‘Show us the way out of this’
COUNCIL LEADER CALLS FOR TRANSPARENCY AROUND TIERS
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- because one of the challenges we’ve had to make in previous discussions is the government using data which is weeks out of date and doesn’t reflect the true picture.”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.”