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Local Authority round-up – 10/12/21

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

Scottish councils awarded £13m to boost recycling

The Scottish government has announced that nine councils have been awarded a share of £13 million from Holyrood’s Recycling Improvement Fund to help boost the quantity and quality of recycling in Scotland. The fund, which will total £70 million over five years, will help councils improve recycling services and get ready for future developments, including Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme. Iain Gulland, Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland said “These awards represent a major new development in Scotland’s recycling story, with nine more impactful projects from across Scotland which make the most of our resources, boosting recycling and the circular economy. We’ve been impressed by the thinking from councils and look forward to even more transformational projects being brought forward next year.”

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£780 million funding to tackle drug misuse

All councils in England are set to receive new funding to tackle drug and alcohol misuse over the next three years.  The Government has announced £780 million funding under its new ten-year strategy to ‘rebuild’ the drug treatment system. The strategy includes the largest ever funding boost for drug treatment services, with the 50 local authorities in greatest need receiving funding first.  The strategy will also improve offender drug treatment across the prisons and probation service in England and Wales, increase housing support for those at risk of sleeping rough, and implement employment support.  Health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid, said “We’re investing a record  amount into treatment services with money to break the cycle of drug use and to support communities by cutting the drug use which drives crime. Treatment services are just one part of the comprehensive strategy which includes helping people back to work, into permanent housing, and cracking down on supply.”

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Regulatory

 Government confirms move to Plan B

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed in a press conference on 8 December, that England will be moving to Plan B due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 strain Omicron.  With effect from Friday 9 December, face masks will be required in most public settings including theatres and cinemas, but will not be required in hospitality settings.  From Monday 14 December, people are asked to work from home again where possible and from Wednesday 15 December the NHS Covid Pass will be required for visitors to nightclubs, indoor unseated venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any event with more than 10,000 people.  This can be provided by either using a negative test or full vaccination via the NHS Covid Pass.  These changes will expire six weeks after implementation, with a review after three weeks.

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Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Amendment (No 4) Regulations 2021

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Amendment (No 4) Regulations 2021 were made on 2 December which amend the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 to provide that, with effect from 5.00am on 6 December 2021, businesses subject to the COVID-19 certification scheme may admit persons who have received a qualifying negative lateral flow or PCR test result within the previous 24 hours. A lateral flow test qualifies if its result has been submitted through the NHS public reporting system. A PCR test qualifies if it was provided or administered under NHS legislation. The Scottish Government’s guidance, Coronavirus (COVID-19): certification scheme, information for businesses and event organisers, states “A record of a negative test is a text message or an email from NHS Scotland received after submitting details of your test, which will be visually checked as it cannot be scanned”. The guidance also warns businesses against distributing test kits to prospective customers.  Under the scheme, unless an exception applies, proof of vaccination or having tested negative is required to enter late night venues open after 12.00 midnight with alcohol and music and dancing, unseated indoor live events with 500 people or more in the audience, unseated outdoor live events with 4,000 people or more in the audience and any event, of any nature, which has more than 10,000 people in attendance.

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Updated NHS Test and Trace in the workplace guidance published in response to Omicron variant

The UK Health Security Agency updated its Guidance, NHS Test and Trace in the workplace in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant and revised rules on self-isolation for close contacts of confirmed or suspected Omicron cases (see Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) (No 4) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/1338) (Regulations)).  Among other things, the updated guidance provides that businesses should support workers if they are required to self-isolate, continue targeted asymptomatic testing in high-risk workplaces, display an NHS QR code (and have a system for non-digital users) to enable individuals to be notified if they have been exposed to COVID-19, improve ventilation, and advise workers who have tested positive to identify close contacts. While collecting contact details for NHS Test and Trace is no longer a legal requirement, the guidance encourages employers to display a QR code and advises them to keep a record of all staff working on their premises, including shift times, dates and contact details.  The guidance also notes that the exemptions to self-isolation do not apply to contacts of confirmed or suspected Omicron cases, who are also excluded from participating in daily contact testing. The guidance emphasises that if any worker displays symptoms of COVID-19, they should self-isolate and get a COVID-19 test. Employers, excluding schools, are advised to contact the Self-Isolation Service Hub as soon as they are made aware that a worker has tested positive and provide relevant details, including the details of close contacts.  Workers who are exempt from self-isolation may continue to go to work depending on the circumstances of their employer and workplace. It is not entirely clear what these circumstances are, but the qualification appears to be to address additional precautions in the health and social care sector. Workers who are exempt but identified as a contact of a COVID-19 case are advised to take a PCR test, limit close contact with people outside their household, wear a face covering in enclosed spaces and limit contact with anyone who has an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe illness if infected with COVID-19. Following this guidance would be likely to restrict the ability of an individual to attend the workplace.

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International Trade

Northern Ireland Protocol talks are ongoing

Following the latest round of talks regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol between the European Commission’s Maroš Šefčovič and UK Brexit Minister Lord Frost, there has been no further progress.  Lord Frost said the progress had “been quite limited” and that “The gap between our positions is still significant.”  He did however say that “There has been some potential convergence on the medicines issue but agreement has not been reached.”  Mr Šefčovič  said it was “time to get medicines across the finish line” however he said that “strong political will” was needed to advance on other issues.  They are expected to meet again to continue discussions next Friday.

For more information please click here.

Planning and Housing

Counties call for strategic planning model

The County Councils Network (CCN) has published a new report; The Future of Strategic Planning in England – Effective decision-making and robust governance, in which it says that county councils are facing ‘excessive’ pressures on their infrastructure due to housing development.  It is therefore calling for strategic planning to become a formal part of the planning system to ensure local infrastructure can be properly planned for and financed.  It said this model encourages councils to work together through an ‘accountable strategic planning body’ that would set out a vision for their area and match housing and regeneration with the right infrastructure.  The CCN argues this model could be piloted through county devolution deals in the short-term.  A survey as part of the report shows two-thirds of county councils are facing ‘excessive’ pressure on roads, health centres, schools, and public services due to new developments.

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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