COVID-19: A statement from the Leaders of West Yorkshire Councils

Leaders of West Yorkshire councils have issued a statement having met with senior Government officials about the next steps for controlling the rising COVID-19 infection rates across the region.

The Leaders of West Yorkshire councils have issued the following statement:

"This evening we met with senior Government officials about the next steps for controlling the rising COVID-19 infection rates across the region. There was collective agreement that the rising rates are a cause of major concern and pressure is growing on our local NHS services.

“We argued strongly that investment in local contact tracing along with sustained business and community engagement will make a real and significant difference to the infection rate, something which has been previously overlooked by Government.  We also made clear that businesses need help and support now, both for those that cannot open, and for those that are suffering as a result of the restrictions.

“We have been informed that next week the Government is reviewing the restrictions in place across West Yorkshire. To avoid further measures being put in place we will need to ensure social distancing, self-isolation and other measures are being followed, and we have made clear that to do this effectively we need more support for our communities.”

The Leaders have also written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretaries of State for Health and Housing, Communities and Local Government:

Dear Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretaries of State,

Local Restrictions and Support for West Yorkshire

We are extremely concerned about the prevalence of the virus and are determined to do everything in our power to control its spread. People across the country are losing their lives – both from the virus directly and due to the pressure on the health service. Our priority is to take the actions that would be most effective in tackling the virus.

The statements from the Chancellor this afternoon are helpful, but we believe more focused support is needed, as outlined in this letter. In West Yorkshire we have learned about what works best to tackle our COVID-19 infection rates. Our understanding of our communities enables us to put nuanced solutions in place and to take a more proactive upstream approach to prevent transmission and outbreaks.

Successfully tackling outbreaks involves an intensive programme of engagement with communities and businesses, mobilisation of community Covid-19 champions, local testing, targeted communication and local contact tracing. We remain to be convinced that further restrictions that involve closing businesses would be the most effective way of tackling the virus, particularly when the health of our economy, people’s jobs and livelihoods are at stake.

Therefore, we are concerned by rumours in the media that we might be pushed into Level 3 of a new system set to be introduced, without any discussion or consultation, or without adequate economic measures put in place to support affected people and businesses. Another lockdown will have a devastating effect on our town and city centres and the overall regional economy. It will result in a levelling down of our region and undo the good work we have done over the last decade to improve the fortunes of our people.

Before any decision is made, it is therefore crucially important that Government engages with us to take action that considers both the region’s health and economy.

We ask that the Government must act now in the following areas:

1. Local Leaders must be involved in any decision - Any decisions taken must be in consultation with local leaders. Announcements via newspaper stories are disrespectful, counter-productive, and must stop. Our priority is to control the spread of the virus, but any decisions must be based on data and on-the-ground evidence of what will work in our local communities, which can only be achieved by us working together on these critical decisions.

2. Local places need to be resourced to lead the health response - Current national approaches to protecting the health of communities are not working. Focusing on and resourcing locally-led approaches will be much more effective in tackling rising infections in local places. Government must provide the resources to enhance local contact tracing, which have already proven effective in reaching cases, and ensure it is supported by timely testing and transfer of national data. Collectively we have experience of successfully preventing and managing outbreaks in workplaces, care settings, other institutional settings and communities. Our experience is that focused work, engaging with local communities successfully contains and reduces community transmission. But as infections increase, we are not able to work with the same intensity across all impacted parts of our communities. To be successful, we need a significant increase in the resources available to us to deploy teams within communities at the levels needed for success.

3. Government must provide sufficient support for individuals self-isolating - To tackle the spread of the virus, it is essential that people required to self isolate do so. Recent evidence shows that only 18%1 of people self-isolate after developing symptoms, and only 11% quarantine after being told by NHS Test and Trace that they’ve been in contact with a confirmed case. We are serious about the need to change these behaviours, but to do so by supporting them, not just trying to get them to comply with more rules. We have evidence that one of the reasons for this is that people who are on low incomes and in unstable employment simply cannot afford to. This is a further example of how the COVID-19 crisis has shone a light on the economic and health inequalities endemic in our communities. As local authorities we already know that the announced £500 payment for those on the lowest incomes will not be enough for many, and more support is needed.

4. Government must, for both Levels 2 and 3, provide a substantial economic package including grants and furlough – not just where businesses are mandated to close - In a three Level approach, there must be significantly more support available to businesses in areas that are in either level two or level three to avoid an even deeper economic catastrophe. The Chancellor’s announcement today is not enough. It only provides support for businesses that are mandated to close, but support will also be required for businesses who are reliant on those closed businesses and for those businesses in level 2 who will face reduced income as a result of restrictions on households mixing indoors and advice against all but essential travel. There are at least 181,000 people in West Yorkshire, across nearly 20,000 businesses, who depend on the hospitality, leisure and retail industries for their livelihoods. In addition, thousands more are employed in the supply chain across the region, depend on the footfall generated by people coming into our cities for the whole experience. Government should look therefore to utilise the existing mechanisms to support businesses who can demonstrate significant hardship as a direct result of restrictions, with increasing levels of compensation the greater the level of restriction.

These are:

  • Enhancing the current Government grants scheme to also support businesses that are trading at lower levels or forced to close
  • Adapting and deepening the Job Retention Scheme to protect jobs to the same level as the original lockdown where businesses must close and making sure effected self-employed have support also
  • Enhancing the COVID-19 Recovery Grants scheme to support adaptation to new rules In addition, we intend to retain the unspent amounts of Government grant already issued to local authorities (£47.15m) so that we can further support businesses in our region adapt, survive and protect jobs.

 

5. Government must introduce improved monitoring and be more transparent in sharing evidence - The Government must have a much more transparent approach to the monitoring and evidence they are using to influence decisions. They must set out clearly the conditions under which a region would move into or out of a particular level. Local areas must be consulted on this evidence before decisions are taken, and lessons learned in order to inform future decisions.

6. Government must carry out more detailed and well-communicated forward planning - Government departments must commit to providing greater clarity over how they propose to deal with the next six months, including plans for significant events (such as school holidays, Diwali, Christmas, New Year). It must also be clear what support will be in place to help communities and individuals to both minimise the spread of the COVID-19 virus but also to plan their work and daily lives.

7. Government must support our Economic Recovery Plan -  We wrote to the Chancellor on 24 August outlining our £1.4bn economic recovery plan. This addresses the specific needs of the West Yorkshire economy and its people, and has the potential to make a major contribution to the national recovery. We have yet to receive a response. Ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review, engaging with us on this plan would demonstrate the Government’s commitment to genuine levelling-up and longer term investment beyond the current restrictions.

We believe that these constructive proposals are essential to determining whether a new tiered approach will be successful in balancing the need to control the virus with the need to support local people and businesses through these unprecedented times. As West Yorkshire leaders we are seeking a joined-up discussion with you, spanning different Government departments, as soon as possible to make rapid progress towards agreement about the next steps in defeating the virus. 

 

1 The 18% figure refers to King's College London research based on UK-wide responses. The research can be read here

https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.09.15.20191957v1.full.pdf