NALC's publication 'Coronavirus case studies - regularly updated and now featuring over 300 case studies of how local councils are supporting their communities.
You can meet in groups of up to two households (your support bubble counts as one household) in any location - public or private, indoors or outdoors. You do not always have to meet with the same household - you can meet with different households at different times. However, it remains the case - even inside someone’s home - that you should socially distance from anyone not in your household or bubble. This change also does not affect the support you receive from your carers
When you are outside you can continue to meet in groups of up to six people from different households, following social distancing guidelines This prevents Parish Councils from holding meetings as the minimum number of Councillors is 5 and you would have to restrict the public to one which you cannot do. The meetings are open to the public of however many.
It will be against the law to gather in groups larger than 30 people, except for a limited set of circumstances to be set out in law This could only happen with a gathering of two very large households. The exception is that you can now have 30 people at a wedding. Logically those same 30 people could attend a wedding reception in a Village Hall.
updated 30 June
Following the Government announcement of further easing of lockdown restrictions from 4th July, NALC and SLCC strongly advise local councils to continue to meet remotely, without the need for face to face contact. Government rules still state that we should all work from home if we can. Local councils have the powers to hold public meetings remotely by using video or telephone conferencing technology until May 2021 and so most councils will have no need to meet in person. Furthermore, local councils have the duty to allow the public to observe council meetings without placing restrictions on the number attending, which many council meeting venues will not be able to accommodate in a safe way at this time.
However, where a local council does have an identified need to hold a physical meeting, as they are unable to conduct council business any other way, they can consider doing so from 4th July. These meetings must be managed within the social distancing and ‘safer workplaces’ guidance produced by Government, which includes the requirement to conduct a risk assessment to determine if it is feasible and safe to hold a physical meeting. It is important that this risk assessment is carried out, and any identified actions to reduce risk to attendees are implemented before any face to face meetings resume. Councils must keep documentation of this risk assessment and the reasons why the council has taken the decision to return to face to face meetings.
NALC will be updating our guidance on remote meetings early next week to include information on how to approach ‘hybrid meetings’ (where some people attend in person and others join remotely) effectively and safely.
The Government has now passed the Coronavirus Bill and it has received Royal ascent so it has now passed into law.
Section 78 of the law allows for meetings to take place in different forms but it requires a regulation to be passed by the Secretary of State. The regulations have now been passed by the Secretary of State and further details of how to hold virtual meetings can be found on this site.
The legislation now allows video conferencing and I would recommend trying this technology out with the Councillors before holding a formal meeting so that they become more comfortable with the technology moving forward.
There are a number of apps and websites which can be used to host conference calls or virtual meetings. We would advise where possible to use Zoom. There are time restrictions with the free package, however, it does allow 40 minutes which should be enough time to transact essential business and delegate powers to the Clerk for many of the other activities that might need to be processed. The two good things about zoom is that links can be provided to residents (or put up on the website) so that there is still transparency and in these times of being at home it might provide a good audience and potential Councillors in the future. Also the meeting can easily be recorded so that there is an unambiguous record of the decisions.
If you are unable to hold meetings like this, then I would recommend decisions via email where the way Councillors have voted can be evidenced.
The first point to make is that even when virtual meetings are confirmed as being lawful Please keep the number of meetings down to a minimum and when you do need them keep the agenda down to be a short as possible
Top priority is to ensure all that needs to be delegated to the clerk is done so as a matter of urgency – this can be time limited – it will minimise the need for meetings virtual or otherwise.
Subsequent meetings – keep agenda down to essentials
If you have enough Councillors that have the technical ability to hold a meeting on Zoom that is probably the best option so the public can witness the discussions and decisions. Just remember normally the public can see what happens at a Council meeting and at the moment that is not possible. You could use mixed media – so if some Cllrs can’t use zoom they can phone in. Remember not every Cllr has to participate – just enough to be quorate. NB if there is not a valid reason for the Councillor to participate then their apologies (if sent) should not automatically be accepted.
There will be a great emphasis on the clerk to ensure that the resolutions to be considered are very clear as it will be much more difficult to remove any ambiguity that is possible in a normal meeting. You need to be sure that each councillor is voting on the same thing rather than their interpretation.
As not all the public will be able to attend a meeting the clerk should endeavour to have the unapproved minutes of the meeting on the website as quickly as possible and certainly within a week in order to keep the public informed. There must be an obvious note to the public stating that these are unapproved.
