Words: Richard Beecham
The leader of Leeds City Council has pleaded with the Government to tell Leeds what else the city must do in order to come out of tier 3 Covid-19 restrictions.
Speaking to a virtual press conference today Coun Judith Blake (Lab, Middleton Park) said that while she understood the Government’s cautious approach, she felt there was a sense of unfairness at how decisions were made.
The council’s chief executive also said the decision to keep Leeds in tier 3 over Christmas could be “make or break” for some of the city’s hospitality businesses.
It follows Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s announcement earlier today that Leeds would remain in tier 3, while other areas currently in tier 2, including London, would now be subject to the stricter rules.
Coun Blake said:
“I would ask for a consistency from government that they tell us exactly what it is they are expecting us to do.
“Its the uncertainty, the sense that there is a changing of the rules, and a real sense of a lack of fairness in the way some decisions are made. There are areas in the north that have been under restrictions for such a long time.
“We feel we have done an enormous amount to comply with what has been asked of us. We will be asking the question urgently now – what more does the Government want us to do to make sure we can move forward and unlock our economy?”
The move will undoubtedly lead to questions over the future of Leeds’s hospitality industry, which would have been able to allow customers back in, had the district been moved into tier 2.
Council chief executive Tom Riordan said:
“I think the hospitality sector overall wanted to come out into tier 2 because they have invested strongly in Covid-safe environments. There isn’t household mixing so the risk of transmission to them and to us is relatively low.
“(Tier 3) does allow for the rule of six outside, but generally speaking we thought it was the right thing to do – because December is their make or break month, in some cases. In many cases it is when they make the most profit, and to miss that is a massive hit for them in a year that has been so challenging already.
“The feeling from us is that we respect the decision today, but there is an issue for those sectors that have been in restrictions for a long time and have been disproportionately affected at this time of year.”
Lucy Jackson, the council’s public health consultant, said the latest rate in Leeds was 138.2 per 100,000 – meaning a 5 per cent decrease over seven days. She added the rate for over 60s reduced by 14 per cent over the past week, but warned the city still had 1,115 Covid-19 deaths in total up to December 15.
On the issue of social distancing over Christmas, Coun Blake added:
“A lot of people are disappointed that the government says ‘it’s over to you to be sensible’ – not going into tier 2 increases the frustrations people are feeling. I would say to people ‘be patient’.
“There is an enormous worry across the country that if we’re not careful, we will have increasing cases in January and February.
“We have to manage the sense of frustration that our communities are seen in a different way than the south of England.”