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Local lockdown FAQs

01 July 2020
With the Health Secretary's announcement on Monday night of the first local lockdown in the UK, more information is available regarding how a local lockdown will occur, but it has raised questions about the legal measures underpinning lockdowns and local support measures which may be required as a result. Our team has put together a list of FAQs setting out the detail known so far.

How will local lockdowns occur?

Boris Johnson has previously referred to a "whack-a-mole" strategy in which shutdown rules will be reimposed in areas where cases are high. Wherever outbreaks take place, he had said, the government will use "local cluster-busting techniques" to stamp them out.

Recommendations regarding areas to be subject to such rules will be made by central government, from data obtained by and advice given by the joint biosecurity centre, working in conjunction with local directors of public health and directors of local authorities.

In the case of Leicester, the lockdown was announced in the House of Commons on Monday evening by Matt Hancock and the precise geographic region which is subject to the lockdown was finalised by Leicester County Council mid-afternoon on Tuesday. Leicester Mayor Peter Soulsby criticised the government and Public Health England for being too slow to share testing data with the city's officials.

What measures are being introduced?

Following Hancock's announcement on Monday night, non-essential shops in the city will be asked to close again from Tuesday and schools will close from Thursday.

People living in Leicester are being advised to "stay at home as much as they can". Non-essential travel in and out of the area is banned. No pubs, restaurants or hairdressers will open on 4 July, unlike the rest of England. The relaxation of rules for people who are shielding in the area - planned for 6 July - cannot go ahead either.

A walk-in testing centre is being set up in the city for people with symptoms, with extra funding going to all Leicestershire councils to help support businesses and those forced to self-isolate. The Government has also announced extra funding for further targeted communications and engagement in local areas, to encourage people to follow the guidance for hand washing, social distancing, knowing the symptoms and getting tested. Authorities will help workplaces who have seen a cluster of cases and help them become more "COVID-19-secure".

Mr Hancock said the measures will be reviewed in two weeks and will not be in place "any longer than necessary".

What legal powers do local authorities have to enforce local lockdown?

The Health Secretary announced on 30 June that the lockdown in Leicester would be supported by new laws to be made in the coming days. He has said that new laws will be required to enable the closure of non-essential retail businesses which had previously been permitted to open on 15 June. 

Previously, Hancock had said that he has powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020. Speaking in the commons on 17 June, Matt Hancock said "I have powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020 …. If powers are needed by local authorities, then there is a process to raise that requirement up through a command chain that leads to a gold command, which I chair, and then those powers can be executed on behalf of local authorities if they are needed." The Secretary of State has the power under the Coronavirus Act 2020, under s 52 and para 6 of Schedule 22, to issue a direction in relation to "specified premises". It is not yet clear whether a direction under this section would be general enough to enforce a region-wide closure of premises. Alternatively, new regulations may be laid under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (as was the case for the national lockdown measures introduced by The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020 No. 350). Hancock said in the Commons on Monday that a statutory instrument will bring forward the powers that will underpin the decisions he had taken. It appears at this stage that the legal powers underpinning any local lockdown will be set by central government on a case by case basis.

Mr Hancock said the measures would be enforced by police "in some cases", however the county's police and crime commissioner has said that the police have received "minimal guidance regarding practical implementation". Furthermore, until regulations are laid, police will be unable to enforce any closure lawfully.

When asked how to stop movement of people from the city, Hancock said "We're recommending against all but essential travel both to and from and within Leicester, and as we saw during the peak, the vast majority of people will abide by these rules. Of course we will take further action including putting in place laws if that is necessary, but I very much hope it won't be." 

What support measures are available?

The Health Secretary, in response to questions regarding possible "local furlough schemes" for those in the defined boundary who are now unable to work (for example, if their workplace is outside the boundary or they work in one of the businesses ordered to close), has said that the national furlough scheme is still available to the people of Leicester, but that "as we move from a national lockdown towards local lockdowns, we are going to have to take more specific action". This leaves open the possibility of further announcements, perhaps on a case by case basis, however to date nothing has been confirmed. In respect of other support, for example targeted support for businesses, Hancock says that the government "have provided the councils in question … with support to use at their discretion for this sort of purpose". Earlier in June Hancock had told Parliament that Councils should use the £300 million allocated for the test and trace service to support local lockdowns. Further funding is yet to be announced and, with Leicester as an example, will be allocated on a case by case basis.

DWF  has exceptional expertise in public funding matters. Our team has experience of working within Central and Local Government on high profile grant, loans and equity investments. Please get in touch if we can be of assistance to you.

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