The Chronicle

‘Show us the way out of this’


- By HAN­NAH GRA­HAM Re­porter han­nah.gra­ham@ncj­me­ Politics · Boris Johnson · California · Liverpool

NORTH East lead­ers say they are de­ter­mined to push the re­gion out of Tier 3 as soon as pos­si­ble.

But they say min­is­ters must ex­plain ex­actly how that can be done.

Speak­ing on Thurs­day as the re­gion was plunged into the high­est level of coro­n­avirus re­stric­tions, New­cas­tle City Coun­cil leader Nick Forbes de­manded gov­ern­ment in­crease its trans­parency with North East lead­ers and res­i­dents – af­ter keep­ing them in the dark about the tier dis­cus­sions.

He said: “We had a min­is­te­rial meet­ing ar­ranged yes­ter­day that was can­celled at short no­tice, we had an­other one ar­ranged to­day and the gov­ern­ment pub­lished our tier 90 min­utes be­fore we had our con­sul­ta­tion on it.

“So if the gov­ern­ment is say­ing there’s been any in­volve­ment of local au­thor­ity lead­ers in de­ter­min­ing the tier process they’re de­luded.

“What we’ve ar­gued for though is not to pick over all the gov­ern­ment mis­takes that have been made, week in week out, but to fo­cus on the next stage, which is the re­view process.

“We want to be heav­ily in­volved in the re­view process so we can un­der­stand the cri­te­ria, in­flu­ence de­ci­sion mak­ing and en­sure that the gov­ern­ment is us­ing the cor­rect and most upto-date data - be­cause one of the chal­lenges we’ve had to make in previous dis­cus­sions is the gov­ern­ment us­ing data which is weeks out of date and doesn’t re­flect the true pic­ture.”

Whilst Boris John­son has pledged to re­view all the coun­try’s tiers ev­ery two weeks, Coun Forbes said it was vi­tal he ex­plain ex­actly how any moves would be judged - or risk un­der­min­ing con­fi­dence in the sys­tem.

“A lot of peo­ple are con­cerned that Tier 3 is ba­si­cally the “Ho­tel Cal­i­for­nia” of Covid: you can get in but you can’t get out,” he said.

“We need the gov­ern­ment to be clear about the in­di­ca­tors that they’re us­ing to take th­ese de­ci­sions, oth­er­wise the sus­pi­cion spreads that which tier you’re in is at least par­tially po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.”

The leader said there was un­likely to in fact be such a mo­ti­va­tion, sug­gest­ing more de­prived ar­eas were both more likely to be badly hit by Covid and less likely to have Con­ser­va­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion. But he ac­knowl­edged the wide­spread “sus­pi­cion” and anger.

He added: “We know it’s never go­ing to be an ab­so­lute, there’s al­ways go­ing to be a level of judge­ment, but if the cri­te­ria were made pub­lic and peo­ple could see what they were aim­ing for with all of their hard work and sac­ri­fice, I think peo­ple would have a lit­tle more con­fi­dence that the gov­ern­ment know what they’re do­ing.”

Coun Forbes warned Ge­ordies that, de­spite en­cour­ag­ing vac­cine news, the re­gion was likely to be un­der some kind of re­stric­tions for some time to come.

But he said work to de­velop a local test­ing sys­tem to deal with out­breaks would help get things back to nor­mal more quickly.

The coun­cil leader also con­demned the level of sup­port of­fered to ar­eas in Tier 3, call­ing the ex­tra cash of­fered to help sup­port test and trace sys­tems a “stick­ing plaster” that came “too late.”

But pic­ture was not en­tirely bleak for the North East, he said.

Although months of tough re­stric­tions haven’t led to any eas­ing yet, he in­sisted the mea­sures had saved lives.

He said: “I know lots of peo­ple will be dis­ap­pointed about us end­ing up in Tier 3 [af­ter] not just a na­tional lock­down, but weeks and weeks of re­stric­tions be­fore that.

“But Covid num­bers in our re­gion have never reached the lev­els we’ve seen in places like Liver­pool or even Kent, which shows that all of the sac­ri­fice all of the hard work we’ve done in re­cent months has been suc­cess­ful and has saved lives.”

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 ??  ?? New­cas­tle City Coun­cil leader Nick Forbes
New­cas­tle City Coun­cil leader Nick Forbes

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