Don’t forget to post agendas and minutes on noticeboards as well. Not everyone is IT literate.
Download the NALC publication 'Holding Remote Meetings'
Please also see the article Failure to Convene Meetings
updated 15 April 2020
WALC are using Zoom for online meetings, however other platforms are available, there is guidance of this in the NALC publication 'Holding Remote Meetings'
Once you have completed the Getting Started with Zoom Meetings session, the Zoom expert will guide you through tour of Zoom Meetings, taking you beyond the basics.
updated 1 May
The new Audit regulations do apply to Parish meetings as well as Parish Councils so the delays to the audit schedule applies to them. The schedule has been updated on the WALC website page.
The regulations regarding the deferral of annual meetings until next year does not apply to parish meetings therefore as the law stands these meetings need to be held by 1st June at the latest. The current lockdown imposed by the Government makes the holding of such meetings impossible. The NALC advice is to not hold these meetings in the current circumstances. They should be delayed until the situation improves.
updated 6 May
Latest Government Statement
As you know, a parish meeting is a meeting of all the local government electors of the parish. All such electors in a parish have the right to attend the parish meeting and hence depending on the size of the parish the numbers attending a parish meeting could potentially run into several hundreds. This raises questions as to the practicability of holding such meetings remotely, even if the 2020 Act had included parish meetings.
Currently, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, subject to a number of limited exceptions, ban public gatherings of more than 2 people.
However Section 15 (10) of the 1972 Local Government Act provides that the chairman of a parish meeting can continue in office until a successor is elected. This means that essential parish meeting business can continue until a meeting to elect a new chair can be held.
In relation to concerns about parish meetings not being able to sign off their draft Annual Governance and Accountability Returns (AGAR), the deadline for submitting returns has been extended to 31 August. If, nearer the time, public health restrictions render this deadline unachievable, we will consider what further steps may be appropriate.
NB: PKF Littlejohn have set a deadline of 31st July for return of documents to them.
updated 12 May
Several councils have raised questions surrounding the validity of their current Standing Orders in respect of arrangements for meetings, in light of the new Regulations (see above) permitting ‘virtual’ meetings.
As explained in NALC Legal Briefing L01-20 Regulation 5 (6) “…enables local councils to make standing orders to specify (i) how voting will be carried out, (ii) how members and the public can access documents and (iii) how remote access of the press and public by electronic means will take place. Councils should make these decisions based on their own needs and capacity. Local factors such as broadband strength may also determine what methods they use”.
The NALC Legal Team has, however, confirmed that it is not going to issue a revised template for Standing Orders in response to the current emergency and the new provisions for remote meetings.
Assuming that a council’s existing Standing Orders are based on the existing NALC template, any reservations about being challenged over a possible breach of Standing Orders, as currently specified, arguably could be overcome if the Council were simply to make the next meeting an ‘extraordinary’ one, as per the clause The Chairman (or Vice-Chairman in Chairman’s absence) may convene an extraordinary meeting at any time (this can be done within the scope of the new Regulations). Thereafter, the council could proceed by referencing back to an earlier clause, viz In addition to the annual meeting of the Council (the need for which, of course, has been disapplied under the Regulations) at least three other ordinary meetings shall be held in each year on such dates and times as the Council decides.
There is, however, no reason why Standing Orders should not be amended in order to make them more explicit about arrangements for virtual meetings, if the council so chooses. Another approach would be to adopt a new policy covering the emergency period outlining how the council intends to manage the situation.
The 2020 Regulations permit the council to hold their meetings in a remote way. The fact that the Standing Orders do not refer to ‘remote meetings’ is irrelevant as it will still be a meeting of the council. At their first remote meeting the council may wish to approve a protocol for their remote meetings. NALC Legal say that Councils can override “normal” Meeting Standing Orders to facilitate remote meetings and approving a protocol is sensible.
updated 30 April
Please review the relevant documents below.
The Accounts and Audit (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
Owing to the increasing impact of COVID19 MHCLG has made amended Regulations which extend the statutory audit deadlines for 2019-20 only for all Category 2 smaller authorities (town and parish councils, parish meetings, internal drainage boards and other authorities).
