Bradford and Leeds in negotiations with Government over tighter coronavirus restrictions as No 10 warns it has the power to impose new rules

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Local leaders in Bradford have been told to enter talks with the Government over imposing the highest level of coronavirus restrictions, one of the city’s MPs has revealed.

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday evening, as MPs debated the new restrictions and tier system unveiled by Boris Johnson on Monday, Bradford West MP Naz Shah said she and local leaders had been taken aback by the suggestion.

Labour’s Ms Shah said her constituency had been under restrictions which now mirror those of tier two for 75 days, and she said: “Yesterday evening, public health authorities and the local authority were told that we should now enter into talks to consider going into the highest tier.

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“That quite shocked me, because it was not what I was told in the calls with the Secretary of State yesterday or in any other calls. It has also come as a surprise to people in Bradford.”

Bradford West MP Naz Shah. Photo: UK ParliamentBradford West MP Naz Shah. Photo: UK Parliament
Bradford West MP Naz Shah. Photo: UK Parliament

Under tier three, or the very high risk category, social mixing will be banned both indoors and in private gardens, while pubs and bars will be told to close unless they can operate as a restaurant.

Local leaders will help to determine whether other venues should be closed, such as gyms or casinos, and travelling for non-essential reasons will be discouraged.

Bradford has consistently been among the areas with the highest coronavirus rates in the country but England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty praised the city’s leaders at a press conference earlier this week.

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He said: “Bradford actually has shown superb leadership, the local authority has, the director of public health, the local NHS has, in the way that they have tackled this.

“If they had not done so, and consistently working with the communities of Bradford, we would be in a substantially worse place than we are at the moment.”

He said leaders had “done a large number of very imaginative things” and that he saw “no evidence that [restrictions remained] because the people of Bradford are flouting the rules”.

Latest figures showed that Bradford had 293.5 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to October 10, up from 288.3 from the week before.

This was 1584 new cases compared to 1556.

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It comes after council leaders in Leeds earlier on Tuesday said that the city is on a Government “watchlist” and could also be placed under the highest coronavirus alert level as they enter further negotiations.

The current rate is 422 cases per 100,000 people, with cases rising across the city and the number of positive cases in hospitals doubling in the last week.

Council chief executive Tom Riordan said: “This is a really pivotal moment for us again and there is a prospect that we could go into tier three.

“What we’ve got to do is make sure we are doing everything that we can, collectively and individually, to make sure that we are getting on top of the virus, and we also expect, from what the Government has said, that we will have very much an equal conversation with them about what needs to happen and when.

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“At the moment, the judgment has been that we should go into tier two, and we support that, but the data changes every day and we need to just look at the epidemiology as well and see where the virus is spreading in settings and whether the extra restrictions in tier three are justified and also the economic impact of this, which is another factor we are very concerned about.

“We know that not just hospitality but retail businesses are really struggling, freelancers, the cultural and creative sector, people who haven’t had any support yet through this period and have been massively worried and continue to be, so we’d like to talk to the Government about a package of support that can really help get us through this next phase because we know there are some fantastic businesses that have been around for many years who are the lifeblood of Leeds, who are at risk, and we need to get this right for them, as well as balancing all the public health elements as well.”

Judith Blake, leader of the council, added: “At the moment, we’re still in discussions with the Government and we need to fully understand the regulations and what it is they are offering us in terms of support.

“All of the areas that were in discussions with Number 10 since the announcement last week have been told, with the exception of Liverpool City Region, that we are going into tier two, but we are on what they would describe as a watchlist and we will have further discussions this week.

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“I think the preference from Number 10 would be for more areas to go into tier three but we need to have a much better understanding of the full implications of moving into tier three, what impact that will have on the wider economy and, most importantly, how much will going into tier three help us to get the numbers down and to stop the spread of the infection.”

Downing Street warned regional leaders on Tuesday that the Government has the power to “impose measures” if they continue to resist their areas entering tier three.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman declined to say which areas in northern England and Yorkshire and Humber the Government still wants to have the severest restrictions.

But he said: “Calls have been taking place over the course of the weekend and yesterday and I would expect for there to be further engagement today.

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“The Government does have the ability to impose measures if it’s considered that’s what’s needed to reduce transmission, to safeguard the NHS and to save lives.”

Meanwhile Merseyside leaders hit back at suggestions they “kowtowed” to the Government in accepting tier three restrictions.

Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference on Monday that the Government had “agreed” with Liverpool City Region metro mayor Steve Rotheram to introduce some of the restrictions.

But Mr Rotheram referred to the “sheer chuztzpah” of the Prime Minister for naming local leaders when “all of our lives we’ve been doing everything that we possibly can to prevent the Prime Minister and his ilk from gaining power”.

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He said: “Since the Prime Minister’s statement in the House yesterday I have had people accusing me of selling our region down the river or of letting people down.

“There have even been some suggestions that I should grow a spine and other accoutrements to the lower part of my body.”

He added: “If anyone’s unhappy about pubs and gyms closing, blame the mess the Government have made of their handling of the crisis.

“What has been portrayed as a negotiation between us and them was anything but.”

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Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said: “This belief that we kowtowed to the Government, this was forced upon us and we were weak and allowed Government to do what they wished upon us, the fact of the matter is we knew, and it was leaked in The Times, that we were being put in Tier 3.

“The Government have decided what measures are in Tier 3, not me, not any of the leaders.”

In the Commons, Ms Shah said it was local health leaders who had “the real answers” and added: “That expertise is very local and this needs to be led locally, as opposed to nationally with ‘one size fits all’.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier indicated that smaller areas inside region’s may be able to be in different tiers, even down to a ward-by-ward basis, in direct contradiction to the Prime Minister the day before.

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Asked by Thirsk and Malton’s Kevin Hollinrake whether restrictions could be looked at on a more granular level, rather than covering the whole of North Yorkshire, Mr Hancock said: “Yes, absolutely, and I will go further than that: we look at this at sub-district level, if that is appropriate.

“In High Peak we put four wards into level two and the rest of the wards stayed in level one.

“So we are prepared to look at the sub-district level if that is appropriate.

“Some districts within North Yorkshire have individual outbreaks in individual institutions that we are managing, and we should not mistake that for general community transmission and therefore put those areas into a higher level than is necessary.”

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However on Monday Mr Johnson, facing the same question from Mr Hollinrake and a similar one from Batley and Spen’s Tracy Brabin had said: “Of course we keep all this under review but, as I have said several times throughout the afternoon, you have to keep your geographical area fairly coherent.

“I know that that causes a great deal of frustration and I have been hearing it for weeks and months, but that is the way that we have to do it.”

He added: “Micro control of this virus is very difficult without restricting people’s freedom of movement in such a way as to be very difficult for people in Yorkshire.”