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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Local Knowledge is Needed to Fight Coronavirus

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

As you may be aware the Prime Minister has released details of a new system of tiered local lockdowns. These were supposedly intended to turn what had up to this point been a confusing and fragmented patchwork of local lockdown measures into something more organised and understandable, I am not convinced this has been the effect.

Under this system Greater Manchester, including Tameside, has been placed in Tier 2. This means that pubs, restaurants and takeaways can remain open but must shut at 10pm, and gyms, sport centres, hairdressers and cinemas will be also be able to carry on operating. The ban on having guests at home remains in place, but residents are now able to meet in private gardens as long as the “rule of six” is followed. Movement between tiers will be dependent on how rates of coronavirus progress, if rates reduce, moving down into Tier 1 would be possible (most of the Country is currently in Tier 1), if rates continue to rise, a move into Tier 3 may take place, this would bring with it the strictest restrictions and is currently only in effect in Liverpool.

I am clear that we need to take all necessary measures to reduce the spread. However, once again I have to say that I am frankly disappointed and appalled with how the new system has been rolled out.

From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic I have insisted that any response should be built on local foundations. The reasons for this are self-evident; local leaders and Directors of Public Health know what is happening in their areas, therefore they are best placed to make recommendations and build trust with their communities for any measures that need to be taken. Unfortunately, as criticism of the government’s response to coronavirus has grown they become even more secretive and high-handed in their decision-making.

The announcement of the new tiered lockdown measures is a perfect case in point. Local Leaders in Greater Manchester were left to find out about the measures to be apply to their local areas (measures they would be expected to explain and enforce) via social media and the Manchester Evening News, with no direct contact until early in the evening, well after the national briefing. Many Greater Manchester MPs, including some from the neighbouring boroughs of Oldham and Stockport, only received an invite to a briefing with the Health Secretary less than 20 minutes before it was due to start. Lisa Nandy, the MP for Wigan, didn’t receive an invite at all because the government forgot that her constituency was part of Greater Manchester. How is it possible to build trust in what the government is doing when they seem to be lacking in even the most basic aspects of local knowledge and communication?

Any lockdown needs to protect both people and jobs, and at the moment we seem to be achieving neither. Our national test and trace system, the smooth functioning of which is essential for any kind of “new normal”, remains totally unfit for purpose. It was only last week that 16,000 records of coronavirus cases, many of which were in Greater Manchester, were lost due to a spreadsheet error. We also know that the new business support measures announced by the Chancellor are unlikely to be sufficient to prevent mass closures and unemployment in the event of an extended period of lockdown.

Local Leaders such as myself are not saying things like this for the sake of making the government’s life difficult. We are saying it because the current top-down, one-size-fits-all approach has been shown beyond any doubt to be a failure. A different approach is now required, an approach that puts local government, local experts and local people in the driver’s seat. We need more open discussion on infection rates and necessary restrictions between local and national government, we need a package of funding that lets us quickly and effectively manage economic shocks in our areas, and we urgently need control of test and trace infrastructure to be taken out of private control and into the hands of local Directors of Public Health.

I only hope that the government now has the courage to admit that they’ve got it wrong. The alternative is more uncertainty, more unemployment, more economic damage and, ultimately, more unnecessary deaths as we continue to fight this terrible pandemic. 


Posted by: Executive Leader


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