Furious northern leaders blast leaked lockdown plans as they’re kept in the dark
Furious northern leaders today blasted Government plans to shut pubs and restaurants next week in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Ministers are expected to announce fresh restrictions for the region on Monday amid a worrying surge in Covid-19 cases.
About 10 million people in the North will be locked down within days, with Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle set to go straight into Tier 3 under a new system for grading disease risk in England.
But Greater Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham tweeted: “No discussion. No consultation. Millions of lives affected by Whitehall diktat. It is proving impossible to deal with this Government.”
Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis tweeted: “Recklessly irresponsible to brief the papers but not leaders in the North who’ll somehow have to make this work. Get a grip Boris Johnson.”
Northern leaders also say there is a growing divide between them and areas in the south. Restrictions were slapped on parts of Greater Manchester when Covid cases were at less than 20 per 100,000 people – yet most of England is now above that rate without suffering a local lockdown.
Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram fumed: “What we’ve seen is an ever-widening North/South divide in measures being taken.
“Quite simply the North should not be a petri dish for experimentation by central government.”
Mr Rotheram said today: “It is deeply disappointing to wake up to reports that new lockdown measures affecting our area could be in place within days.
“Once again, we are finding out because ministers are choosing to brief newspapers rather than local leaders.”
He demanded the government start “genuine dialogue” to end the “patchwork” of measures and “confusion” for the public.
He added: “Significant restrictions, like those being proposed, must also come with significant financial support for local businesses that will be affected, local councils who are leading our public health efforts and for NHS test and trace.”
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said: “We want to fix the broken system, but need a new relationship based on cooperation and trust.
“We need dialogue with Government, and a stronger sense of partnership, rather than diktats announced without notice.”
Shadow Housing Minister Mike Amesbury said he had already voiced concerns about last-minute communication, yet “true to form this government of incompetent, contemptuous clowns are at it again.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips added: “It is quite unbelievable that local leaders, find this out after The Times.
“Can the Prime Minister not use a phone? No doubt the new government jobs survey will suggest he goes to work in a call centre.”
Wigan MP Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, attacked “the government’s inability to listen and learn from their mistakes”.
She added: “This is a huge deal for businesses, jobs and families in the north of England.”
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “It is correct to say the number of cases in the North West and the North East and a number of cities, particularly in the Midlands like Nottingham, are rising fast and that is a serious situation.
“We are currently considering what steps we should take, obviously taking the advice of our scientific and medical advisers, and a decision will be made shortly.”
He added: “We are considering the evidence. In some parts of the country, the number of cases are rising very fast and we are taking that very seriously.
“If we do have to take further steps, then obviously we will take very seriously how we can help and support those individual businesses.”
Reports suggest the three-tier regime due to be unveiled for England mean Tier 1 will keep the current “rule of six” and 10 pm hospitality curfew.
Tier 2 areas face a ban on households mixing similar to existing local lockdowns; while the toughest Tier 3 curbs will see pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues shut.
No10 refused to say such plans even exist despite a widely-leaked draft of proposals to shut pubs and restaurants in places like Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.
Instead the PM’s spokesman said lockdown rules will change “if we feel like” they need to.
Despite defying calls to announce clear action now, the spokesman added: “If there are any further steps to take, we won’t hesitate to do so.”
Any announcement is only now expected on Monday and the Nottingham Post reported it could take until Wednesday for the measures to take effect.
The PM’s spokesman said: “The position is as I set out yesterday which is that we are seeing Coronavirus cases rises across the entire country but they are rising faster in the North East and the North West.
“We are keeping the data under close review and considering a range of options to reduce the spread of the virus in order to protect communities and to protect the NHS.
“I think what the latest figures demonstrate is just how important it is that everyone continues to play their part by following the social distancing guidance.”
Industry figures warned of a fresh blow to the battered sector.
UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “It does seem very unfair to penalise and target a particular segment of the economy without providing the necessary support to get those businesses and people through what will be a very difficult period.
“You would need to return to, at the very least, full furlough that we had at the beginning when we want into lockdown.
“That was imperative for saving jobs and we still have over a million jobs in hospitality that are supported by furlough.
“That’s an immediate measure that would need to be taken to protect the livelihoods of those workers and to alleviate the anxiety that you’re looking at.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is reportedly finalising a package of financial support for the sector amid fears of a fresh wave of job losses.
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