Elected Members Briefing - 28th July

Key Messages
Restrictions will be relaxed for people who have been advised to shield from 1 August.

New guidance has been issued on homeworking, with organisations urged to make working from home the default position where possible.

As part of Phase 3, guidance has been issued to support the reopening of close contact retail services.

Children, Young People and Families
The Covid-19: Children, Young People and Families - Evidence and Intelligence Report was published on Wednesday (22 July).

This is the third report from the Scottish Government with SOLACE and other partners to provide an overview of the evidence on the impact of COVID-19 and the associated lockdown measures for children, young people and families, in particular for those experiencing the greatest challenges.

A wide range of evidence sources were reviewed and intelligence was gathered from both local partnerships and third sector organisations. Some of the key findings from the report are:

* In the 13 weeks since Easter there have been reductions in child wellbeing concerns and child protection concerns compared with the same period last year;

* The principal concerns reported by 8-14 year olds in the Children’s Parliament survey were loneliness and boredom, while 11-25 year olds in the ‘Lockdown Lowdown’ survey were worried about exams, future plans, social relationships and mental health;

* Calls to the Children 1^st Parentline and the Lone Parent Helpline have increased, with many related to financial worries, concerns about mental health and the requirements of children with additional support needs;

* Third Sector organisations have responded quickly to the pandemic to meet new and increased challenges for children, young people, and families, including virtual Children’s Hearings and meetings.

Finance
COSLA’s Resources Spokesperson, Councillor Gail Macgregor, spoke with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes MSP, on Wednesday (22 July).

Significantly, announcements by UK Treasury on 23 July suggest that the consequentials announced to date (now totalling over £6.5bn) are guaranteed.

A letter was sent to Ms Forbes at the beginning of July setting out six Local Government ‘asks’ in relation to fiscal flexibilities, including changes to Council Tax legislation and additional borrowing powers, as agreed by Leaders.

Previously, Scottish Government had indicated that they believed there may be a “claw back”. Leaders will be provided with an updated position in relation to consequentials this week.

Neither Scottish Government nor COSLA has had a response from UK Treasury in relation to fiscal flexibilities, including borrowing, interest repayment holidays, and use of capital funding for revenue purposes. It was hoped that some of these options would be available to councils when resetting 20/21 budgets and when planning for next year. Officers will continue to press for a response.

On Thursday (23 July), the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney MSP, announced an additional £20m to support the safe re-opening of schools. Whilst this funding will go some way to allowing councils to put in place the practical and logistical arrangements that meet the new guidance, it is likely that significant additional funding will be required, and discussions continue with Scottish Government.

Education
On Thursday (23 July), The Deputy First Minister, John Swinney MSP, provided an update to Parliament on progress towards reopening schools. This covered funding and the scientific advice published by the COVID-19 advisory sub-group on education and children’s issues, specifically physical distancing and safe school transport.

He stated that the advisory group recommend that there is no requirement for physical distancing among younger children and primary school pupils and that, although the group recommend that, on balance, no physical distancing is need among secondary school pupils, this position was less clear.

After considering that advice and the views of stakeholders, the Education Recovery Group is developing guidance that involves taking extra precautions asking secondary schools to take a practical approach to maintaining distancing between pupils where possible. Work is ongoing to develop guidance which it is anticipated will be published this week (30 July).

Housing and Homelessness
In early June the Scottish Government reconvened its Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) to review the joint COSLA and Scottish Government Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This month the Scottish Government accepted in principle renewed recommendations from the Action Group. Over the coming weeks COSLA's  will be working closely with the Scottish Government to refresh the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan which accounts for rebuilding services following the pandemic. Councillor Elena Whitham, COSLA's Community Wellbeing Spokesperson, leads our work in this area.

Shielding
The First Minister has announced that people who have been advised to shield because of COVID-19 will no longer have to do so from 1st August.

Those affected will receive a letter from the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Gregor Smith, outlining updated guidance.

A series of measures will be established to support people moving from shielding status, advice for those with specific conditions has been made available, guidance will be issued to support people returning to work and to schools, and information will be published on how to do various day-to-day activities safely.

The latest guidance on shielding is available here.

Health & Social Care
Officers are reminded that the Guidance for Direct Payments during COVID-19 is extant and as such should continue to be accessed and implemented at a local level. This guidance is for local authority and Health and Social Care Partnership staff who assess, approve and administer social work and social care and support (including carer support), and approve Self-directed Support (SDS) budgets. The guidance was first agreed at Leaders on 1st May and was subsequently published by Scottish Government on 14th May.

The guidance promotes flexible use of the option one payments in the light of changes to support provisions due to the pandemic. The guidance primarily covers scenarios under Self Directed Support (SDS) option one (direct payments) although SDS option two is also referred to. It outlines potential questions and scenarios officer may come across while championing flexibility and choice, allowing outcomes of supported persons to be met, which are underpinning principles of the Self Directed Support (Scotland) Act 2013.

The guidance covers both adult and children’s services, and is aimed to support staff who assess, approve and administer social work and social care support (including carer support), and approve self-directed support budgets.

Business Gateway
As lockdown measures ease and businesses across the country open up after months of ceased or altered trading, Business Gateway has been focused on helping business owners navigate the challenges posed by their new, post COVID-19 environment.

While some are restructuring or diversifying their business model, other individuals who have found themselves redundant or starting again are seeking support with starting up despite the challenging economic environment.

An agenda piece in this week’s Herald with Chief Officer Hugh Lightbody highlights some of the areas where local advisers have been consulting with these individuals to set them out on the strongest footing.  The National Unit is also preparing for a campaign, scheduled to run from late August until October, to raise awareness of the support available to those restarting and building back better, as well as those starting up.

Business Gateway’s Connections podcast series has also been a popular resource for business owners over the past month, addressing issues including furlough, redundancies and Test and Protect, with the forthcoming episode focused on supporting the emotional and physical wellbeing of employees at this time.  Episodes can be accessed here.

Connect with us at www.bgateway.com

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 doorstep scams, misleading energy marketing, travel compensation scams and the top 10 Scottish phone scams from the last quarter.

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.