Authorities should publish the dates of their public inspection period. If this is significantly earlier or later than in previous years, they should inform the public through their websites (where available) of the reasons why they are departing from normal practice for 2020.
SAAA does not intend to alter the official AGAR forms issued in March 2020 to reflect the changes in legislation, rather, SAAA has issued a single page addendum to highlight the changes and new dates.
There are no changes in the requirement for wet signatures on the AGAR. PKF's understanding is that wet signatures need to be added to the AGAR in the same order as previous years and that the AGAR will need to be passed between the relevant individuals for signature. Where individuals are self-isolating it is hoped that local assistance will be available to facilitate this.
If smaller authorities are able to keep to the regular reporting timetable as much as is possible and practical by making use of their ability to hold virtual meetings, they are very much encouraged to do so.
Link to audit pages of PKF Littlejohn including the full instructions for the audit process for all Parish Councils and Parish Meetings
Please note that the submission deadline for the receipt of the approved AGAR and supporting documentation or the Certificate of Exemption (as appropriate) is Friday 31 July 2020.
If you are not able to meet this deadline please contact PKF Littlejohn
to arrange an alternative submission date (subject to below) to avoid incurring the administrative charges.
Non-submission will lead to chargeable chaser letters being issued (£40 plus VAT for all financially active smaller authorities). It is important to note, however, that in a change to prior years:
IMPORTANT: If a financially active smaller authority is issued with a statutory recommendation (and/or a public interest report) for 2019/20 it will not be able to claim exemption from a limited assurance review for 2020/21, regardless of whether it meets all other criteria.
If you are a Parish Meeting you will need to request a 4-week extension to your submission date as you are not able to hold a meeting under the current Government Covid 19 restrictions. Depending on circumstances further extension requests may be required.
Updated 15 April
Staff should be helped to work from home where possible. This mostly happens anyway with the majority of Clerks
Litterpickers/bin collections in parks
From a public safety/cleanliness point of view these staff will need to keep working while the parks are open. However, staff should abide by social distancing requirements and where possible co-ordinate their activities for quieter parts of the day.
If the work is being conducted through a contract ask them to see their policy for dealing with this crisis. In particular hand washing social distancing. The work should be able to continue if they are willing to do it. They should be asked to carry out this work early morning when it is likely to be quiet and they should not get involved in conversations except at a safe distance. If the contractor feels they should stay at home you should respect their decision.
All the hygiene and social distancing procedure would apply to volunteers as well.
Government Job Retention Scheme
The government have introduced a scheme to allow some employers to furlough certain members of staff and reclaim a proportion of their salaries — find out more about the scheme
The government Job Retention Scheme is available to public sector organisations and the guidance states that "the government expects that the scheme will not be used by many public sector organisations, as the majority of public sector employees are continuing to provide essential public services or contribute to the response to the coronavirus outbreak".
At this point, we should highlight strongly that NALC feels that the government guidance at this point is not clear on whether local councils could reclaim salaries from furloughed employees or not. We will need more detail from the government to clarify this situation.
It would appear to be possibly relevant for those staff whose jobs have fallen away as a result of the restrictions being put in place to fight COVID-19 and where they cannot be reallocated to other roles. At the heart, the Job Retention scheme is to help avoid redundancies. For example, where a local council has community facilities that have been closed as a result of COVID-19, there will be no income from these facilities to pay for the caretaker or other staff who run the facilities.
So where local councils have staff who are unable to work in their current roles, where that role is funded from income other than precept, and they are unable to be redeployed to another role to support the response to Coronavirus, the council may wish to consider furloughing those staff with the hope of being able to reclaim a portion of their salaries. But at this stage, NALC could not be certain that the council would be successful in claiming back that salary.
If a local council is considering furloughing any staff then NALC and HR Service Partnerships (HRSP) have produced template letters for members to aid this process.
In a press release the government last week announced: The deadline for local government financial audits will be extended to 30 September 2020
We are waiting for the government to issue further guidance however with the restrictions on meetings and the requirements for internal audit, access for electors to view the accounts and the requirement for signatures on the Annual Return it is likely this will be delayed.
Within your financial regulations permissions should already be in place for the Clerk to undertake emergency expenditure if required,
In addition, there will be a default permission to spend against agreed budgets.
You should have considered any gaps or improvements in your financial processes and tried to incorporate them in the delegated powers that have been given to the clerk during this period.
