Northern leaders call for more local input into COVID-19 decisions

The leaders of four northern cities including Liverpool have written to the health secretary to warn that the existing coronavirus restrictions are not working, are confusing and in some cases are counter-productive.

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, Cllr Judith Blake from Leeds, Manchester’s leader Cllr Richard Leese and Cllr Nick Forbes from Newcastle have submitted a five-point plan to Matt Hancock to address their concerns.

The letter, sent through the Core Cities network, calls for local measures to be developed jointly across police, council enforcement and public health services to address rising infection measures, based on local knowledge.

They want any further national measures delivered as part of shared approach, agreed with local agencies, but do not support any further economic lockdown measures.

They are also asking for an improved Business Support Package is support and maintain the sectors worst affected, including hospitality, tourism and culture, alongside consistent messages about return to work and financial support for everyone who needs to self-isolate.

Yesterday, Liverpool City Region announced its own £40 million fund to help leisure and hospitality businesses deal with the impact of tighter measures introduced last week, with Liverpool City Council pumping in £10 million, ringfenced for local firms.

The cities add: “The long-term economic wellbeing of the nation relies on well-functioning city centres, able to drive growth for surrounding areas.

“All the Core Cities are similarly affected, but our four cities have recorded some of the largest recent increases. Although numbers were rising, the additional 16,000 cases that had previously been unreported nationwide are deeply concerning.

“As the Prime Minister and Chancellor have said, decision making must balance difficult trade-offs. This requires a more nuanced approach than moving straight to a full local lockdown under the ‘tier three’ arrangements.

“Our response should consider broader local impacts than absolute numbers of infections: impacts on jobs and business; effects on poverty and deprivation; and relative infection rates in different sections of the population (e.g. between students and care homes).”

The five-point plans calls for the following measures:

1: Local decision making to agree additional lockdowns before they happen, and what measures are to be deployed between relevant services, with additional powers to take immediate action on non-compliance, for example closing premises. Lockdown triggers to include a broader assessment than just absolute numbers, and not to
include further economic restrictions.

2: A locally controlled Test and Trace system that is sensitive to local knowledge and needs of communities. This should include a joint planning response with local universities to provide effective support to students as part of containment plans.

3: An improved Business Compensation Package to support those most affected. This will otherwise put at risk the Government’s ambitions to Level Up within this Parliament, as our cities stand to lose tens of thousands of jobs.

4) Financial support for everyone who needs to self-isolate. Payment should recognise the additional support needs in our cities with higher levels of deprivation, and not be distributed on a per head of population basis.

5: Improved monitoring of the impacts of the additional restrictions that have recently been put in place to understand their effect on Covid-19 rates.

The letter concludes: “It is critical to the future of our local – and therefore the nation’s – economic wellbeing that we look to work together to deliver a joined up and effective response for our cities and the country in the coming days. We look forward to working with you on this immediately and would welcome an online discussion to take this forward.”

Read the letter in full here.