Council leaders ‘frustrated’ by Government’s handling of new restrictions

Council leaders vented their frustration on the Government for its handling of extra coronavirus measures in North East England which they said lacked clarity only hours before they come into force.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued an apology after he failed to clarify precisely what the new restrictions would mean for around two million people in Northumberland, Newcastle, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham.

Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon said, although he was a life-long Labour supporter, he needed to see better leadership from the Tories.

He told the PA news agency: “I just want the Government to get a grip, get control of the situation, show some leadership and get some respect from the country.

“Despite the fact it’s Boris Johnson and a Conservative government, we need effective public health messaging

“We need strong authoritative voices nationally.”

Sunderland City Council leader Graeme Miller was critical of Health Secretary Matt Hancock announcing the additional lockdown measures, effectively banning households from mixing in public settings as well as in homes, before letting councils know.

He said: “The way in which the restrictions were announced without any pre-warning and in advance of the regulations containing the details being published, was hugely frustrating.

“It left us in a position where we were unable to provide answers to the questions our residents quite rightly wanted to ask and did nothing to inspire public confidence.”

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said the Prime Minister’s confusion “sends out the message that they just don’t know what they’re doing”.

He told the BBC: “They are making it up as they go along and one of the reasons I have been so frustrated by the announcement they made yesterday, before we had chance to talk to them and get these kinds of details finalised, is that we have had 24 hours of chaos and confusion that was entirely avoidable.”

Kate Osborne, Labour MP for Jarrow, was outraged at the confusion spread when Mr Johnson was asked whether households could meet in pub beer gardens, mistakenly referring to the rule of six before clarifying his message on social media.

She tweeted: “For the Prime Minister to not know the latest rules that his Government set is an outright disgrace.

“He’s not fit to be Prime Minister.”

It had already been illegal for two households to mix inside or in a garden, but it was only guidance that they should not meet at public venues, including restaurants and pubs.

The new measures which will come into effect from midnight and will be enforced with fines, will make it illegal to meet other households in public places.

The tighter rules were being brought in for the North East, despite the North West having higher infection rates.

Mr Gannon said the North East authorities had asked for the heightened restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus, having seen confusion among the public elsewhere in the country, but he said they had also asked the Government for a decent support package for local firms.

According to figures calculated by the PA news agency and based on Public Health England data, eight of the 10 boroughs with the highest rate of new cases were in the North West, with two in the North East.

They were Knowsley with 279.7 new cases per 100,000 people for the week to September 25, Burnley (269.9), Liverpool (262.2), Newcastle upon Tyne (238.1), Bolton (231.6), Pendle (219.3), Halton (217.1), Manchester (207.3), Hyndburn (204.8) and South Tyneside (196.7).

The Department for Health and the new Conservative MPs for Blyth Valley, Bishop Auckland, North West Durham and Sedgefield, all within the area affected were approached for comment.