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Policy and Intelligence Newsletter - 11 May, 2021

Welcome to the new format Policy and Intelligence Newsletter, which will explore a different theme each fortnight, giving you data insights, policy analysis and signposts for further reading. There will also be regular sections providing a news roundup and Parliamentary stories of interest. As a new administration takes office in New County Hall, this fortnight’s deep dive is the State of Cornwall – we examine the current state of the Duchy using assessments from the Covid-19 Insights Dashboard, available here

News roundup

  • The Cornwall Council elections took place on 6 May, for 87 electoral divisions. The Conservative Party won an overall majority, with 47 seats.
  • As of 9 May a total of 14,275 people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have tested positive for Covid-19. A total of 469 people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have died within 28 days of a positive test for Covid-19. 
  • The 30-person limit on the number of mourners at funerals will be lifted on 17 May, earlier than planned. The number of attendees will instead be determined by the venue’s capacity, allowing for physical distancing.
  • Residents of care homes are now permitted to leave for outdoor visits, accompanied by a member of staff or nominated visitor, without having to self-isolate for 14 days on their return.
  • Early results from a pilot scheme, the Events Research Programme, reportedly suggest that large events do not lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases, and that physical distancing for such events will not be needed from mid-June – provided there is good ventilation and staggered entry.
  • The Bank of England has reportedly forecast the UK's fastest growth in 70 years, with a 7.25% expansion of the economy expected in 2021. This follows a contraction of 9.9% in 2020.
  • The National Innovation Centre: Rural Enterprise, at Newcastle University, is conducting a survey of over 4,000 rural and farming businesses to understand rural resilience in the face of the pandemic.
  • 93% of off-grid rural households would not be able to afford the typical cost of a heat-pump system, according to a survey published in the Environment Journal. This could impact on the UK's ability to reduce carbon emissions, as 20% come from heating buildings.


View from Westminster

A White Paper - a precursor to legislation - on Levelling Up will be published by the Government later this year. Plans for raising living standards, increasing opportunities and expanding the private sector will sit alongside recovery initiatives for hospitals, schools and courts.

 

In the year that the UK is hosting the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, the Government has announced there will be a new legally-binding target of 78% less carbon emissions (compared to levels in 1990) by 2035. By 2030, Cornwall aims to have reached net carbon zero. Government plans to make English household recycling collections easier and more consistent, including weekly food waste collections from 2023, have been announced as part of a new consultation. Free garden waste collection is also being considered.

 

Internet access has become an increasingly vital utility during the pandemic, with many people working from home and students accessing lessons online. According to Ofcom, 1.5 million homes are still not connected to the internet - but a new Government initiative aims to make inroads into that number. A new national £5 billion scheme to connect hard to reach places with gigabit broadband will benefit properties in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in its first phase. 40,000-60,000 premises in East Cornwall and 30,000-50,000 premises in West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will be included. Development will begin in the first half of 2022.

 

As England moves towards Step 3 of the Covid-19 roadmap on 17 May, hopes for avoiding future lockdowns have been buoyed by the Health Secretary’s announcement that enough vaccine doses have been procured to begin a booster programme later this year, to help protect against new variants of Covid-19. Pubs and restaurants in Cornwall may welcome news that Government is reportedly to drop plans for compulsory vaccine certificates for the largest venues, such as theatres and sports arenas. In a boost for high streets across the Duchy, Cornwall will receive £609,639 from the Government’s £56 million “Welcome Back” fund, which will help councils support the reopening of high streets and coastal areas across the UK by promoting tourism, creating additional outdoor seating areas and installing signs to remind visitors about social distancing.

 

A new debt respite scheme, Breathing Space, has been launched by the Treasury. After applying through a debt adviser, users of the scheme will be given legal protection from creditors for 60 days, with enforcement action suspended and most interest and penalty charges put on hold. It is estimated that 700,000 people in the UK will benefit each year. In Cornwall, over 5,700 people have consulted Citizens' Advice for debt advice since March 2020.

