COVID response – role of COSLA and Local Authorities
Local Authority Resilience officers are working collaboratively across the country and there are national links between their co-ordination and COSLA officers.
The COSLA President and Vice President will attend the weekly SGORR meetings with Scottish Government (SGORR stands for Scottish Government Organisation of Resilience and Recovery). This will ensure that we are providing important support to the national effort as well as representing the needs of the 32 local authorities as they undertake vital work to support communities.
In order to support our participation in SGORR, the Spokespeople and Political Group Leaders will join the President and Vice President in a weekly call.
In the meantime all elected member meetings have been postponed and all staff is teleworking. A number of key senior managers and officers have been redeployed to COVID response, coordination and liaison with Scottish Government, Local Authorities and other key stakeholders. Part of that work includes engaging with national and EU authorities on the various recently launched European Commission COVID response package such as summarised below.
UK COVID Legislation
Last week the UK Government has tabled an UK COVID Bill that legislate over the vast package of measures of public sector response some of this is covered here. It is notable that it is the first time in a few years that the UK and Scottish/Devolved Goverments have co-drafted a major piece of legislation. So much that also for the first time in many years the Scottish Government has issued a Legislative Consent Memorandum advising the Scottish Parliament to issue a Legislative Consent Motion effectively agreeing that the UK Parliament legislates on Scottish Parliament powers to deal with the COVID crisis.
COVID is indeed fostering a level of collaboration between the UK and the three Devolved Administrations that is a stark contrast with the intergovernmental differences over the last years. This includes a Four nations’ coronavirus Action Plan.
More information on Scotland can be found in this summary of coronavirus response arrangements in Scotland.
During the present Transition period State Aid regulation and authorisation remains the competence of the European Commission, with roles to be fully taken over at the end of it by the Competition and Markets Authority. This means that the new Commission guidance (and authorisation) is fully applicable in the UK.
Both the Scottish and UK Governments have approved new aid schemes to deal with COVID. That said the UK compliance with State Aid rules is far higher than the UK or Germany for instance (which grant twice as much as the UK and its constituent parts), hence even with the previous Guidelines the UK had an ample margin to grant aid just to match those of France or Germany for instance.
UK State aid measures
Last week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out a stimulus package of temporary, timely and targeted measures to support public services, individuals, and businesses through the period of disruption caused by COVID-19.
The proposed measures to support businesses include an unprecedented £330bn in loans and £20bn in other aid. These measures are comprised of:
- a statutory sick pay relief package to allow small and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19;
- a 12-month business rates holiday for all rental, hospitality and leisure businesses in England;
- a one-off small business grant funding of £10,000 for local authorities to support all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief;
- grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000;
- a new temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank;
- a new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans; and
- the HMRC Time to Pay Scheme supporting all businesses and self-employed people in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities.
There are different eligibility criteria to access the aid measures, depending on the objective of the relevant scheme.
The Scottish Government as part of their Covid Response strategy has made use of its powers such as deferral of the Non Domestic Rates (local business tax) and other measures to alleviate the pressure on small business. It is also working with the UK Government as the Commission is consulting on specific schemes under the new COVID Guidance that can be speedily authorised by EC.
Procurement COVID updated policy- Scotland
Procurement is entirely Devolved to Scotland and the 2014 Directives have been transposed by the 2015 Scottish Procurement regulations. On the back of the new policies outlinded by the Commission the Scottish Government has issue a Scottish Public Procurement Policy Note (SPPN 14/2020) which takes into account to the proposed criteria and includes the possibility of direct awards without tender on grounds of COVID emergency
Coronavirus Response Initiative – UK & Scotland
2020 is the last full year that the UK contributes to the EU Budget, therefore making it eligible to the Coronavirus Response Initiative In the UK , 244 million euros of EU Structural Funds for liquidity will be received automatically (this is as you know prefinanced funds not having to be returned and not N+3 as many of us thought initially), to which 311 million will be added, making a total of 555 million euros to alleviate the crisis caused by the coronavirus.
Current UK Government advice is that individual Managing Authorities and Devolved Administrations (Scottish Government in our case) holding the delivery and accounting responsibility for these funds will obviously need to make decisions about redeployment where possible within the framework of the Commission proposal, but the BEIS Ministry will help pull together the UK picture on what is happening, consistent with our role as the coordinating authority for ESIFs. BEIS is currently gathering together returns from English MAs and the three DAs and London on how much scope they see to make use of the proposal.
COSLA has had a number of discussions already last week with the Scottish Government and Local Authority Partners on how best to use this opportunity.