Elected Members Briefing - 3rd February

Key Messages
A series of new measures aimed at driving down COVID-19 rates in Scotland have been announced.

Community projects get £25 million funding.

Hundreds of teachers who are new in post, or working in pastoral or child protection roles, are to be offered support to manage the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to an increase in prevalence of COVID-19 and an increase in infection rates, Na h-Eileanan Siar moved into Level 4 on Saturday (January 30).

People aged 70 and over will get COVID-19 vaccines in a range of settings, from community centres to mass vaccination centres, after the vaccination programme moved to the next stage on Monday (February 1).

Finance: Scottish Budget for 2021/22
On Thursday, January 28, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance announced the Scottish Budget for 2021/22. In the Cabinet Secretary’s opening speech, there was recognition of the essential role that Councils have played in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the same day, COSLA released its Budget Reality document, which has been updated following the publishing of the formal Finance Circular on Monday (February 1). Parts of the Budget will support the work of Local Government in communities, but overall it falls short of the fair funding Local Government requires.

COSLA Resources Spokesperson, Councillor Gail Macgregor, said: “Given the context this year, perhaps it is not overly surprising that the Budget is very much a mixed bag for Local Government – the main issue is that the overall allocation adds very little into our core financial settlement which has been eroded over the years.”

Full press release here.

On Friday, Leaders had the opportunity to discuss the Budget and agreed that the following points should be made in all future lobbying and engagement with the Scottish Government and across all parties in the Scottish Parliament:

* That funding to support a freeze in council tax for the coming year should be baselined to prevent councils having to double the council tax increase or cut services in future years;
* That a fair pay increase for council staff which not only meets increased costs of living but also starts to restore the real cuts in wages in past years, is fully funded by Scottish Government through the settlement;
* That the full loss of income incurred by local government including ALEOs, due to the Covid pandemic should be reimbursed by Scottish Government;
* That the cuts in capital funding over recent years, should be reversed to allow councils to invest in facilities, housing and infrastructure to support our communities and local economies particularly in the context of recovering from the COVID-19 crisis.

Leaders also discussed the ongoing work to secure progress on the ‘Service Concession’ fiscal flexibility, important for many councils who are still facing significant financial gaps this year. Leaders agreed that Cllr Macgregor should now make a formal approach to Ms Forbes around the flexibility - a letter was sent on Tuesday (February 2).

Useful links:
* You can find the Scottish Budget Scrutiny 2021-22 on the Scottish Parliament website.
* The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) has published an initial reaction to the Scottish Budget 2021-22.
* Fraser of Allander Institute has published their initial Budget 2021-22 response on their website.

Opposition finance leads meeting
COSLA Resources Spokesperson, Councillor Gail Macgregor, continues to meet with the Finance leads of the opposition parties and independents in the Scottish Parliament.

As well as discussing COSLA’s 'Respect Our Communities, Protect Our Funding' document and ensuring all parties are aware of recent trends in relation to Local Government funding, the Budget will now be a key feature of discussions and will be particularly important as the Budget Bill goes through the Parliamentary process.

Health & Social Care Funding
The Scottish Government Local Mobilisation Plan allocations for January to March 2020 are expected to be issued this week. Critically, these allocations meet the additional costs incurred by delegated social care services.

NHS Boards and HSCPs continue to report the additional costs incurred due to the pandemic through their Local Mobilisation Plans, this includes the social care services delegated to HSCPs. The Scottish Government has made allocations based on these over the past year to fund the costs identified, including payments to care providers for their additional costs. The next allocation is expected at the end of this week to allocate funding for NHS Boards and HSCPs to the year end.

Return to In-School Learning
Leaders of all 32 of Scotland’s Local Authorities have welcomed the phased return to in-person learning and teaching announced by the First Minister yesterday (Tuesday), in recognition of the detrimental impact of school closures on the wellbeing of children and young people.

Importantly Council Leaders have agreed that the return must happen in such a way that staff are confident that education can be delivered safely.

More from the Scottish Government can be found here.

Participatory Budgeting
On Friday (January 29), COSLA Leaders renewed their commitment to Participatory Budgeting and welcomed the flexibility to deliver on the 1% Framework Agreement, originally due to be realised by March 2021.

Councillor Kelly Parry, COSLA Community Wellbeing Spokesperson, and Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, issued a joint letter to Local Authorities on Monday (February 1) acknowledging the progress being made locally and renewing their joint commitment to mainstreaming participatory budgeting.

Councillor Parry said: “Over the last year Local Government has been at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has worked tirelessly to support people and communities, resulting in a pause to local participatory budgeting.

“However, Local Government remains committed to delivering the mainstream participatory budgeting agreement, as agreed by COSLA Leaders, and welcomes the added flexibility to the delivery timeline.

“Local Government is clear in its position to strengthen local democratic decision making and ensure the voice of local people is heard and acted upon across public services, as outlined in the Blueprint. This will be of increasing importance as councils look towards social renewal through and out of the pandemic.”

The full release can be read here.

Children's Mental Health Week
COSLA’s Children & Young People Spokesperson, Councillor Stephen McCabe, marked Children’s Mental Health Week, which started on Monday (February 1) and runs until Sunday, February 7.

Information and advice is available here:

Advice for helping children, young people and their families manage COVID-19 anxieties
NHS Inform
Clear Your Head

Community Payback Orders
COSLA’s Community Wellbeing Spokesperson, Councillor Kelly Parry, welcomed new measures that will help ensure the justice system can operate effectively and ease pressure on Local Authorities as the COVID-19 pandemic continues on Thursday (January 28).

The full press release from the Scottish Government can be read here.

Period Dignity
COSLA President, Councillor Alison Evison, spoke about Local Government's role in delivering period dignity for Scotland at a Period Dignity event hosted by Holyrood Events on Thursday (January 28).

Business Gateway
> Online support
The programme of national webinars launched by Business Gateway’s National Unit has now been finalised and the list of upcoming ones can be found here.

Covering a range of topics including: how to restructure your business; marketing on a budget, sales and business survival, these webinars explore the challenges businesses are currently facing. Offering support to businesses across Scotland, they are proving very popular with significant numbers already booked in.

> Funding
Following significant demand for the DigitalBoost Development Grant, the Scottish Government has doubled the funding available to allow individuals who had started their application to complete it. The fund remains closed to new applications at this time.

The National Unit also continues to work with Scottish Enterprise on improvements that are being made to the Findbusinesssupport.gov.scot platform to help businesses get to funding information as quickly and easily as possible.

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 Netflix scams and fake comparison sites.

BBFC Event
Local Authorities have a role in the classification of films shown in local cinemas and at film festivals too. While local cinemas are closed, they and the festivals will return in the future and be guided by film classifications from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

BBFC have a national role in providing guidance on the classification of films and theatrical ratings that Local Authorities generally follow.   As a result, BBFC are organising a webinar to explore theatrical ratings, cinema licensing and some of the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented.

Therefore, interested Elected Members and officers responsible for cinema licensing or involved in theatres are invited to a webinar hosted by BBFC on Friday, February 26 from 10.30am to noon.

Booking is via Eventbrite.

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.