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Policy and Intelligence Newsletter - 9 February, 2021

The articles below have been drawn together by the policy and analytical community within the Council. Information is correct at the time of writing, 0930 on 8 February. 

Covid-19

  • As of 7 February, a total of 12,904 people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have tested positive for Covid-19. A total of 360 people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have died within 28 days of a positive test for Covid-19. (Statistics provided by Public Health England.) 
  • In the week to 27 January, nearly 83% of in-person Covid-19 test results were received within 24 hours, the highest rate since July 2020. 
  • PHE reporting shows that, between 25 - 31 January, Covid-19 activity decreased nationally, including reductions in overall case rates and positivity rates. Covid-19 cases are falling much more slowly in the UK's poorest regions, according to figures reportedly verified by the House of Commons Library. 
  • 1 in 7 people in England would have tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies in the 28 days up to 18 January 2021, according to ONS analysis.  
  • Deaths involving Covid-19 accounted for 46.6% of all deaths in care homes in the week to 22 January, the highest proportion of such deaths since the start of the pandemic. 
  • The UK is on target to offer all over-50s and clinically vulnerable people a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by May. 
  • Early results from a new study show that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine offers only limited protection from mild to moderate disease against the South African Covid-19 variant. No participants in the 2,000-strong trial were hospitalised or died, but it is not yet known how well the vaccine works against severe disease, since the subjects were young and healthy. Developers are likely to have a version of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine which protects against this variant by the autumn. Ministers say that the vaccines being used in the UK at the moment seem to work well against the dominant strains of Covid-19 currently in the country.  
  • A new partnership between the Government and vaccine manufacturer CureVac has been formed to rapidly respond to emerging Covid-19 variants, with 50 million additional vaccine doses to be provided if needed. An extra 40 million doses of the Valneva vaccine have been purchased, and will be manufactured in Scotland if regulatory approval is given.  
  • From 15 February, anyone coming to the UK from a country on the Government’s travel ban list will be subject to a 10-day mandatory “hotel quarantine”. Quarantine will have to take place in a Government-approved hotel and will be at travellers’ own expense. 

Democracy

  • The Government has confirmed that May’s local elections will go ahead, with the Cabinet Office publishing a delivery plan. £92 million of Government grant funding will support making local elections Covid-19 secure. Masks will be compulsory, and voters will be asked to bring their own pen or pencil. 

Economy

  • Cornwall is one of 22 areas to have successfully bid for Government funding to support projects which involve a county-wide approach to developing or improving local heritage lists. Detailed proposals will now be worked up for approval, with funding paid via Cornwall Council through a section 31 grant. 
  • The Bank of England has forecast that the UK economy will strongly rebound in spring 2021 due to the Covid-19 vaccine programme, although the economy is likely to shrink by over 4% in the first quarter of the year. 
  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that local authorities face a £1.3 billion shortfall in expected council tax revenues in the current financial year, although Government grants will make up 75% of the deficit. Council tax revenues have not been affected equally around England throughout the pandemic: revenues in the most deprived fifth of local authority areas fell by 1.2% in the first half of 2020 - 21, but grew by 2.4% in the least deprived fifth. 
  • The Chancellor has announced that businesses will be given an additional 6-month extension on repaying Government support loans issued during the pandemic. Businesses now have a total of 18 months before repayments must start and can opt for a 10-year repayment term rather than the original 6 years. 

Education and children

  • The Education Secretary is reportedly to announce that universities will have a phased return to in-person teaching from 8 March. Ofsted has said that it will continue to carry out inspections remotely until at least March 8. 
  • An Education Recovery Commissioner has been appointed to oversee a comprehensive catch-up programme for children who have missed out on learning during the pandemic.  
  • A Department for Education survey shows 6% of local authorities have more than 10% of social workers unavailable due to Covid-19, lower than the peak of 13% in May 2020. The total number of children who started to be looked after since May 2020 is 28% lower than the same period in 2016 - 19, suggesting that there may be under-reporting of vulnerable children. 
  • PHE data shows a decline in childhood vaccinations. MMR vaccination counts were 8% lower at the end of January 2021 than in the same period in 2019. PHE warn that there may be further impact on primary immunisations as the pandemic continues. 

Environment

  • Funding for the On-Street Residential Chargepoint Scheme (ORCS) - which provides facilities for people without private parking to reliably charge their electric vehicles - will continue into 2021/22. The Transport Secretary has written to councils encouraging them to apply to the £20 million fund, including those who have already successfully bid for support. 
  • Less than 5% of the Government’s £1.5 billion Green Homes Grant Scheme has been paid out, after 5 months of the programme’s operation: the fund is due to close in March 2022. It aims to encourage the replacement of fossil fuel sources with renewable alternatives, as well as improving energy efficiency, in 600,000 homes, with grants of up to £10,000 available. 
  • Some of the most polluting businesses in the country – such as steel, pharmaceuticals, food and drink – will be able to apply for a share of £40 million Government funding to help cut their carbon emissions and reduce energy bills. The money could contribute to replacing gas with hydrogen fuel or using heat recovery technology to generate electricity. 

Housing

  • A new Resolution Foundation study suggests that the Government will not meet its target of ensuring that 300,000 homes a year are built by the middle of the decade. Slightly fewer than 96,000 homes were constructed in the first three quarters of 2020, with the pandemic having a significant impact on housing supply. 

Consultations 

  • The Office of Rail and Road is asking for comments on the proposed guidance document Principles for Managing Level Crossing Safety, which sets out safe level crossing practices. Deadline 25 February 2021.
  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is consulting on a proposed cost recovery scheme to fund the new UK domestic nuclear safeguards regulatory regime from April 2022. Deadline 09 March 2021. 
  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is also seeking views on a new Supply Chain Plan questionnaire as part of the application process for low carbon electricity producers to enter a Contract for Difference allocation round. Deadline 11 March 2021.   
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