Government ‘flip flopping’ over coronavirus lockdown says Gateshead Council leader

9 October 2020, 17:24

A family enjoy a picnic next to the Angel of the North on September 19, 2020 in Gateshead, United Kingdom.
The Gateshead council leader told LBC the region was "beginning to see a plateau” in coronavirus cases. Picture: Getty

By Joe Cook

The leader of Gateshead Council has called on the Government to deliver “clear, consistent leadership” and stop “flipping and flopping all over the place” with coronavirus restrictions.

Labour council leader Martin Gannon also told LBC News that any further lockdown measures would be “hellish” and “heinous” for the hospitality industry in the North-East, which employs “56,000 people” in the region.

Households are currently restricted from mixing in the area, but there are reports of further Downing Street plans to close pubs and restaurants in the North in an effort to control the virus.

In the latest government figures, Gateshead had 247 cases per 100,000 people from 29 September to 5 October, compared to an average of 68 across England.

However, Mr Gannon said local data showed the current restrictions were working.

“If you take out the student spike, in the North-East of England, since the current restrictions were introduced we are beginning to see a plateau” in cases, he told LBC.

“I think that if we were to give that time, with clearer messaging, we would avoid a further lockdown which will kill our economy.”

Mr Gannon continued: “We are beginning to get on top of this, I think that changing regulations every three or four days is just losing public confidence.

“People want to do the right thing, but they need clear, consistent leadership and that is just not what they are getting from the Government. They are getting flipping and flopping all over the place."

Leaders of local councils in the North of England, including Mr Gannon, were due to meet government officials on Friday afternoon to discuss future lockdown measures, but the meeting was delayed.

The local council leader said he had “no idea” why it had been delayed, but said he was "hoping they are beginning to take in what the North of England is saying to them: Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, the North East.”

"As local authorities across the North of England, all seven local authorities have said: 'We do not want [to close the hospitality sector’,” he added.

"I have always said, right from the very beginning of this, that the solution is local... We know our areas, we know our populations, we are part of the community.

“Being dictated to by central government simply isn't working."

A Downing Street spokesperson said it "worked closely with local leaders and work will continue".

In response to concerns that areas under local lockdown restrictions were not receiving enough help, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Friday that the Government would effectively continue the furlough scheme for the next six months in affected areas.

The Treasury will pay up to two thirds of wages for businesses forced to close due to local lockdown measures, up to a maximum of £2,100 a month per person.

But Mr Gannon said, despite this, if the hospitality sector was forced to close “it would be gone”.

"When people are working in the hospitality sector, often on minimum wage, two thirds of income isn't the kind of income that is going to be able to support people, give them the wherewithal, the willingness to comply with the restrictions," he told LBC.