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Local Government Responsibilities: Public Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:34 pm, 18th March 2020

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point in the way that he did. All local authorities are, of course, working through their contingency plans, which include staffing plans. I am happy to sit down with him and ensure that we look in detail at his local authority’s contingency plans. It is worth confirming that additional military personnel will help local resilience forums with their coronavirus response plans. In order that local government bodies can focus on the priorities of supporting social care, vulnerable people and local economies, we must allow them to direct their resources into the key priorities on which we are working with them. We do not want to slow down their response times, which is why we are looking at giving councils greater flexibility. That is also why we have confirmed that routine Care Quality Commission inspections will be temporarily suspended. We will take a pragmatic approach to inspection and will, of course, continue to take the proportionate actions necessary to make sure that we are keeping people safe.

We are also allowing councils to use their discretion on deadlines for freedom of information requests during this period, and we have extended the deadline for local government financial audits to 30 September this year. We are considering bringing forward legislation to remove the requirement for annual council meetings to take place in person, and legislation to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually, online, for a temporary period. Legislation is also being prepared to postpone local elections until May 2021, with measures to be introduced by the coronavirus Bill. We intend the legislation to cover all local elections and by-elections during this period.