Elected Members Briefing - 26th August

Key Messages

Scotland remains in Phase 3 of the route map out of lockdown.

Foreign travel health rules have been extended.

A fund to tackle child poverty, the Scottish Child Payment, has been announced by the Scottish Government.

Programmes to help raise the attainment of care experienced young people are to benefit from £11.6 million of funding.

Funding to deploy low carbon heat in existing social housing has been fast-tracked to support Scotland’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finance
COSLA has been invited to give evidence at the Finance and Constitution committee on Wednesday, September 16.

Evidence was submitted jointly with SOLACE and Directors of Finance, and officers are currently confirming who will attend the session.

It will provide a great opportunity to highlight that Local Government must be a major priority in the Scottish Budget 2021/22.

Discussions will take place this week with Scottish Government to finalise work in relation to fiscal flexibilities with a view to agreeing the options that councils will be able to consider to alleviate in-year budget pressures. A verbal update on progress will be provided at Leaders meeting on Friday.

COSLA’s President, Councillor Alison Evison, alongside Councillor Gail Macgregor, Resources Spokesperson, and Councillor Kelly Parry, Community Wellbeing Spokesperson, met with the Chair of Community Leisure UK (Scotland), Robin Strang, to hear concerns from the sport and leisure sector, especially in relation to loss of income.

Although COSLA officers have been meeting with the sector since April, it was an opportunity to highlight the wider financial challenges facing Local Government and to re-enforce the need to work in partnership to secure the resources that are required, given the importance of the sector to communities across Scotland.
Education

Face Coverings in Schools
Guidance for pupils and staff on the use of face coverings in schools and on school transport has been updated.

In light of the latest scientific and public health advice, including World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, face coverings should now (unless exemptions apply) be worn:

* in secondary schools, by adults and all pupils moving around the school, such as in corridors and communal areas where physical distancing is difficult to maintain
* on dedicated school transport by all children aged five and over, bringing it into line with guidance for public transport

While staff and students can continue to wear face coverings if they wish to, face coverings will not generally be necessary in the classroom as there is greater scope for physical distancing and face coverings can have an impact on learning and teaching.

However, it remains the case that where adults cannot keep 2m distance and are interacting face-to-face for a sustained period (about 15 minutes or more), face coverings should be worn.

Face-to-Face Advice Services
The First Minister has signalled that face-to-face advice services can re-open from Monday (August 24). Many of these will be in the independent sector but some will be directly run by local authorities. COSLA has written to all chief executives on this.
The key points are that it is specifically advice services covering welfare, debt and income maximisation purposes, but that linked advice support can also be included (e.g. on managing fuel bills); and to ensure that footfall remains minimised as much as possible to help reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. People who can do so should still be encouraged to access advice by phone or online.

This guidance is available to support safe face-to-face reopening.

** https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-general-guidance-for-safer-workplaces/pages/overview/
------------------------------------------------------------

Domestic Abuse – New Resources Available
Scotland’s domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline received 95% more calls between April and June than the same time last year.

New resources have now been developed by Equally Safe stakeholder organisations and are offered for use by service providers to support women and children living with perpetrators of abuse.

The organisations are members of the Equally Safe Delivery Group, which is co-chaired by COSLA and the Scottish Government. The group helps support and inform the work of COSLA and the Scottish Government in the delivery of their ambitions, but does not direct Local Government.

While the new resources are not a replacement for specialist training, it is hoped they will be helpful.

They include a short infographic on the impact of COVID-19 and domestic abuse on children and young people  including resources that can be used as part of a child protection update in schools and a free, short Domestic Abuse Awareness Raising E-Learning Package (DAART) to support public service staff to recognise and safely respond to survivors of domestic abuse, including how to contact specialist services for individual safety planning.

A refreshed version of the COVID-10 Supplementary National Violence Against Women and Girls Guidance for Local Authorities will be published in early autumn.

Unsuitable Accommodation Amendment Order (2020)
The Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2014 (UAO) was amended earlier this year to apply to all homeless households as of May 5, 2020. Within the amendment, two exemptions were included which allowed the use of shared accommodation where physical distancing was not possible. These exemptions were due to expire on September 30, 2020.

Acknowledging the impact of the pandemic upon local housing services, a proposed extension to the order is being laid in parliament which extends the use of these exemptions from September 30 until January 31, 2021.

This extension will also include an additional exception to allow Local Authorities to use shared accommodation where the supply of settled accommodation has been reduced owing to the pandemic.

Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group II
On Tuesday, August 18, the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, Kevin Stewart MSP, met with the COSLA Community Wellbeing Board members and Housing Conveners to discuss the development of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) II recommendations into an updated Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan.

The recommendations from HARSAG were accepted in principle by the Housing Minister in July and the Scottish Government is working closely with COSLA to develop an updated joint COSLA and Scottish Government Homelessness Action Plan.

Recommendations presented by HARSAG build upon existing commitments to end rough sleeping and homelessness in Scotland, paying particular attention to the challenges presented by the pandemic, and the support required to ensure those experiencing homelessness are safeguarded from exposure to the virus and are able to access accommodation which meets public health requirements.

A draft plan will be submitted to the September Community Wellbeing Board for approval.

Spaces for People
Over £38 million has now been allocated to Local Authorities for pop-up walking and cycling infrastructure through the Spaces for People initiative.

Thank you to all involved in the initiative, which we appreciate has sometimes been challenging work.

Trading Standards
The Trading Standards Scotland team is a key 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 online dating scams, Banking Protocol success stories, #BePuppyWise campaign, celebrity investment scams, DVLA and ASDA scams and more. The bulletin can be viewed here.

Summary
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 using #CouncilsCare and #CouncilsAct and it is heartening to see communities working together to look after each other. Retweets and follows would be greatly appreciated.

Further briefings will be issued, however our social media channels, Khub and website will be continually 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: membersupport@cosla.gov.uk
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.