Following the (May) 2021 local elections, new and returning councillors will be going into a municipal year in which councils are adapting to the challenges brought on by the pandemic.
These challenges are expected to include;
- Lockdown restrictions being eased over the course of the year.
- The ongoing risk of outbreaks of COVID-19.
- Potential for Variants of Concern to emerge.
- Impact of reopening international travel.
- Reopening of workplaces and future testing and contact tracing arrangements.
- The progression of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
This timeline sets out key dates anticipated over 2021 that councillors may be useful when planning and when considering how the communities they serve will be affected. You may wish to read our top tips for Council Leaders which draws on their experiences during earlier stages of the pandemic and additional material we have collated on our Testing, Tracing, and Outbreak Management Khub (registration with a gov.uk email address required).
7 May - Current provisions in the Coronavirus Act, which permit meetings of local authorities to occur remotely, will cease to have effect on. Government has confirmed it will not take action to extend or replace these powers before May, and a recent legal ruling confirmed that councils could not undertake remote meetings further to this date without a change in primary legislation. The month of May will include the Annual Council meeting of all your local authorities Councillors.
17 May- No earlier than 17 May, the Government will seek to ease lockdown restrictions as their third step on the roadmap out of lockdown. So far, briefings have taken place a week before the implementation of the new steps in the roadmap. Therefore we are anticipating a briefing on this step to be on 10 May. The intention is for the following changes;
- That most legal restrictions on meeting outdoors will be lifted, but gatherings of over thirty people will remain illegal and the rule of six or two households will apply for meeting indoors.
- Rules on social distancing are also due to be reviewed on this date.
- Up to 30 people will be able to attend weddings, receptions and wakes.
- Most businesses will be able to open with COVID-Secure guidance remaining in place, this will include indoor hospitality reopening and not having to serve a substantial meal with alcoholic drinks or adhering to a curfew.
- Other indoor locations to open in Step 3 include indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas and children’s play areas; the rest of the accommodation sector, including hotels, hostels and B&Bs; and indoor adult group sports and exercise classes.
- This is also likely to include the opening of international travel to some countries. Please see the full summary on the Government website.
Government has emphasised that in implementing this plan it will be guided by data, not dates, so that they do not risk a surge in infections that would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
No earlier than 21 June the Government hopes to take Step 4 of their roadmap out of lockdown, which will be to remove all legal limits on social contact. So far briefings have taken place a week before the implementation of the new steps in the roadmap. Therefore, we are anticipating a briefing on this step to be on 14 June. They also indicated they hope to reopen any premises still shut such as nightclubs and to ease restrictions on large events. As with all other steps on the roadmap out of lockdown, Government has emphasised it will be guided by data, not dates, in deciding to relax restrictions.
The Prime Minister pledged in February that all adults will be offered their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine by 31 July.
You are unlikely to have any council meetings during the month of August, some such as Planning Committee/Development Control still tend to go ahead but most meetings usually resume in September. There are likely to be issues emerging in the Autumn and Winter of 2021, which we have listed below.
Considerations for post-August 2021
Should the roadmap out of lockdown have been followed to its final date successfully, children/pupils will return to schools in September. Updated information on this will be found on our COVID-19: children’s services, education and schools page.
The reopening of universities will also be of importance to many Councils. With people moving all over the country there are of course risks associated in moving the virus with them and there are challenging in terms of containing outbreaks of variants of concern should one be identified in an area after students have moved from this area across the country.
There is also the possibility of booster jabs for vaccinations if necessary. This is yet to be confirmed, but it will be important to understand the next stages of the vaccination programme. Please see our COVID-19: vaccinations page for the latest information and guidance relating to the COVID-19 vaccinations.
There is a great deal of anxiety around the possibility of a third wave of COVID-19 occurring in late Summer or the Autumn. Councils across the Country will also be planning for winter and the additional pressures that can put on services such as social care.