Middlesbrough mayor accuses government of 'negligent and arrogant' communication

1 October 2020, 14:47 | Updated: 1 October 2020, 15:52

By Maddie Goodfellow

Mayor of Middlesbrough Andy Preston has told LBC that he is "exasperated and furious" at the government's decision to impose stricter lockdown rules on the area, saying it is a "mess that could have been avoided".

His comments come after Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Thursday that extra restrictions to prevent social mixing anywhere apart from public outdoor spaces would be brought in for the Liverpool City Region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.

Mr Preston told LBC: "I'm exasperated and I'm furious with the announcement made by Matt Hancock in the Commons.

"We're angry and we are enormously frustrated because this is going to be a mess and it could have been avoided.

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"We have a bunch of marginal businesses that are about to go under and this news if it's followed through, we'll see places close today, tomorrow, or next week.

"I haven't heard one word on this from anybody, but we're the ones this has been done to and we haven't heard a single word.

"So the communication has been beyond shocking, it's been negligent and arrogant."

Speaking to Shelagh Fogarty on LBC, he also called the measures "blunt, draconian and uncaring".

When asked whether he agreed that something needed to be done to combat the rising infection rates in the area, Mr Preston said: "Completely, of course, and I think I've got a track record of implementing measures that are put in place to protect people, so I am all for that.

"But there is a way of doing that pragmatically, and intelligently, these blanket things are not effective.

"We are heading for six months of dark nights and cold weather, so people with fragile mental health, who now cannot see anyone, God help them.

As a council, we will be doing everything we can, but we have ways of dealing with that and we have ways of working with the government, but so far, they haven't listened."

The Mayor said on LBC: "This is a broad brush approach being rolled out in a sense of panic and I think fear and caution are always important to keep hold of but panic never works.

"I think the government are exhibiting behaviour that could cause panic."

He also told Shelagh Fogarty that the measures "will damage jobs, livelihoods and mental health.

"We have high suicide rates here, and I have no doubt that some people will be pushed to suicide by these measures."

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Asked what his message to Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson would be, Mr Preston said: "Email me or get one of your civil servants or junior ministers to email me or Middlesbrough council.

"Get in touch, have a chat and explain why you are right and we are wrong because we are right now completely convinced that you are wholly wrong and you didn't listen. Get in touch now. Please.

"Myself and people in the council knew that this was probably coming.

Speaking directly to the people of Middlesbrough, Mr Preston said: "And what we tried to do in the last four or five days was approach the government and find a middle way that would give the government what they wanted, but also could protect people's mental health, protect our communities and save viable jobs.

"But they haven't listened and I'm really sorry."

In a twitter video, Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston also accused the government of making decisions with a "frightening lack of communication."

"The government's just made an announcement about strict measures come into Middlesbrough and Hartlepool," he said.

"I have to tell you that I think this measure has been introduced based on factual inaccuracies and a monstrous and frightening lack of communication and ignorance."

"I don't accept the statement at all. I don't accept the measures. We need to talk to the government."

He continued: "They need to understand our local knowledge, expertise and ability to get things done and preserve jobs and well-being."

"We're really disappointed and as things stand we defy the government and we do not accept these measures."

"We need to get Covid under control, and we need to work with people to find a way of preserving jobs and mental health."

The Government's has also offered £7 million for local authorities to deal with increased restrictions.

However, this has been criticised as is "not enough" and "barely a drop in the ocean" by regional politicians.

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said he recognised the infection rate was "basically out of control" but said hotels, bars and restaurants in the city were in danger of closing.

The Labour mayor said: "It's nowhere near enough, £7 million wouldn't be enough for Liverpool alone, let alone across the city region.

"It's got to be in the hundreds of millions that we need to support businesses to survive just for a matter of weeks.

"A local lockdown is fine if it helps curtail the virus but there has to be a local furlough financial scheme for local businesses to survive.

"The city and the city region are in a desperate position financially and we need that financial support and we need it now."

In a joint statement, Liverpool metro mayor Steve Rotheram and the leaders of the city region's six authorities said there was an urgent need for a package of economic support and asked the Government to provide scientific evidence about whether the new restrictions would be enough to stop the spread.

They said: "The measures announced today are a step in the right direction but we need to understand whether they are enough to really address the escalating cases in our city region.

"Therefore, we are requesting that the Government provide us with the scientific evidence so we can understand if these measures will be sufficient to prevent the spread of the virus.

"In addition, we are also aware that without appropriate financial support from the Government, restrictions will damage business and industries - in many cases irretrievably - when in normal times they are perfectly viable."

Labour MP for Wallasey Angela Eagle said: "The £7 million announced today for local councils to deal with the increased restrictions is simply not enough and Labour MPs have called for a far more substantial financial package to be introduced for the area, especially with the ending of the furlough scheme.

"I completely understand the need for additional measures to be brought in, but the Government's chaotic approach risks people's livelihoods and their lives."