 

Deep dive: The State of Cornwall

The data story for Cornwall over the last year has been inextricably linked with the pandemic. Although Cornwall has one of the lowest rates of Covid-19 cases, in comparison with all English local authorities, the economic and social consequences have often had a greater impact here than in the rest of the UK, challenging the outcomes we are trying to achieve. We have had a higher rate of Self-Employment Income Support Scheme take-up than the national average and seen record numbers of people receiving Universal Credit. At the same time as many people in Cornwall are struggling to make ends meet, and concerned about their future employment, house prices in the Duchy have risen sharply over the last year, again higher than the national average. More people from urban areas may be seeing Cornwall as an attractive place to live, but this puts an already squeezed housing supply under greater pressure for local people, hindering our goal of ensuring a decent, secure and affordable home for everyone in Cornwall.

The far lower volume of commuter traffic this year is contributing to our goal of reducing carbon emissions. However, post-pandemic journeys are unlikely to remain at these levels, requiring additional measures if our goal of a net carbon zero Cornwall is to be realised. As we work towards a safer Cornwall, we can see that reports of violent crimes have fallen compared to 2020, but this may be an artificial decline resulting from Covid-19 restrictions. Sadly, domestic abuse reports have risen, as have reports of anti-social behaviour. 

Covid-19 rates

New cases of Covid-19 continue to be comparatively low, but have spread across all age groups. Numbers of patients in hospital with Covid have dropped substantially from 154 on 2 February to 32 on 27 February. As of early March, over 216,000 people in Cornwall have had their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Read more here.

Adult social care and mental health

Referrals for adult social care have steadily increased since October, and the Council continues to work to create extra capacity for independent living at home. There was a drop in safeguarding concerns expressed in November, similar to the first national lockdown. Demand for mental health services increased during last summer, and is likely to continue to remain high due to pressures on individual finances, housing and isolation.

Benefits and labour market

Just under 50,000 people in Cornwall received Universal Credit in January, the highest ever level, with slightly more women than men in receipt of the benefit. In February, there were over 2,600 job vacancies in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, higher than in February 2020. 36% of vacancies are in the health and social care sector. Read more here.

Furlough and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme

People in Cornwall claiming furlough in January 2021 rose by nearly 11,000, to 44,000: a rise of 32% since December 2020. St Ives, St Austell and Newquay have the highest furlough take-up rate in the Duchy, at 22%. The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme for November-January had a 60% take-up rate in Cornwall, compared to 65% in August-October. This is several percentage points higher than the national take-up rate. Read more here.

House prices

House prices in Cornwall have risen 11.5% since December 2019, compared to a national rise of 7.1%, with the average house price in Cornwall standing at £262,639 in December 2020, compared to the national average of £251,500. Affordability and availability of housing are likely to remain under pressure, as more people move away from urban to rural locations. Read more here.

Traffic

A30 traffic at the start of 2021 was at its lowest volume since May 2020. Commuter volumes in January and February 2021 were at 45% of pre-pandemic levels, with retail and recreational journeys rising slightly during February to 50% of the pre-pandemic baseline. New vehicle registrations in Cornwall between January-October 2020 were at their lowest rate for a decade, at just under 10,000. Read more here.

Community feedback 

Complaints from the public in Cornwall about non-Covid-secure business or business closures fell by 46% between January and February this year, to 335. 475 business closure compliance visits were carried out by the Covid enforcement team in February, identifying 230 non-compliant businesses. The top sectors not complying were accommodation providers, takeaway outlets and food retailers. 30 Covid street marshals assist with compliance across 15 towns. Read more here

Crime 

Domestic abuse reported to the police has risen between January 2020-January 21 but has plateaued since October 2020. An increasing proportion has been linked to alcohol since the start of the pandemic. Reported violent crimes decreased by 12% in January 2021 compared to January 2020, reflecting Covid-19 restrictions. Reported anti-social behaviour is much higher than before the pandemic: 26% of incidents in January 2021 were Covid breaches. Read more here

Child welfare

The number of child welfare referrals in Cornwall has substantially increased between June 2020 (31 referrals per 10,000 people) and February 2021 (45 referrals per 10,000 people), although February's rate is lower than the peak of 55.9 referrals per 10,000 people in December 2020. Requests for Early Help have followed the same pattern of a peak in December 2020 (1,100 requests) compared to a low of 590 in June 2020, with this February's numbers somewhat decreased at 807.

Education: 16-18

Overall participation in education of young people in year 12 and 13 remained consistent between February 2020 and February 2021, at just under 91% of the population. The number of apprenticeships for year 13 over the same period slightly declined, while the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) remained very similar over the same period, at just over 5%.

 

Information in the newsletter is correct at time of writing, 9am on Monday 10 May. 

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