'No meaningful negotiations' - South Yorkshire council leader hits out at 'tawdry' Government talks over Tier 3 move

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A South Yorkshire council leader has hit out at “tawdry” Government negotiations over the region moving into Tier 3 restrictions as he said there had been “no meaningful” conversations over recent days.

Labour leader of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council Chris Read said the restrictions which will come into effect on Saturday were “proportionate to the risks we face” but he said the deal struck with Government could have been made “days ago”.

“There is nothing in the announcement today that the Government could not have decided to introduce days ago,” Coun Read said.

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“There have been no meaningful negotiations with local leaders. It has become clear over the last few days during our conversations with Government that they already had a template of measures and funding in mind.

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council Leader Chris Read. Photo: JPI MediaRotherham Metropolitan Borough Council Leader Chris Read. Photo: JPI Media
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council Leader Chris Read. Photo: JPI Media

“We need and we welcome the support for businesses and employees who are affected - in so far as it goes. But whilst the Government has talked localism in reality local councils have been used as political cover, either for restrictions deemed politically unpalatable to the Tory right, or for delaying life saving measures. People should be in no doubt that every day that has passed has made it more likely that more people will fall ill.”

He added: "A Government in paralysis has used our conversations as displacement activity, throwing dozens of civil servants into meetings with our officials for no discernible reason other than to find ways to say ‘no’ to reasonable requests. I have personally found the Government's approach to be tawdry."

Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis said this morning that: “Following extensive discussions with ministers, local council leaders and I have agreed with Government that South Yorkshire will move into Tier 3, the ‘very high’ alert level for coronavirus restrictions.”

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He said the restrictions, which will cover around 1.4m people in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield, will come into force on Saturday morning.

The move came after Mr Jarvis said that he and council leaders in the region were able to secure a £41m support package from the Government.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership lobbying group, said: “Credit goes to Dan Jarvis and other council leaders for securing this deal, which will make a huge difference to the people and businesses across the Sheffield City Region.

“This is a fundamentally different situation to the one going on in Greater Manchester, where restrictions have been in place for almost four months. I feel optimistic that these measures will go a long way in curbing the spread of the disease.

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“Nevertheless, it’s important we get confirmation from the Government that local areas will have the decision over whether to lift restrictions, if after four weeks they’re proving ineffective.”

Mr Jarvis said that if the measures were effective, individual authorities would be able to move to lower alert levels as soon as it was safe to do so.

However he said that to reach that situation as quickly as possible it was “critical” that people followed the new rules.

“The character and grit of people in South Yorkshire will be needed in abundance to help us get through what will be an incredibly challenging period,” he said.

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The financial package agreed with the Government includes £30m to support the region’s businesses and £11m for councils for measures such as test and trace.

But Leader of Sheffield City Council Julie Dore said leaders would be calling for more.

She said: “We have asked for a funding package that would allow us to compensate for the failure of the national scheme the Government have put forward.

“We asked for significantly greater financial support in addition to the national schemes.

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“Whilst Government are providing extra funding, they are giving South Yorkshire a standard package of support which they are providing to the areas going into Tier 3 and this will not allow us to provide the support for people that is needed.

“We will continue to push government to provide enough support for people and businesses as they are now placing us in these measures which will have such serious consequences for the people most impacted.

“It is not too late to do the right thing to support people in Sheffield, South Yorkshire and all the people currently going into Tier 3 across the country, and I would plead with government to increase the levels of support they are providing for Tier 3.

“Many people will be fearful of what is to come over the coming months, whether it be for the risk of the virus, their place of employment being closed or the impact on them and their loved ones of the restrictions.

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“We can and will get through this but we will only do so by pulling together. The Government’s approach at this moment in time will not bring about this togetherness.”

Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton said: “Although these additional restrictions come as no surprise, it’s difficult to see our borough in such a severe situation.

“We understand the impact this virus is having on people’s daily lives and on jobs and businesses, but Barnsley cases are spreading from young to old, putting more lives in danger, leading to more people in our hospital, more people becoming seriously ill, and sadly more people dying. We must act now to save lives and prevent our NHS from being overwhelmed. ”

Tory MP for Rother Valley Alexander Stafford added: “This is the highest alert level in England and the most severe set of restrictions in force, but this decision has not been taken lightly and is due to the skyrocketing rate of infections.

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“The four council leaders and the Mayor of South Yorkshire met the deputy chief medical officer for England Dr Jenny Harries last Friday and received a briefing on the latest epidemiological data regarding the spread of the virus.

“The four council leaders and mayor have all agreed that without action our population and the health services right across South Yorkshire are at risk, and that our collective response must find a balance between the health and economic challenges in front of us.”

Mr Stafford said: “I want to assure all my constituents here in Rother Valley that these restrictions will not be open-ended. There will be a review in 28 days, by which time I hope cases have reduced and we are able to loosen restrictions.”

The announcement means 7.3m people, or 13 per cent of England’s population, will now be living under Tier 3 restrictions which include a ban on households mixing and the closure of pubs and bars which do not serve meals.

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Campaign for Real Ale Chief Executive Tom Stainer warned that the restrictions would be “devastating” for pubs in the region.

He said: “Publicans have done everything to make their premises Covid-secure, and have been operating at reduced trade for months whilst trying to recover from both the first lockdown and months of reduced consumer confidence as a result of restrictions like the curfew.

“If pubs across South Yorkshire are to avoid becoming a sacrificial lamb then they need a decent, long-term financial support package. This must properly compensate pubs for having to either close altogether - or stay open with extremely low footfall whilst they serve food.

“It also needs to help pubs pay wages before the new jobs support scheme kicks in, as well as providing help in the weeks and months after restrictions are lifted if pubs and breweries are to have any chance of getting back on their feet and avoiding having to close their doors for good before Christmas.”

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Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick tweeted: “South Yorkshire will move from Local Covid Alert Level High to Very High from 00.01 on Saturday 24 Oct. I would like to thank Dan Jarvis & the leaders of the local councils of South Yorkshire for the constructive discussions we have had.

“Given rates are amongst the highest in the country I am pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that ensures swift action is taken in accordance with the public health advice.

“I fully recognise the huge impact this will have on communities in the area and the sacrifices people will be making. That’s why we have agreed an extensive package of support for local people, businesses and councils.

“The restrictions agreed together will only be in place for as long as they are absolutely necessary. They will be reviewed jointly in 28 days time. The Govt will be working with local leaders as we tackle this challenge, for the benefit of all the people of S Yorkshire.”

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