'We can get jobs back, but not lives', warns Lancashire leader as talks over Tier 3 restrictions continue

The balance between maintaining people's health and the strength of the economy needs to be temporarily tipped in favour of the former - because of the threat posed by surging Covid cases in Lancashire.

By Paul Faulkner
Tuesday, 13th October 2020, 8:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th October 2020, 8:48 pm

That was the message from county council leader Geoff Driver as discussions continued with the government over a financial support package for the region - parts of which are soon likely to be shifted into the highest Tier 3 category of Covid restrictions.

Lancashire was placed into Tier 2 under the new system announced by the Prime Minister this week – meaning that, as of Wednesday, mixing of households in all indoor settings will be illegal, except for those in support bubbles.

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County council leader Geoff Driver is amongst those pushing for a major funding package for Lancashire if parts of it end up in Tier 3

However, as the Post first revealed last weekend, there has been a strong push from the government to put some areas into the top bracket – but local authority leaders wanted a ministerial commitment to a multi-million pound funding package first.

County Cllr Driver says that such support – to temper the worst effects of Tier 3 restrictions and enable better enforcement of them - is vital. But he added that the wider economic impact of tougher measures may have to be tolerated in the short-term.

“It’s always a balance between the economy and health, but we have reached the stage where the key issue is the health of the people of Lancashire.

“After the event, you can get people’s jobs back - but you can’t bring them back to life.

“The advice from the local directors of public health is that if there’s no change [in case numbers], then in three weeks’ time, the hospitals are going to be as overwhelmed as at the peak of the first wave. We’ve got to do something,” County Cllr Driver said.

He added that any confusion caused by the possibility of Lancashire’s Covid rules moving in different directions in the space of days was “unfortunate” – but that the reclassification of some areas into Tier 3 was “an inevitability in the near future”.

Under the Tier 2 changes, households will be allowed to mix in gardens – up to a maximum of six people – for the first time in more than two months in Preston and first time in three weeks elsewhere. However, the expected move to Tier 3 would see restrictions tightened – with all indoor and outdoor mixing becoming illegal and pubs and bars closing.

The Post understands that the likelihood is that more of the county than not will ultimately enter Tier 3 – although communities secretary Robert Jenrick said on Tuesday that he did not expect there to be any changes to Covid categories across England this week.

According to a letter sent to the government by Lancashire’s 15 council leaders, part of the funding package being requested is £1m for a localised public information campaign, as well as “behavioural insight” work into compliance with restrictions.

“The messages are confusing, so we want one clear message - and to keep getting that across to people,” County Cllr Driver said.

“We have got to keep them with us and the only way of doing that is to keep communicating with them.”

The county is also requesting:

***Permission to retain over £50m in unspent business support grants issued to the county government during lockdown – with the cash being used to create discretionary funds for distribution by each district to firms in need of support as a result of tougher restrictions during the winter. It would be used to support not only businesses required to close but also their supply chains and other businesses significantly.

***£4m per month for a package to reduce the burden on the NHS by extending the current infection prevention and control support for care homes to domiciliary care, supported living schemes and day centres, as well as support for vulnerable children's services.

*** £1.2m per month for a package to ensure schools and education systems remain supported and effective.

***£2m to fund additional enforcement of the regulations across the county, as well as the ability "to introduce the wider closure of mass gathering events perceived as a transmission risk; powers over indoor sports and after school activities; powers to close multiple premises or across a specific sector rather than individual premises, based on risk of infection spread in areas with high rates".

The Post understands that the county is seeking all of those sums on top of the basic package of financial support already announced by the government for Tier 3 areas – namely £8 per head of population for improved test and trace capacity and enforcement of restrictions. That would equate to £12m for the pan-Lancashire area.

The chief executives of Lancashire County Council, Blackpool Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council are holding discussions with government officials to try to secure their desired wider package of support.

PRESTON LEADER “OPEN TO” TOUGHER MEASURES

Commenting on the continuing discussions between Lancashire and the government, Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown described them as an “evolving dynamic”. But he warned that Tier 3 may have the wrong focus – and a negative impact.

“I am still concerned that the government push to put us in the top tier is not addressing where the vast majority of infections are - as well having ongoing concerns about a lack of appropriate infrastructure and support, which we have needed for some time.

“I am open to being placed in more stringent restrictions, but want to ensure we get more of the help we really need to effectively stop the spread – and that it doesn't lead to rising unemployment and loss of local business in the hospitality sector, which itself could lead to a mental health epidemic, especially for those who lose their livelihoods.

“Discussions will continue throughout the week and I will fight for the best deal for Preston and Lancashire," Cllr Brown added.