As the country moves to ‘Plan B’ with increased Covid measures, a director general has called for new rules to protect local government staff by enforcing the wearing of masks in public places of the councils.
Meanwhile, concerns are growing that some areas are lacking the Outbreak Management (Comf) funding they need to help reduce the spread of Covid, although the Health Secretary has indicated that new measures to “support social care” will be announced shortly.
Yesterday the government announced that due to the rapid spread of the omicron variant, from Friday face masks will be mandatory in public places such as cinemas, theaters and places of worship and from Monday. next, people will be required to work from home where they can.
Starting next Wednesday, Covid passports will be implemented for nightclubs and mass events, while the self-isolation requirement for contacts of omicron cases is replaced with daily testing.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid also said yesterday, when announcing Plan B measures, that the government “take extra steps to protect and support social care”, with new announcement on a “package of measures later this week”.
Currently, regulations require the wearing of face masks in public places such as banks and post offices. However, similar places facing the public in communal buildings such as receptions and customer service centers are not covered by the same rules.
Ian Miller, managing director of Wyre Forest DC, said it was “demoralizing” for board employees that they were “not protected by current regulations” and called for board parameters to be included in the latest guidelines, which are expected to be released later today.
“The transactions people make in a board take as long if not more time than paying a check at a bank, so it’s inconsistent that regulations don’t already protect board staff,” he said.
There are conflicting views in the industry on whether boards should be given heightened powers to ensure companies comply with the new Covid rules.
Mr Miller said the councils should be given additional enforcement powers and expressed concern that allegations of a Christmas party at 10 Downing Street and the government’s “inane attempts to deny it” would undermine public confidence “.
“Why should people listen to advice when apparently those in charge at the heart of government have not been?” He commented.
But Trevor Holden, general manager of DC Broadland and South Norfolk, warned the problem was “much more about local relations than what happened in Number 10”.
“Overall, most people want to do the right thing because they know someone who is waiting for elective surgery, so it’s a real and personal problem for them,” he said. .
“So it’s less about powers – the key issue is the ability of boards to make decisions. Our Covid support workers and community animators are well recognized in the community. I’m not sure if this is broad powers they need, but better community leadership from the district council level.
“You cannot legislate to get out of the problem,” he added. “If we go into an extended period of restrictions, maybe we need to introduce previously withdrawn powers. But most of our work with the community has been on consent compliance. It’s a population issue, and we have need the right message.
There are also concerns that the councils are running out of Comf funding, with current allocations expected to last until March and no confirmation of future funding beyond that date.
Holden said: “Most people are nearing the end of their comfort and this will likely need to be revisited if we are in an extended period of restrictions.”
Association of Public Health Directors President Jim McManus recently told LGC that this uncertainty is leading to concerns among public health directors about capacity in areas such as contact tracing and advocacy. the vaccination.
Local Government Association President James Jamieson reiterated the sentiment: “Public health directors working in councils will need the support and resources they need to respond to any local outbreak and scale up research efforts. local contracts, as well as clear and consistent government messages about what these new rules are, ”he said.
The new regulations mean council office workers will have to work from home, but Graeme McDonald, chief executive of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace), said that “won’t be a significant change for many. “who already work from home or in hybrid mode.
Some boards have reportedly reacted to omicron before yesterday’s announcement by further encouraging working from home.
“If this is an extended period, there are obviously longer term issues in any workforce with newcomers and mental health issues, and just the benefits of working together,” Mr. McDonald said.
“But in the short to medium term, things are well planned – the technology is there, and people are used to working in a remote environment.”
He added that unlike “during the height of the lockdown,” there is “no discussion going on around visiting people’s homes.”
“Some of the backup issues are much clearer now,” he said.
Mr Holden said his boards were “always ready to support our businesses and our residents” as they were at the height of the pandemic. “We have developed an infrastructure for the majority of people to work from home and provide a safe working environment. We have said that again and these changes shouldn’t be too difficult to deliver.
“But there will be questions about remote decision-making if the restrictions continue through January.”