15 October 2020| | 5 min read
North East leaders on three-tiered COVID system
A statement from the leaders of seven North East local authorities, the North of Tyne Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria.
The Leaders of all seven councils in Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham, along with the North of Tyne Mayor and the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, remain united in our approach to tackling the pandemic.
At every turn we have put any differences aside to work together for the benefit of our residents, businesses and communities.
We took the decision early last month to approach the government to ask for restrictions and resources to be put in place due to a worrying rise in the community Covid infection rate.
While we welcomed the government’s response, the package of measures we put forward to support this move was not delivered.
Three weeks on, and there is evidence that the restrictions are starting to have an impact. Figures are moving in the right direction, with the rise in cases slowing and giving us cause for cautious optimism.
We are concerned by the suggestion that a decision could be taken nationally to move our region into Alert Level 3, and we strongly oppose this at the current time.
We are seeing evidence of a flattening of the curve and there is a collective view – shared by all the leaders, Chief Executives and critically our superb Directors of Public Health that, with the public’s support we can make Alert Level 2 work.
Our thanks to everyone who has done their bit so far, if we are to beat COVID-19 and protect our most vulnerable residents, we need everybody to follow the restrictions in place, avoid gatherings and mixing indoors with other households, and maintain the 'Hands, Face, Space' public health guidance at all times.
Back in the Spring it took a full month before we began to see the impact of the lockdown - it will take the same amount of time to see if our latest restrictions are working.
We’re appealing for the government to work with us and give the latest measures sufficient time to work before they think about more restrictions.
The priority has and always will be the health of our residents and driving down the rates of Covid infection remains our focus, but we must also do as much as we can to protect our economy – and for that we need government support.
A stronger package of financial support is required for those areas in both Alert Level 2 and 3. Paying two-thirds of salaries will not be enough to protect the jobs of thousands – it should at least match the 80% that was available under furlough, with the minimum wage as the minimum support.
The business support package needs to recognise the broader issue of the supply chains as well as the premises which are operating at much reduced capacity in Alert Level 2 or closed altogether in Level 3.
Such economic support will protect jobs, stop people sliding into poverty and give a much better base from which to quickly rebuild our economy as we come out of the pandemic.
In addition, the failing test and trace system needs to be in the hands of the public health experts with knowledge and experience of local contact tracing stretching back many years. The local teams are already outperforming the national system so giving them the resources required will improve the situation immediately.
Working with the police, we need the powers and resources to immediately close any business in breach of regulation as well as tackle behaviour which puts public health at risk, while supporting the vast majority of our businesses who have gone to incredible lengths to make their operations Coivd-secure.
We are committed to working with the government, but it needs to be a genuine collaboration, based on the data, rather than restrictions imposed upon us. We would welcome an urgent response to our proposals to support residents, communities, businesses and public services through the challenging winter months ahead.
We firmly believe now is not the time to be moving to Alert Level 3, the evidence does not support this, and the economic consequences will be devastating without further support.
Cllr Nick Forbes, CBE, Leader of Newcastle City Council
Cllr Martin Gannon, Leader of Gateshead Council
Cllr Glen Sanderson, Leader of Northumberland County Council
Norma Redfearn CBE, Elected Mayor of North Tyneside Council
Cllr Iain Malcolm, Leader of South Tyneside Council
Cllr Graeme Miller, Leader of Sunderland City Council
Cllr Simon Henig, CBE, Leader of Durham County Council
Jamie Driscoll, North of Tyne Mayor
Kim McGuinness, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner