Elected Members Briefing - 14th October

Key Messages
The First Minister announced further measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 last Wednesday (October 7).

The temporary measures – outlined here – came into effect on Friday (October 9). The guidance for sport and leisure facilities has also been updated to reflect the latest position.

An evidence paper from the Scottish Government’s senior clinical advisers summing up evidence on infection trends, confirmed cases, hospital use and deaths, and how these vary across Scotland, can be found here.

A new National Transition Training Fund was launched by Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop on Thursday (October 8). The fund will help people aged 25 and over who have lost their jobs or who are at risk of redundancy as a result of COVID-19 to develop the skills required to move into sectors with the greatest potential for future growth and job opportunities.

Local Government Blueprint - Community Wellbeing
The impacts of COVID-19 have not been felt equally across society, COSLA said this week.

COSLA’s Community Wellbeing Spokesperson (job share) Councillor Elena Whitham said:

Our Blueprint outlines the steps needed to overcome inequalities which increase the chances of contracting COVID-19, and the longer-term impacts of both the disease and the measures that have been taken to control its spread.

“We are working hard to ensure our recovery will be fair, inclusive, and address existing inequalities. Everyone should be able to realise their human rights as we fight poverty and discrimination.”

Read the full release here.

In a second news release this week, COSLA said that by intervening, Local Government has reduced the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for the most vulnerable in our communities.

COSLA also said that is why our Blueprint outlines the lead role of Local Government in securing a fair and inclusive recovery with a strong focus on human rights, tackling poverty and addressing inequalities.

COSLA’s Community Wellbeing Spokesperson (job share) Councillor Kelly Parry said: “The tireless work of Council staff in dealing with COVID-19 has been an essential service to our communities in recent months.  

“By intervening, we have reduced the worst impacts of the pandemic for the most vulnerable in our communities.

“Our Blueprint outlines the lead role of Local Government in securing a fair and inclusive recovery with a strong focus on human rights, tackling poverty and addressing inequalities.”

Read the full release here.

Financial Flexibilities and Extra Funding
COSLA has worked closely with Directors of Finance and Scottish Government officers to identify ways in which councils can use fiscal flexibilities to assist in closing the funding gap brought on by the COVID-19 emergency. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes MSP, announced on Thursday 8 October that several of the identified options have now been made available to councils to help balance budgets for this year. These flexibilities can be used as appropriate to local circumstances.

COSLA Resources Spokesperson, Councillor Gail Macgregor, welcomed the package of financial flexibilities and extra funding for councils, which could be worth up to £750 million.

Councillor Macgregor said: “We welcome this substantial package of measures from which councils can choose, depending on local circumstance.

“Responding to COVID-19 whilst continuing to deliver essential, everyday services has put extreme pressure on Local Government finances this year.

“The pandemic has also meant substantial losses of income across a range of council services including leisure, sport, culture, and planning. Balancing budgets will be a real challenge, and this has been fully recognised by Scottish Government who we have worked with constructively and positively.”

Evidence to Local Government & Communities Committee
Councillor Gail Macgregor, COSLA Resources Spokesperson, together with representatives from SOLACE and Directors of Finance, gave evidence to the Local Government and Communities Committee on its Pre-Budget Scrutiny on Wednesday (October 7). The Committee’s primary focus was on the impact of the COVID-19 emergency on council budgets; how this has impacted on delivery of services to communities; and what councils have done to support communities over the last 6 months.

The Committee was informed that councils have responded to the emergency whilst continuing to provide services and to support communities during a severely challenging time. However, the Committee was advised that the financial outlook for councils is concerning. Whilst Scottish Government funding is welcomed, this has only gone part of the way to address the immediate financial impacts of COVID - there remains a significant gap due to lost income. Continuing to address the financial challenges without sufficient and stable funding is unsustainable and Local Government funding needs to be a priority for the 2021/22 Scottish Budget, as well as a renewed commitment to look at multi-year budgets.

Night Shelters
COSLA Community Wellbeing Spokesperson (job share), and co-chair of the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group, Councillor Elena Whitham has praised a plan to replace night shelters with rapid rehousing welcome centres for people who would otherwise be sleeping rough this winter.

Councillor Whitham said: “The updated action plan sets out an inclusive and human rights-based approach focused on preventing homelessness, responding quickly, working together with our partners across sectors, taking a person-centred approach which is tailored to reflect individual needs and circumstances.

