West Yorkshire council leaders call for coronavirus restrictions to be lifted as 'patience is wearing thin with confusion'

Council leaders in West Yorkshire have called on the Government to lift all coronavirus restrictions covering Bradford, Calderdale, and Kirklees as they said the constant changing of the rules had become too confusing for residents to follow.

Wednesday, 26th August 2020, 6:38 pm
Updated Wednesday, 26th August 2020, 6:42 pm

The three areas have been under enhanced restrictions since the beginning of the month, with residents unable to visit friends and family in their private homes, due to higher levels of coronavirus.

The next announcement on restrictions is due to take place after a meeting of the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) chaired by Health Secretary Matt Hancock and England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty today, with an announcement expected tomorrow.

But Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, and Tim Swift, Calderdale Council leader, have now said restrictions should be lifted after Government messaging had become “confused and bungled”.

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A Covid-19 testing centre at Mixenden Activity Centre in Calderdale, one of the areas where measures have been implemented to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Photo: PA

Mr Hancock previously suggested that, following lobbying from MPs, some wards within districts facing restrictions may be able to be lifted out of the rules if cases were low in those areas.

But the leaders feared that this could lead to weekly changes as to which wards were or were not covered.

“Adding and subtracting restrictions ward by ward makes the already confused local regulations almost impossible to understand for residents so it begs the question whether restrictions across partial geography can be of any use at all,” they said in a joint statement.

“People’s patience is wearing thin with the confusion.

“They need to know that the restrictions are fair otherwise they won’t keep to them.

“We all know that there are wider health impacts that the restrictions are causing such as mental illness, and economic hardship that can have an equally detrimental impact and people are naturally now questioning the Government’s approach.”

And they said: “To avoid all these pitfalls brought in by the latest Government direction, we think that Bradford and Calderdale should join the rest of the UK in the national level of restrictions, the messaging would be clearer for the public and we’d stand a better chance of people complying.

“But going down this route also means Government needs to give us the resources and tools to ramp up our activity locally.”

One person present at a meeting to decide the way forward today said there had been “much to-ing and fro-ing” about what should be suggested to Government but that a consensus had been reached.

However it came with “nuances and caveats” – particularly if Mr Hancock announces that restrictions will continue for another week.

They said: “We all agreed that the restrictions are not working – that people are ignoring them. There’s far too much lack of observance.

“That’s because people are too confused by what they can and cannot do.

“They can go to the pub but they can’t meet people in their gardens. It’s a nonsense.”

It comes after a number of MPs, both Conservative and Labour, had called for a more granular approach to the local lockdowns, allowing ward areas with no or few cases to be freed.

But Ms Hinchcliffe and Mr Swift said: “Different restrictions ward by ward and place by place decided by Tory backbench MPs undermines local council leadership and is no way to lead a nation through a national pandemic.”

It is understood that if the Government decides not to lift restrictions in their entirety then Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney will ask for intervention so that areas experiencing low or zero infection rates can be released.

Mr McCartney said: “In an ideal world everyone would want Kirklees to come out of restrictions when safe to do so.

“I have always been absolutely clear that we must use local data to determine where resources are focused to tackle cases and outbreaks, and where there are low or zero cases to ease local restrictions as soon as possible.

“There is an opportunity now to look at local data and start the process.

“I think there is a good consensus on that.”

Council leaders in Greater Manchester have also told the Government they want to continue with a borough-wide approach as they recommended current restrictions on social gatherings in homes in Stockport and Bolton should be removed.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “I wouldn’t say this was a unanimous position but it was certainly the overwhelming consensus of our meeting that that is not a road we should go down. It is a recipe for utter confusion, division and chaos, and we are saying to the Government we do not want to work in that way.

“To play in the concerns of Members of Parliament, obviously they are valid and need to be heard, but you cannot say views from one community alone can dictate what happens for the whole of a borough.

“So we are saying very clearly back to the Government today that it is the council leaders and their teams themselves that need to be in the driving seat when it comes to decisions about the lifting of restrictions. People do not want to see a division within particular boroughs.”

The Mayor also cautioned that “some people were playing politics at a local level with these issues”.

He said: “You cannot have a situation where a very parochial view is being taken of this where people are just looking at their own patch as a Member of Parliament and not giving wider consideration to the bigger picture.”

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James Mitchinson