How North-East leaders spent days fighting Tier 3 restrictions

IT was a dramatic fortnight, where leaders fought draconian Tier 3 lockdown restrictions winning the region a reprieve, and its not over yet.

On Monday, October 12 leaders were told the region would not be placed into the most draconian of coronavirus measures, marking the start of a dramatic ongoing struggle.

It is understood leaders fiercely pushed back against the  proposals which could have seen the region placed into the strictest category along with Liverpool.

For two million people, that could have meant a ban on meeting friends outdoors and overnight stays, subjecting them to a grim winter.

Pubs may also have closed, delivering a hammer blow to our region’s already crippled hospitality sector.

This early victory marked the beginning of an ongoing saga for the region.

Leaders of Northumberland, Newcastle, South and North Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham councils came together to fight the restrictions.

And last Thursday they signed a joint statement urging the Government to not impose “devastating” measures.

In the letter, the leaders said there’s “evidence of a flattening of the curve” and “there is a collective view –we can make alert level 2 work.”

They asked the Government to give the current restrictions more time and warned that the economic consequences will be “devastating without further support”.

They also said that there needs to be more financial support for those areas in both Tier 2 and 3.

The following day declining coronavirus rates meant the North-East won a week long reprieve.

At the time Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon warned that the region must prove that Tier 2 is working, saying it was “staring down the barrel of a gun”, and had to” prove we can do it, to save the economy and jobs.”

He and his fellow council leaders signed a joint statement warning there is “absolutely no room for complacency”.

Residents were also told they must “do their bit” to make sure the virus does not “rip through our communities”.

The statement also struck a more conciliatory tone saying leaders “welcomed” being listened to by Government and are committed to “ongoing, constructive dialogue”.

This week it was announced that both Manchester and Sheffield would be put on Tier 3.

Despite this, on Thursday it was speculated that lockdown talks for the North East would be paused.

But, at around 10pm that night  the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government told the leaders  that a meeting would be arranged ASAP regarding the region’s lockdown status.

The missive, sent by Robert Jenrick’s private secretary, told leaders “there may shortly be a need to move Northumberland, Newcastle, Sunderland, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead and County Durham into level 3 restrictions.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, also confirmed that “further conversations” with North-East leaders were coming soon.

It is understood that a separate meeting that had been scheduled for Friday morning was cancelled, while the region’s public health directors did hold discussions on Friday lunchtime with England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam.

Now, council bosses are expecting to hold talks with government officials on Monday over whether the region will be moved into tougher Tier 3 lockdown restrictions.

The means those Tier 2 measures will now remain in place until next week at least, but it is thought that a move up to Tier 3 is possible – even if Covid cases in the region keep falling.

Speaking on Friday Cllr Gannon said that overall the region has a “positive story to tell”, and said delaying the meeting would put leaders in a stronger position.

He said: “Across the board we have a positive story to tell and if this [meeting] gets pushed back into next week our position gets stronger.

“I think I am expecting it [the meeting with ministers] to take place next week, and I would prefer it to take place next week because we would be in a better position.

“Last week we had a really mature discussion about what the data was telling us.

“The Local Authority 7 areas of the North-East are showing stabilisation because we put some measures in place some weeks ago.

“The figures in Tees Valley are rising so I am hoping that Government aren’t going to club together the Tees Valley and the Local Authority 7 as a whole.

“We were advised by our directors of public health that we need more powers and we made a difficult political call and we have been vindicated.

“We might go into Tier 3, but we have a chance of avoiding it.”

 

The Northern Echo | Durham