.31 30th April 2020
Government thanks parish and town councils for their response
The government has issued a letter to the sector nationally thanking you for the role you are all playing. You should all be proud of the way parish and town councils have individually and collectively responded to this crisis. Well done!
The letter can be found here.
GENERAL UPDATE INCLUDING FURLOUGH OF COUNCIL STAFF
A number of councils both locally have received payment from government for furloughed staff who cannot carry on working during the current crisis. This removes any doubt about the eligibility of parish councils as precepting bodies.
1. Furloughing – The government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme makes payments to employers to enable staff to be retained on the payroll even when there is no work for them (aka "furloughed workers"). Clearly the Clerk to the Council can never be furloughed (there's definitely still work for clerks!) but our councils are now clearly eligible under the scheme. The government has been very clear that "Where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion – and correspondingly not furlough them. The government expects that the scheme will not be used by many public sector organisations, as the majority of public sector employees are continuing to provide essential public services or contribute to the response to the coronavirus outbreak". The exception might be where a parish or town council has a facility or asset that generates revenue surplus to costs and where an employee's role is wholly and exclusively related to that facility or asset. An example might be a car parking attendant or an employee at a closed community centre.
2. Virtual Meetings – The uptake of virtual meetings in Leicestershire and Rutland has been absolutely fantastic. Just a reminder that all parish and town council meetings must be open to members of the public. A virtual meeting that is not open to members of the public is not lawful and any decisions made at it are challengeable. Members of the public must be able to hear and be heard and, ideally, be able to see and been seen. The full web address of the meeting and any telephone number, meeting ID and password should be published in or with the agenda. It is not lawful to require members of the public to register in advance to attend, and they must be able to join the meeting at any time. In the real world a council wouldn't organise a meeting in a secret location and require members of the public to contact the clerk in advance to find out what the location is, and it is no different in the virtual world. A council meeting is a meeting in public, not an illicit rave!
3. Annual Return – The external auditor for all parish and town councils and parish meetings in our area is PKF Littlejohn. PKF has now sent out by email revised instructions on the audit timetable and process for 2020. If you haven't received yours it might have gone astray. Look in your spam traps and if you still can't find it email SBA@pkf-littlejohn.com to alert PKF that their email didn't make it through. Every year, PKF sets a deadline by which the Annual Governance and Accountability Return (AGAR) has to be submitted. This is a deadline set by PKF and may be different to the statutory deadline. The deadline that PKF has chosen for this year is 31 July 2020. Most councils are now using virtual meetings, so should have no problem complying with the deadline. If your council is not using virtual meetings, and any ongoing lockdown means that physical meetings are not permitted by 31 July 2020, then you will need to write to PKF (email address above) to request an extension. Extensions may be granted in four-week blocks, but all AGARs must be submitted by 13 November 2020. Please note that the submission deadline that PKF has chosen (31 July 2020) is different to the statutory submission deadline (31 August 2020) which you may read in general guidance. This is to encourage councils to submit their AGARs as soon as possible to give PKF the maximum time to process them. If you have any questions at all about the end of year process and timetable, please contact PKF directly or LRALC and we will be delighted to help. Please note that the reference to "Parish Meetings" does not refer in any way to parish and town council meetings. The lack of clarity in their wording has already caused confusion.
4. Cemeteries & Churchyards – The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, said last weekend that he wanted cemeteries and churchyards to remain open and that further guidance on funerals would be published. The guidance has been published and you can read all the latest about it on the web site of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM) at https://bit.ly/2Kv2J1X
5. Co-options – The regulations postponing the 2020 local elections also postponed byeelections and other types of poll (e.g. Neighbourhood Planning referendums). The regulations were silent on co-options, leading to a difference of opinion as to how they should be treated. LRALC's view is that casual vacancies should be notified in the usual way and, assuming no bye-election is demanded, the vacancy should be filled by co-option as soon as reasonably practicable (including at a virtual meeting). Some of the district and borough councils in the county are not sure about this and have sought guidance from the Association of Election Administrators (AEA), which in turn is seeking guidance from the Electoral Commission and Cabinet Office. LRALC is pressing hard for clarification to be issued soon.
UPDATED 21:48 6th May 2020
This is the final update of this page which is dedicated to Coronavirus-related matters. As we all settle in to the "new normal" there is much less time-sensitive news that can't wait for the regular Friday Round Robin. Of course, if there is anything extremely urgent we will notify member councils by email, and if the situation escalates we may start updating this dedicated page again, but for the time being, thank you for reading these updates, for the positive feedback you have sent us about them, and for all that you are doing to help your communities.
Jake, Ja'Neen, and Kirstie