Online banking and Cheques
We advise that if you are currently undertaking online banking to continue with this
If you are not currently using online banking, we recommend that you look into the possibility of arranging it as restrictions may go on for a long time
If you are unable to arrange online banking, then we would advise to make arrangements for cheques to be signed while adhering to government guidelines on social distancing and self-isolation
WALC would like you to take this opportunity to seriously consider switching to on line banking.
Many Councils have already switched to online banking and are finding paying invoices by bank transfer much easier and quicker than using cheques. Online banking removes the need for cheques to passed between people and also helps those you are paying who are now being charged some hefty fees for the banking of cheques.
Most of the major high street banks have excellent online banking services which would allow the Clerk to raise a payment and two other signatories to authorise the expenditure making it very safe for Councils to use.
WALC and many of our members use Unity Trust Bank that already provide banking services to many Parish Councils with a platform that was developed by working with a local Town Council. If you decided to switch they will guide you through the set up and have a very good telephone help line which is open Monday-Friday 8:30 am - 5 pm
We recommend that you speak to your current bank and find out what options are available.
updated 3 July 2020
The Government has allowed play areas to be opened but says operators should observe Covid guidelines.
This leaves the ball very much in your court.
We suggest that a risk assessment is conducted, you put in place what mitigation you can. this might be notices about social distancing if meeting people outside of your household; washing hands ; protecting your children washing their hands and keeping their distance through close supervision. You may be in a position where you could fix some bottles of anti bac gel.
Once you have decided what you feel is the best course of action I would contact you insurance company to ensure they are happy with your approach. It might be a good idea to contact them first as they may have a generic risk assessment that you could work through rather than reinventing the wheel. Also see the COVID-19 Risk Assessment Guide from NALC.
Following the government’s guidance for managing playgrounds and outdoor gyms, The Association of Play Industries has produced a useful summary document that provides their own interpretation of the government’s guidance. It aims to identify practical solutions that will allow public play areas to re-open at the weekend.
With regards to opening your playgrounds without having conducted an annual inspection that was due, our advice is as follows:
updated 2 July
The government produced guidance for the safe use of multi-purpose community facilities and guidance for the safe use of council buildings which include what activities can take place from 4 July and what practical steps can be taken to manage risks.
The National Allotment Society has issued useful guidance on how to manage allotments in accordance with government regulations.
updated 22 April 2020
WALC cannot find a definitive answer to the issue of people being able to pay their respects to their loved ones. Until there is formal guidance we suggest that most sites should be open for that purpose. However you should put a sign on the gates stressing the need for social distancing rules to be abide by (unless you are from the same household). People should not enter just to walk around for "exercise".
If your burial ground is large and in an urban area where the likelihood of social distancing being an issue, you had better use your own judgement and close the site to protect people. You could perhaps consider an appointment system - but that may be too onerous to administer.
NB There are however strict regulations regarding actual burials which will be shared shortly
Cemetery workers, both admin and manual workers, are classed as key workers and will be allowed out to undertake their work. Preparations should be made to continue the work required. We would advise to keep up to date will any changes via the ICCM https://www.iccm-uk.com/iccm/
Updated 10th April
On 12 March the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) released a statement to reassure organisations seeking to support their communities at this time. It includes this information:
Data protection and electronic communication laws do not stop Government, the NHS or any other health professionals from sending public health messages to people, either by phone, text or email as these messages are not direct marketing. Nor does it stop them using the latest technology to facilitate safe and speedy consultations and diagnoses. Public bodies may require additional collection and sharing of personal data to protect against serious threats to public health.
The ICO is a reasonable and pragmatic regulator, one that does not operate in isolation from matters of serious public concern. Regarding compliance with data protection, we will take into account the compelling public interest in the current health emergency.
To support this statement the ICO has also produced further guidance around data protection and coronavirus.
Updated 10th April
The government has provided guidancewhere the coronavirus situation impacts on neighbourhood planning including the referendum process, decision-making, oral representations for examinations, and public consultation. See below:
What changes have been introduced to neighbourhood planning in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?
All members of society are required to adhere to guidance to help combat the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The guidance has implications for neighbourhood planning including: the referendum process; decision-making; oral representations for examinations; and public consultation. This planning guidance supersedes any relevant aspects of current guidance on neighbourhood planning, including in paragraphs 007, 056, 057, 061 and 081 until further notice.
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