Words: Richard Beecham, local democracy reporter
Leeds’s most senior civil servant has warned that the city faces a “tough” and “bumpy” autumn and winter in its response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The comments, from Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan, came during an executive board meeting of the authority’s senior officers and members.
The meeting had been told how the number of people in the city receiving their second dose of the Covid vaccine had recently topped half a million, while the infection and hospitalisation rates, while still high, had recently fallen slightly.
However, Mr Riordan appreciated people in the city were “tired” from Covid, but warned there would be times in the coming months when the city faces hefty challenges. He said:
“I think as we move into September, we see face to face meetings resuming and people returning to officers in greater numbers.
“The biggest challenge for us all is the pressures on certain parts of the workforce – such as homecare and HGV drivers.
“Just as the Prime Minister said, this will not be easy, the pandemic has not disappeared and the recovery is going to be tough.
“People are tired after the pandemic, and we thank everyone involved in helping us so far, but this autumn and winter will be challenging. I don’t expect a linear recovery to take place – there will be some bumps along the way, but we are definitely getting back on track.”
Earlier in the meeting, council leader James Lewis (Lab) said that the city’s latest infection rate had fallen slightly to 290 per 100,000, while the same measure for those hospitalised with the disease in the city was now under 100. He added:
“That is still high, but it’s progress in the direction we want to see.
“There is still pressure on the health and social care system, which will continue to show for some time. We are hopefully clear about what the fututre holds in terms ofn the government’s approach to the pandemic.”
Coun Salma Arif (Lab) the executive board member in charge of health, added that more than 559,000 people in the city had their first vaccination, while 522,000 have had a second dose.
The council’s Conservative party group leader Coun Andrew Carter (Calverley & Farsley) said this needed to be broken down by area, and asked what was being done. He added:
“The figures are across the city, but it doesn’t tell us what we need to know.
“Are there any areas where vaccination levels are stubbornly low and, if so, what more we can do to improve that situation? It would be foolish to believe coronavirus has departed.
Coun Arif said:
“You are right – there are parts of our communities where whe vaccine uptake is lower than we would like it to be. It is something we are keeping an eye on.
“Only yesterday I was in Bramley where we had a pop-up vaccination centre because perhaps uptake was low.
“Parts of the inner city areas, perhaps with cultural issues in relation to the vaccine. In my ward of Gipton or Harehills, every week we have got two clinics on a wednesday and a friday and we have people queuing outside.
“We are doing important work on that, and we are continuing to do that. I am quite confident in how we approach that, and the numbers are getting better as we go on.”
Coun Carter went on to call for more face-to-face meetings between council officers, and that working from home should only be allowed when absolutely nessecary.
But Liberal Democrats group leader Coun Steward Golton disagreed, adding:
“The virtual working has been almost imposed on some people, but a lot of them have appreciated it. It has allowed the council, potentially, to be more productive.
“There is nothing worse than sitting in the commute to come into Leeds when that time could be spent enabling your household to work or put an hour into your professional job. I wouldn’t want to force anyone to have in-person meetings just for the sake of it.”