Lancashire's leaders call for more support after Tier 4 decision
There was a mixture of disappointment and resignation amongst Lancashire’s council leaders at the county-wide move to Tier 4 - plus a call for more financial support for businesses affected by the move.
It followed the government announcement on Wednesday that every local authority area in the region would wake under the strictest Covid rules on New Year's Eve.
South Ribble has one of the lowest rates of the virus in the county, but district leader Paul Foster said that the only way the wider region was going to get the virus back under control was by temporarily closing schools.
He branded as “ridiculous” the government’s plan to press ahead with opening most primaries as of next Monday and only delaying full-scale secondary openings until 18th January.
“All the evidence points to schools as one the single highest places of infection.
“We need to stop this piecemeal approach – so if you’re going to lockdown, let’s lockdown properly. That means schools need to close [until] probably the end of the third week in January.
“If we don’t deal with this properly now, we’ll be here again in four weeks’ time,” Cllr Foster said.
He also warned that £30m in government funding for councils to provide discretionary support to businesses when Lancashire first went into Tier 3 in mid-October had nearly run dry.
Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley expressed similar concern that the cash could not last indefinitely.
“We need certainty for businesses and also for the mental health of residents, we can’t keep yo-yoing like this.
“Most of the country is now going back to a total lockdown, so that is an admission by the government that they have failed to control or suppress the virus.
“Lancashire hasn’t been singled out [for Tier 4], but I’m still very disappointed, because I don’t believe this is a reflection of the [case] numbers in Chorley – nor most of the county. But we all have to follow the rules, because that is how you protect everybody,” Cllr Bradley added.
Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown said that the Tier 4 decision reflected the “very serious” situation facing the nation.
“Despite our disappointment about moving to Tier 4 and continued concern about the impact of the restrictions on our communities and struggling businesses, we recognise the need to take necessary action to stop further spread of the virus.
"Again, it is vital that we pull together as a city and each do everything we can to drive down the rate of infection.
"Today's announcement of the scheduled rollout of yet another vaccine could not be more welcome. This has been an incredibly difficult situation for all of us and an effective vaccine is clearly an essential element for moving forward safely. To this end, we are working closely with partners across the city and the county to prepare for and support a successful vaccination rollout in Preston. I would like to encourage everyone to take the opportunity to be vaccinated when it is offered to them and help us put this situation behind us,” Cllr Brown said.
Ribble Valley leader Stephen Atkinson also stressed the importance of getting the logistics set up to deliver the vaccine as soon as possible.
“We can’t allow process to disrupt progress in rolling it out,” he warned.
“Tier 4 is probably appropriate at this time to ensure that hospitals are overwhelmed.
“We would also ask for additional financial support from the government so that we can continue to help businesses.”
Lancaster City Council leader Erica Lewis said she was “not surprised” by the shift to Tier 4 given the reported “pressures” on the local hospital trust.
“I am, however, concerned that the government doesn’t fully appreciate the pressure this puts on people and businesses.
“We need more support for local businesses and local jobs. We need more support for residents made vulnerable by the pandemic.
“Lancaster City Council will continue to do everything we can to support local residents, businesses and organisations,” Cllr Lewis added.
The leader of Blackpool Council repeated the often-made call for the government not to view Lancashire as a single entity in the wake of the Tier 4 decision.
The authority has repeatedly pressed for the Fylde coast to be judged on its own rates of Covid infection – and not placed under the same restrictions as the worst-affected parts of the county.
Cllr Lynn Williams said: “With infection rates in Blackpool and along the Fylde coast under 200 per 100,000 and positivity rates lower than in the likes of Merseyside, which is in Tier 3, we are perplexed at how the government can claim it is following the science.
“Ministers are treating Lancashire as a homogeneous mass and completely ignoring the evidence submitted to them which shows how our areas are connected and how our population moves around.
“Decisions such as these are utterly baffling and it hard to envisage how Blackpool and the Fylde coast can ever come out of the highest tier restrictions if policy continues to be determined in such a blunt fashion.
“Our hopes very much rest on an effective roll-out of the Astra Zeneca vaccination programme in Lancashire from the start of next week and we would urge our residents to recognise that the vaccine offers the best prospect of us returning to some semblance of normal life,” Cllr Williams added.
Wyre Council leader David Henderson said he shared a sense of confusion over the Tier 4 decision.
“When I received the notification, I too was completely perplexed, shocked, and saddened that the Fylde coast had not been allowed to remain in Tier 3 because the damage that is being done to the businesses that are forced to remain closed will soon be irreparable.
“To now know we are moving up to Tier 4 when our figures don’t really show that we should be in Tier 4 is confusing.”