Update 19th July 2021
The Prime Minister confirmed on 12 July that Step 4 of the Roadmap will proceed as planned on Monday 19 July. This means most legal limits on social contact will be removed. There will no longer be limits on gatherings inside and outside and on social distancing. However as cases continue to rise the government is urging caution and personal responsibility.
What does this mean for local councils?
Councils may wish to bear in mind the following points with effect from 19 July:
- There will no longer be limits on gatherings inside and outside – this means there will be no limits on members of the public attending council meetings subject to e.g. building capacity;
- Social distancing will end (that is, keeping two metres’ distance from others) in council premises;
- The end to the work from home where possible instruction. However the Government does not expect an immediate full time return to the workplace;
- There will be no mandatory requirement to wear face coverings in places where they were previously required. The Prime Minister referred to the Government’s expectation that people should continue to wear masks in crowded places from 19 July. Councils can ask but cannot compel staff, councillors and the public to wear masks or provide proof of vaccination or COVID negative tests;
- Councils will continue to owe corporate duties – e.g. as employers to council employees and to users of council premises as occupiers of premises.
- An employer’s duty of care is to protect the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this and make sure that employees are protected from anything that may cause harm, also by controlling any risks to injury or health that could arise in the workplace. The HSE has produced guidance on the duty of care.
- Councils as occupiers of land owe duties to visitors to the land totake such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe when using the premises for the purposes for which they are invited or permitted by the occupier to be there. NALC’s Legal Topic Note 42 gives general guidance on occupiers’ liability.
- NALC continues to advise councils to undertake risk assessments and implement measures accordingly. The NALC/ BHIB publication “Risk assessment for COVID 19” can be found here;
- Outside of formal risk assessments councils should also consider what reasonable measures they can take to balance the end of social contact restrictions with the ongoing COVID reality – e.g. continuing to livestream meetings so that the public do not have to attend in person to view proceedings, considering working from home requests;
- Councils can continue to provide hand sanitiser in buildings and for use in council meetings, carry out extra cleaning of premises, avoid printing papers and agendas, ensure rooms are well ventilated (doors and windows open) and seek to maintain social distancing/ one way access where possible;
- Where councils hire halls from others, they may have contractual obligations to comply with (e.g. requiring masks to be worn on the premises subject to specific exemptions).
NALC cannot provide definitive guidance and definitive answers that will apply to every member council, particularly given the end of COVID specific legislation. Every council will have to decide what is appropriate for them given their own specific circumstances.
The Government position is that although social contact limits will largely go on 19 July, people should continue to exercise caution, common sense and personal responsibility.
Guidance on how to stay safe and help prevent the spread from 19 July has been updated:
Guidance on protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable has been updated and comes into effect on 19 July can be found here.
SOURCES OF ADVICE
The coronavirus situation is fast-moving, and there is an increasing amount of misinformation online. We should be using government advice to inform decisions and be checking that advice regularly.
- The government’s main source of advice on coronavirus includes information on social distancing alongside a wide range of other information. There are also useful coronavirus FAQs that provide useful additional information.
- GOV.UK provides a range of information on working safely during Coronavirus related do different sectors. This further guidance, developed with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, aims to assist employers and businesses in providing advice to their staff.
- You may find ACAS advice useful in considering any employment-related matters that may impact your local council.
- On 4 January 2021, the government announced a national lockdown and published guidance on what you can and cannot do during this time.
- On 22 February 2021, a 4-step plan to ease lockdown in England was announced.