Coronavirus restrictions may be lifted on granular basis despite council leaders' pleas

Restrictions placed on three West Yorkshire coronavirus hotspots may be lifted on a ward by ward basis tomorrow despite warning from council leaders that the move would lead to confusion for residents.

Thursday, 27th August 2020, 6:19 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th August 2020, 6:22 pm

The Department for Health and Social Care will tomorrow announce whether areas in Bradford, Kirklees, and Calderdale can be freed from restrictions on people meeting friends and family to help stem the spread of Covid-19.

Some MPs have pushed for a more granular approach with specific wards allowed to lift restrictions applied to the rest of a district, if there have been few or zero cases.

But the leaders of Bradford, Kirklees, and Calderdale councils have that the process would be unworkable and would be impossible to implement.

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File photo of a man wearing a protective face mask walking past signage advising the use of face coverings.

Despite this, it is understood that lobbying for a more granular approach by mainly Conservative MPs may have been successful, after Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously said a more localised approach could work.

It comes after Colne Valley MP Conservative Jason McCartney was accused on reining back on a cross-party agreement to persuade the Government to release restrictions fully in Kirklees.

After a meeting was held on Wednesday Huddersfield Labour MP Barry Sheerman said whilst discussions were at times “rancorous” and “robust” they did result in a “very sensible cross-party consensus” to present two preferences to the Government.

The first was to entirely remove the borough of Kirklees from restrictions.

The second was to negotiate a staged area-by-area release if Mr Hancock refused to lift restrictions in their entirety.

Mr Sheerman said: “Then the picture changed. The member for Colne Valley backed away from the agreement. He reneged on an agreement that he had fully participated in.”

Mr McCartney said attempts at creating a consensus had been torpedoed by political in-fighting, which meant residents were suffering as a result.

“It’s really disappointing that Susan Hinchcliffe has tried to get the other leaders on board with a thinly-veiled attack on MPs,” he said.

“Politicians of all colours have been working really hard to work together towards a general consensus – to lift the restrictions as a whole – and if that’s not possible to focus the resources where they need to be.

“It’s about supporting residents where there are cases with the measures that are required, and in other areas take them out of the restrictions. Let’s get some of our areas open again.”

Mr Sheerman criticised Mr McCartney’s stance, which is backed by Mr Eastwood and Kirklees Council’s Conservative group, that postcode-level lockdowns should be introduced in areas with high infection rates.

He added: “Jason McCartney says different wards should be allowed to come out of restrictions. That’s a crazy situation. I don’t think it can be done.

“You cannot ask a major local authority like Kirklees with a vast population to run a patchwork of policies where some communities have restrictions and some next door do not.

“It’s unmanageable.

“The strong feeling at those meetings is that we should be out of restrictions on the basis that there are no really worrying trends, hardly any hospital admissions and hardly any deaths.

“I think we are either in restrictions or out. And we should be out.”

Mr Sheerman said he would make efforts to speak with ministers and would write to both Matt Hancock and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, to press Kirklees’ case.

He said: “I will be in touch with senior people in the Government to point out that the general feeling [of cross-party talks] is not that of one person, and that it is that we all want to come out of restrictions.”

Green Group leader Coun Andrew Cooper, who has been involved in the discussions, said: “Jason McCartney is the problem. We did have a consensus until he started trying to exert his view on politicians from across the spectrum.

“He doesn’t understand the nature of consensus politics.”

He confirmed no formal recommendations on the lifting of restrictions had been sent to the Government for consideration.

And he said the blame for that “lies with the failure of one politician to understand that he needs to work with people from other parties”.

While Coun John Lawson, leader of the Liberal Democrat group in Kirklees, said the entire borough should be lifted out of the extra measures imposed by the Government on August 2.

He commented: “Rates in the borough didn’t warrant the measures in the first place and we have since been overtaken by other parts of the country, which have had no measures imposed.

“We preferred lifting measures across the borough to enable residents, businesses and council to work together in a focused way but realised that there were other views, which is why we took part in the talks at the beginning of the week.

“Despite the differences in opinions I give credit to everyone for taking part and for staying the course.

“Having understood that we had come to an agreement that took all views into account, it is regrettable that there was then disagreement about the wording of a simple statement because that masks the ground that we had gained together.

“Looking to the future, we’ll see what Friday’s announcement brings and consider our response.

“The authority has made a good argument to Government to bring Kirklees back into line with the rest of the country and the Liberal Democrat group will continue to take part in the work to make that happen.”