Easing of Covid-19 restrictions and what it means for councils 19/07/2021

Our advice on council meetings and business following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions on Monday 19 July.

The easing of Covid-19 restrictions is taking place from Monday 19 July. While we may be looking forward to the ending of restrictions, please note that Devon’s Director of Public Health encouraged people to not put themselves at unnecessary risk.

We have had a number of queries from councils about how this may affect your council business and meetings. First of all, councils still have legal duties both as employers and as landowners. There is some advice below on how to manage those duties.

The ending of restrictions does not mean that Covid-19 ceases to be a health and safety consideration. Councils will still need to protect staff, members and the public by carrying out risk assessments and taking steps to mitigate hazards such as:

  • Continuing with social distancing
  • Keeping venues well ventilated
  • Requesting the wearing of masks
  • Providing hand sanitiser
  • Minimising contact such as sharing paper, pens etc
  • Where there have been significant local outbreaks, councils may want to consider postponing meetings or events.

While there will be no mandatory requirement to wear face coverings, venues may make it a contractual requirement for masks to be worn so you may need to check with your venue.

Since councils have a leadership role within the community, they have an important role to play in demonstrating the personal responsibility and caution urged by the government as cases continue to rise. NALC will be updating their guidance on the easing of restrictions within the coming days. You will find it here.

Managing staff

While staff are no longer required to work from home wherever possible, the government has also made it clear that they are not expecting all staff to return to work immediately so consider a careful approach to staff returning. Councils may want to work with their staff to ensure that they feel safe, maybe taking into account any suggestions made by staff. Risk assessments will need to be carried out in workplaces to ensure that they are safe.

Tozers LLP have provided some advice to our member councils, including how to handle requests for flexible working, on returning to work post-lockdown.

Managing council facilities

Came and Company Local Council Insurance have provided their advice to our member councils on how to manage council meetings and council-owned facilities as restrictions come to an end. Their advice highlights that councils will still need to consider the hazards associated with Covid-19 in their risk assessments and there are still steps you may need to take such as:

  • Abiding by your duties under the Occupiers Liability Act by ensuring the premises are fit for purpose before each hire.
  • Providing basic cleaning equipment along with explaining your expectations of the hirer.
  • Establishing post-hire checks with additional cleaning between hires.
  • Consulting with your insurer.

Read the advice here.

Six month rule

Just a reminder that councillors who have not attended a council meeting (including a committee or working group), or a meeting of another body at which they are representing the council, for six consecutive months will lose their seats unless a reason for their absence is approved by the council. This is an automatic process which applies even if no meetings have been held, and a reason for absence cannot be approved retrospectively.

Councils that have not met since the ending of remote meeting legislation at the beginning of May may want to ensure that they make arrangements to hold a physical meeting before the end of the six month period in order to prevent councillors losing their seats.

Government guidance

Guidance continues to be updated, ensure you are always looking at the most current guidance when making local decisions.  The following have recently been updated: