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Government issues guidance for councils on use of new powers to impose local shutdowns in response to COVID-19 outbreaks

The Government has issued guidance for local authorities in England on what the new local shutdown regulations allow them to do, how they should exercise those powers and how those powers should be enforced.

The publication also provides guidance for those impacted by local authority directions, including their rights of appeal.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.3) Regulations 2020 grant local authorities powers to respond to a serious and imminent threat to public health and to prevent COVID-19 transmission in a local authority’s area “where this is necessary and proportionate to manage spread of the coronavirus in the local authority’s area will take effect”.

The powers may be exercised by upper tier local authorities in England, as set out in Regulation 1(4). This includes:

  • in 2-tier areas, county councils
  • in single tier areas, the unitary county or district council
  • London Borough Councils
  • the Common Council of the City of London
  • the Council of the Isles of Scilly

The guidance, which can be viewed here, covers:

  • Introduction: including the three conditions a local authority needs to be satisfied are met in order to make a direction.
  • Local authority powers: closure of individual premises; notification of directions concerning premises; restrictions on events; notification of directions concerning events; guidance on the closure of a public outdoor place; notification of directions concerning public outdoor places.
  • Requirements for local authority directions: public notice of directions; notification of directions to Secretary of State and other authorities; Crown authorities.
  • Members of the public: appeals; making representations to the Secretary of State.
  • Enforcement of requirements: offences.

The regulations came into force today (18 July 2020).

Responding to the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday of the ‘Contain Framework’ for councils’ local lockdown powers, Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Locally-led responses have proven to be the best way to tackle significant outbreaks, which this framework rightly emphasises. Councils know their local communities best and know how to address each unique outbreak. It is good that this framework also acknowledges the tireless efforts of councils already to try and contain and prevent local outbreaks.

“Greater powers for councils to take swift and effective action to address local outbreaks will hopefully help avoid the need for more stringent measures to be imposed locally.”

Cllr Jamieson added: “Managing local COVID-19 outbreaks will always need to build on the consent of local communities and an effective system of tracing and testing. The use of enforcement powers should be an option of last resort where individuals or organisations are unable, unwilling or opposed to taking actions that reduce the spread of this virus.

“Data flow to councils has improved, including the introduction of daily updates. Further improvements to this, including granular-level data, to councils are still needed so they are better able to act in real time to increases in infection rates and help prevent the spread of further infection. This would help councils be even more prepared ahead of any possible deadly second wave of COVID-19.”