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Local Authority round-up 07/01/22

Our Local Authority round up provides brief summaries of topical information on a weekly basis, to keep you aware of the changes and updates relevant to you.

Commercial

New COVID support package for businesses announced

Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced a support package for businesses across the UK that have been adversely impacted by the latest COVID surge, fuelled by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises. In addition, discretionary funding of more than £100 million is available for councils to support other businesses. The government has also reintroduced the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme, which ended on 30 September 2021, to cover the cost of Statutory Sick Pay for COVID-related absences for small and medium-sized employers across the UK. This funding is intended to assist businesses with fewer than 250 employees by reimbursing them for the cost of Statutory Sick Pay for COVID-related absences for up to two weeks per employee. Firms are eligible for the scheme from 21 December and will be able to make claims retrospectively from mid-January. Further funding of £30 million is also available through the Culture Recovery Fund, enabling more cultural organisations, such as theatres, orchestras and museums, in England to apply for support during the winter to March 2022. According to the government announcement, 200,000 businesses will be eligible for the grants, which will be administered by councils.

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Welsh Government announces Omicron business support application procedures

The Welsh Government has announced the launch of an eligibility checker for the “Economic Resilience Fund” (ERF) for businesses adversely affected by Omicron security measures. Eligible businesses can apply for grants of between £2,500 to £25,000, with grants dependent on their size and number of employees. The application window for the ERF will open in the week commencing 17 January 2022 and will be open for two weeks. In addition to the ERF, councils will be delivering a Non Domestic Rates (NDR) linked grant fund to non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses. In order to receive payment, businesses will be required to register with their council to confirm their details. Councils will also be delivering a discretionary fund via a short application process with sole traders, freelancers and taxi drivers able to apply for £500. Businesses that employ people but do not pay business rates will be able to apply for £2,000. The registration process for the NDR linked grants and application process for the discretionary fund will open in the week beginning 10 January 2022.

For more information please click here.


Regulatory

Scotland updates COVID-19 restrictions

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Amendment (No 6) Regulations 2021 (SSI 2021/496) were made in response to the latest surge in the spread of the virus driven by the Omicron variant on 23 December 2021. The Regulations amend the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 (SSI 2021/277) and provided that, from 5.00am on 27 December 2021, there will be a one-metre physical distancing requirement between persons in all indoor hospitality and leisure settings, including pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and other settings where food and drink is served for consumption on the premises, leisure settings including gyms, theatres, cinemas, bingo and snooker halls, bowling alleys, museums, galleries and other visitor attractions. The person responsible for the premises must take steps to ensure the one-metre physical distancing is maintained, that one metre is maintained between people waiting to enter the premises, and that entry to the premises is managed to ensure that people in the premises can adhere to the one-metre distancing requirement. There is an exception for two or more members of the same household or of a group formed of more than one household attending the premises together, a carer and a person assisted by the carer, and children under the age of 12 and any other person. The restrictions do not apply to persons in attendance at an event or activity which relates to a funeral, marriage ceremony or civil partnership registration. Table service will be required in settings where alcohol is served for consumption on the premises. From 5.00 am on 26 December 2021, attendance at large events is limited to 100 people for indoor standing events, 200 people for indoor seated events and 500 people for all outdoor events (whether seated or standing). The limit excludes attendees who are working or providing voluntary or charitable services at the event and children under the age of five.

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Wales reintroduces social distancing restrictions

On 22 December 2021, the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No 5) (Wales) (Amendment) (No 25) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/1485) were made. They reintroduce social distancing and other restrictions with the aim of curbing the surge in infections caused by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. The Regulations move the whole of Wales into Alert Level 2, meaning that the restrictions set out in Schedule 16 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No 5) (Wales) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/1609) take effect. The Regulations introduce obligations and restrictions additional to those detailed in Schedule 16, including to require persons responsible for workplaces, premises open to the public and public transport vehicles to take all reasonable measures to ensure two-metre social distancing (subject to specified exceptions, including the so-called “rule of six”). They will also be required to impose specific requirements on the persons responsible for licensed or retail premises to ensure social distancing and make it an offence to participate in a gathering of more than 30 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. The Regulations came into force on 26 December 2021.

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Self-isolation period reduced to seven days

From 22 December 2021, the self-isolation period for individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 was reduced from ten days to seven days, provided that they receive two negative LFD results, on day six and day seven. Even when the isolation ends after seven days, individuals are strongly advised to limit close contact with other people in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, work from home and minimise contact with vulnerable people. There is no change for unvaccinated contacts of positive COVID-19 cases, who must still self-isolate for the full ten days. The new approach reflects analysis showing that seven days of isolation, together with two negative LFD test results, has nearly the same protective effect as a ten-day isolation period. New regulations are expected.

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Requirement for PCR tests temporarily suspended

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has announced that with effect from 11 January 2022, anyone who has received a positive lateral flow test will not be required to take a PCR test. Instead they are required to self-isolate immediately and report their result on GOV.UK. The change has been introduced as a temporary measure following the high rate of positive cases across the UK. Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said “As Omicron cases continue to rise the demand for tests has grown rapidly across the globe. We’re putting plans in place to manage the demand for PCR tests in the UK so we can ensure that those who most need tests can continue to access them.”

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International Trade

UK-Australia FTA to be examined

The House of Commons International Trade Committee (ITC) and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRAC) launched new inquiries into the recently-signed UK-Australia FTA. The ITC inquiry will consider all aspects of the FTA, and the call for evidence invites submissions on several specific questions, including in relation to the expected impact of the FTA, the consistency of the FTA with the government’s negotiating objectives and the agreement in principle announced in June, the effectiveness of government communications during and after negotiations, and lessons for future FTA negotiations. Evidence may be submitted to the ITC inquiry until 16 January 2022. The EFRAC inquiry will examine the impact of the FTA on farmers and food and drink producers and retailers, and will consider whether the FTA aligns with the UK’s commitment to high animal welfare and environmental practices, and the FTA’s implications for future trade agreements. Evidence may be submitted to the EFRAC inquiry until 21 January 2022. The government has also formally requested the Trade and Agriculture Commission to provide advice on whether, or to what extent, the measures in the UK-Australia FTA that are applicable to trade in agricultural products are consistent with the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection in relation to animal or plant life or health, animal welfare and environmental protections.

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Planning and housing

Plans to protect and vaccinate rough sleepers

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has published a letter to all councils in England on plans to protect and vaccinate rough sleepers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In its letter, the DLUHC announced several measures councils should take in response to the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, which include making offers of accommodation to rough sleepers now (subject to individual assessments), particularly those who are clinically vulnerable. This has been supported by a £25 million funding package to support all councils in England. They have also announced a £3.2 million vaccination incentivisation package, which councils have discretion on its use, to be used to vaccinate rough sleepers including non-UK nationals. Mobile vaccination units will also be targeted to areas where there may be a high concentration of unvaccinated individuals. The workforce, including volunteers, will be required to continue regular testing weekly using lateral flow tests, which requirement extends to those individuals experiencing homelessness who have been provided accommodation. The funding packages will be in place up to the end of March 2022, with an extension of the deadline for the Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI) 2022-25 from 4 February to 25 February 2022 to accommodate for Omicron-related challenges. This means that full funding will be confirmed after 1 April 2022; although funding for the first three months of 2022 will be made available. Finally, the letter confirmed that any three-month staff costs that were agreed in RSI 2021/22 for new staff posts commencing in July 2021 will continue to be paid in the first quarter of 2022/23.

For more information please click here.

If you have any questions about the issues raised in this update, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

 

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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