Elected Members Briefing - 25th November

Key Messages
Eleven Local Authorities have moved into the highest protection level as efforts continue to suppress the incidence of COVID-19.

Travel regulations have also been put in place for people living in Level 3 and Level 4 areas.

An evidence paper on COVID-19 transmission, risks and absences in schools has been published by the Scottish Government.

The first COVID-19 vaccinations could be given to health and social care staff, older care home residents and those over 80-years-old who live in the community from as early as December 2020.

A fund to help residential outdoor education centres mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis has opened for applications this week.

Thousands of students in Scotland will be tested for COVID-19 under plans to allow those wishing to return home at the end of term, to do so safely.

On November 17, the First Minister announced that additional funding would be made available for business support and that once again, this would be administered by Local Government. In recognition of the administration efforts of councils, she also announced that £5m would be made available to support previous and future admin requirements. The First Minister also announced an additional £15m for councils moving into Level 4, to use flexibly for welfare and social support, required for individuals and families because of Level 4 restrictions. A special Leaders meeting was held on November 20 to discuss this funding, where it was agreed that Councils should administer these support package schemes but that distribution should be discussed and formally agreed at Leaders on November 27.

Almost all returns have been received from councils in relation to loss of income for quarters 1 and 2 (including for ALEOs) with a view to informing councils of their allocation from the £90m made available from Scottish Government. Using the principles agreed by Leaders in October, the information is being quality assured by a sub-group of Directors of Finance and COSLA’s Local Government Finance team. Loss of income continues to be a concern for this and the next financial year.

A cost collection template has now been issued to all Directors of Finance, in order to access the £30m that the Deputy First Minister ring-fenced for additional logistic costs relating to the safe opening and operation of schools. Information will be returned to COSLA in early December and used to inform future discussions with Scottish Government.

EU Exit Update
As the end of the UK-EU Exit Transition Period on 31 December draws nearer COSLA continues to intensify engagement at senior political and official levels with both Scottish and UK Government Minsters on the range of EU Exit matters. COSLA Leaders will consider a paper, at their meeting this Friday, which includes an update on the Scottish EU Continuity Bill, the UK Internal Market Bill, Common Frameworks, State Aid, Funding, the Committee of the Regions Contact Group and seeks to consolidate our current position on those areas.

With the resources and practicalities of dealing with EU Exit bearing heavily with the numerous other pressures our councils are dealing with at this time, COSLA are hopeful that we can secure ongoing resource to help co-ordinate efforts needed on EU Exit into the new year.

As detail begins to emerge on many of the UK Government policy developments we are updating the COSLA website Brexit pages. In the meantime the latest available information from UK Government can be found here.
For further information please contact the team via info@cosla.gov.uk

Suicide Statistics
Statistics released by National Records of Scotland show that there were 833 probable suicides registered in 2019, an increase of 6% on 2018 (which was up 15% on 2019). This is the highest annual total since 2011 (889). Men accounted for nearly three quarters (74%) of probable suicides in 2019, a similar proportion to every year since the late 1980s. Nearly a third (32%) of all probable suicides were of people aged between 45 and 59. Over the latest five years, the proportion of probable suicides was largest in the 45-49 age group (12% on average). This is a shift in age group from the late 1990s when the largest proportions were for people in their late 20s and early 30s.

COSLA’s Health and Wellbeing Spokesperson, Councillor Stuart Currie, said:

“These are both stark and sad figures out today and tragic to see.  The sad fact is that these are much, much more than figures or statistics each and every one is a person, and each and every one is one too many.

“This link between deprivation and suicide is well-known.  Between 2015 and 2019, people living in the most deprived areas were three times more likely to die by suicide compared to those living in the least deprived areas and this is something that needs to change, and change quickly.

“The link to poverty is the reason that suicide and mental health is and remains a key priority for Local Government and hopefully the publication of good practice guidance in the new year will assist us in our attempts to tackle this issue.”

Christmas - Four Nations Approach
The Scottish Government has worked with the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales on a common approach for a time-limited change to COVID-19 social restrictions over the festive period so that families can be reunited over Christmas.

More information can be found here.

Support for People at Risk Due to COVID
The Scottish Government has published a report from qualitative research with Local Authorities about helplines and support for people at risk due to COVID. The report can be read here.

Also published this week were reports about funding provided to the third sector and a survey conducted into perspectives on local support delivery during the pandemic, which can be read here.

Level 4 Areas – Additional advice for residents previously shielding
With the recent elevation of 11 Councils into Level 4 of the Coronavirus restrictions, residents of these areas who had previously been identified as members of the ‘shielding’ group, have been contacted by the Interim Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr Gregor Smith.  There is no longer a blanket approach to shielding, although Dr Smith’s recent letter to adults in the shielding group signposts to extra advice for those at higher risk from coronavirus which people can choose to follow at different Levels of Coronavirus restrictions.

In Level 4 areas, part of the additional advice to residents in the shielding group relates to working.  The Scottish Government notes that the majority of workplaces can be made safe in Level 4, however if employees have any concerns they should discuss this in more detail with their employer to ensure that adequate protections are in place.  Receipt of Dr Smith’s letter does not automatically mean that people previously shielding should stop working.  However, in what is expected to be a relatively small number of situations where workplaces can’t be made safe in light of a person’s risk assessment, Dr Smith’s letter can be used in a similar way to a GP’s ‘fit note’.