“I am grateful to the partners who have contributed to this plan, in particular to those with lived experience of homelessness. We must not allow the deepening of inequalities in our response and recovery to the pandemic, and ending homelessness is vital in preventing this.”

Read the full release here.

COVID-19 and Human Trafficking
The COVID-19 pandemic has created circumstances which experts fear are increasing risks around human trafficking.

Large numbers of people are on the verge of losing their jobs and are worried about their future and there are increased risks of them being exploited by traffickers to work for sub-minimum wage work, and in dangerous conditions.

Men and women are vulnerable, as are children, with reports of children being trafficked to transport drugs during the lockdown.

It is also important to remember that victims of trafficking can be both UK and foreign nationals, and that trafficking has been reported in every local authority area in Scotland.

COSLA is working closely with councils, the Scottish Government and Police Scotland to tackle trafficking. We are working hard to ensure victims of trafficking are identified, rescued and receive adequate provision, and that traffickers are disrupted and pursued.

Last year we published new guidance for local authority officers, both frontline and managers, to advise them on how to spot victims of trafficking, what to do when they do, and how to make their local area a difficult environment for traffickers.

Councils may find this guidance particularly useful in the current circumstances.

Digital Strategy for Scotland
COSLA and the Scottish Government have launched a public consultation seeking views on areas of priority for inclusion in the development of an updated Digital Strategy for Scotland, which aims to reflect the changing digital world in which we live and the impact of COVID-19.

The document covers important themes including, but not restricted to, connectivity, digital inclusion, digital public services, digital economy, data and the digital economy. Substantive engagement will continue over the duration of the consultation period, which runs to December 23.

Engagement sessions for Local Government representatives are in the process of being organised in collaboration with partners in the Improvement Service and the Local Government Digital Office and further information will be provided to that effect.

The consultation document can be accessed here.

Community Wealth Building
The Improvement Service have published their Elected Member’s Briefing on Community Wealth Building.

Community Wealth Building uses progressive procurement, fair employment and a focus on anchor institutions to make financial powers work for local places.

In September COSLA’s Environment and Economy Board agreed to support Community Wealth Building as a means of delivering place based, inclusive economic growth. It is being explored in a number of local authorities and is viewed by many as a way to build resilience into local economies as they recover from the impact of COVID-19.

Self-Isolation Support Grant
As of Monday 12 October, individuals on low income benefits (Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, Income-based Employment and Support Allowance, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and/or Pension Credit) who lose part of their income as a result of being asked to self-isolate by the Test and Protect Service will be eligible for a grant payment of £500.

This grant is being provided by the Scottish Government and administered by Scottish local authorities to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Work to establish the grant has occurred at pace over the preceding week, with local authorities, COSLA, Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland jointly designing the guidance and delivery mechanisms to enable the swift implementation of this public health intervention.

Eligibility for the grant will be determined using an online or telephone application process.

The grant aims to support people at risk of financial hardship meet their basic needs during the 14-day isolation period.

In order to be eligible for this grant claimants must have been asked by the Test and Protect service to stay at home because they, or a recent close contact, has tested positive for COVID-19. Claimants must experience a loss of income as a result of not being able to work from home.

It will be open to applications from individuals who have been asked to self-isolate from the 28th September 2020.

If claimants do not meet eligibility for the Self-Isolation Support Grant they may qualify for a Crisis Grant under the Scottish Welfare Fund.

It should be noted that this grant does not cover people who are self-isolating after returning to the UK from abroad unless they have tested positive and have been asked to stay at home by the Test and Protect Service. This grant is available for applicants over the age of 16 and open to all eligible individuals within the household. Support through the Self-Isolation scheme will also be made available to those with No Recourse to Public Funds, representing an important first step in delivering on our commitment to strengthen financial support to those at risk of destitution.

Scottish Child Interview Model
The Scottish Child Interview Model is a new model of practice for joint investigative interviewing in Scotland.  This new model of practice is being piloted in six local authorities who are working in partnership with their local police divisions and other child protection partners.

Newly trained specialist interviewers have been utilising their skills in practice since February and early indications are that children are experiencing an improved quality of service.  The National Joint Investigative Interviews Team is pleased to launch a communications strategy which is aimed at sharing relevant information with key stakeholders.

The first newsletter and initial information pack can be accessed here.

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 social media scams, online puppy sales, contact tracing scams, business scams and more.

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.