Dr Smith has also written to the parents or carers of children and young people living in the Level 4 areas who were previously identified as being in the ‘shielding’ group.  The Scottish Government’s general advice is that these children and young people in Level 4 areas should not attend school, college or regulated childcare services such as nurseries at this time.  Further advice can however be provided in conjunction with a child’s or young person’s clinical specialist.  Where children and young people from the shielding group are unable to attend school or college, arrangements will be put in place to support their learning from home.  Dr Smith’s letter to parents also provides information on potential options for financial support for those parents in Level 4 areas who unable to work at this time, because they are caring for a shielding child.  The letter also touches on informal childcare, stressing the need for enhanced precautions to keep children safe.

Where any Council employee has a concern, they should in the first instance speak with their line manager.  They can however, also seek guidance from their local HR or Health and Safety Team, or their Trade Union representatives.  Councils are working proactively with employees to ensure their individual risk assessments are updated as appropriate.

Scottish Joint Council AGM
The SJC AGM was held on November 20 and was well-attended by union representatives, representing the employee side, and Elected Members for the employers, from a range of councils. By convention the roles of convener and vice convener alternate annually between the employee and employers representatives. Annette Drylie (GMB) was agreed as convener and Councillor Gail Macgregor was agreed as vice-convener.  The AGM received reports on Brexit, Local Government Finance, myjobscotland and an update from the Joint Secretaries regarding the range of partnership work that has gone on during the pandemic response.

The impact of the pandemic was discussed in relation to the consolidation of the Scottish Local Government Living Wage (SLGLW) and the SJC Job Evaluation Joint Technical Working Group (JTWG). The AGM heard that all Councils pay at least the SLGLW to all employees, and that 17 Councils so far have consolidated this into their pay schemes. This leaves 15 councils paying the SLGLW as a supplement to the published pay rate for the job with local discussions actively ongoing. The agreed date for consolidation is 31 March 2021 and although at the start of 2020 all Councils reported an intention to meet this target, events since then mean that both unions and officers in some councils are expressing concern about meeting the deadline.

The AGM also heard that while the JTWG, which is to ensure that our Job Evaluation scheme remains fit for purpose, had been disrupted by the pandemic, work with the scheme’s technical adviser had been able to progress and will be taken forward by the group in December.

Finally, an agreement to place a ceiling on the amount charged for providing a DOCAS (deduction of contributions at source) service to unions was approved and will be circulated to Councils this week.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence
Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), alternatively referred to as Gender Based Violence (GBV), is a major public health, equality and human rights issue. It covers a spectrum of violence and abuse, committed primarily but not exclusively against women by men. This includes, but is not limited to:

* domestic abuse
* rape and sexual assault
* childhood sexual abuse
* stalking and harassment
* commercial sexual exploitation
* harmful practices - such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage and so-called ‘honour’ based violence.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on the progress made to date on gender equality, and has heightened the risks and vulnerabilities of women and girls to VAWG.

The Local Government Blueprint highlights commitment to a fair and inclusive recovery and identifies that to achieve this there must be a concerted effort to ‘address the gendered effects of the pandemic’.

A COSLA Teams event, ‘What About the Men?’ will be held for Elected Members on December 7 from 1.30 to 3pm, chaired by Councillor Graham Houston, Vice President of COSLA.

It will enable Elected Members to explore the gendered nature of violence and abuse and explore how gender can impact on the inequality of outcomes that men and women experience in relation to domestic abuse. It will highlight good practice in terms of support services for both male victims of domestic abuse and perpetrators of abuse, and the role that elected members can play in ensuring people who want support are able to access it. Elected Members can explore the key role that men can play in preventing and challenging VAW and identify key actions that elected members can facilitate to help drive forward improved outcomes for both men and women within local communities.

To reserve a place please email katie@cosla.gov.uk

New Visa route opened for British nationals (overseas) from Hong Kong
The UK government is opening a new Visa route, available to those holding the citizenship status of British National (overseas) based in Hong Kong. The visa is open to all who have held this status since before the transfer of Hong Kong sovereignty from the UK to China in 1997. Initial estimates suggest up to 5,000,000 people may be eligible for this Visa route.

COSLA is working closely with the Home Office to understand what the impacts may be on local authority areas, and the services that councils provide. These discussions are in their initial stages but we are ensuring the voices of councils is heard and the impacts on them well understood by the Home Office. For more information contact chris@cosla.gov.uk

Trading Standards
Trading Standards Scotland is the national team for trading standards in Scotland and is part of COSLA.

In the latest edition of their Scam Share bulletin they outline scams which have been reported by consumers across Scotland, including those related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

There is some very useful information for local communities, covering issues such as counterfeit cosmetics  and misleading energy ads.

The Local Government workforce and partners across sectors are working hard to support our communities.

We continue to highlight this across our social media channels - retweets and follows would be greatly appreciated.

Our Twitter and Facebook channels, Khub and website will be regularly updated.

If you or your officers require any clarity from COSLA officers on policy matters, please contact the team in the usual way. If you are not sure who to direct your email to, please contact COSLA member support.

Thank you all for your efforts during this challenging time.

Other Useful Links
* The current number of COVID-19 cases and the risk level can be found on the Scottish Government website
* NHS Inform’s webpage continues to be the source of up-to-date public health information
* All Scottish Government COVID-19 related guidance
* Help and support for those experiencing domestic abuse is available; and the helpline number is 0800 027 1234.