Council leaders were given just five minutes’ notice of local lockdown restrictions being confirmed in their areas, it has emerged.
Middlesbrough and Hartlepool councils were only informed of the confirmed details of the new rules when they received a draft press release from the Department of Health and Social Care at 10.25am on Thursday – five minutes before Matt Hancock announced the measures.
The lack of notice may go some way to explaining the irate reaction of the mayor of Middlesbrough to the imposition of new restrictions.
Speaking yesterday, after it was announced that it would be illegal for households in the area to mix indoors, Andy Preston – the independent mayor of the Teeside city – branded the restrictions “unacceptable”, warning that the government was “imposing restrictions that will kill viable jobs and damage mental health”.
“We defy the government and we do not accept these measures,” Preston added.
Council leaders in Merseyside – where a harsh new clampdown was also announced on Thursday – were reportedly briefed on the measures half an hour before Hancock’s statement.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, reacted to the news by calling for local authorities to have more control over restrictions, urging ministers to put councils “in the driver’s seat”.
“The message to the government is: involve local leaders, whether it’s council leaders or mayors, much more intensely, and much earlier. Because what’s going on is sometimes consultation, sometimes not.”
‘Proposed for us’
Leaked emails, seen by the Guardian, show that a senior official from the Department of Health wrote to Hartlepool and Middlesbrough councils on Wednesday evening to say Hancock wanted “written confirmation” that leaders “have been engaged and understand the measures being proposed”.
Officials in Hartlepool resisted, saying they would not agree to restrictions “seemingly being proposed for us” that would make any household mixing in pubs, bars and restaurants illegal.
A DHSC spokesman said: “It is wrong to claim councils were only given short notice as in fact discussions and engagement had been taking place for several days. We understand how much of an imposition these measures are but they are based on the latest scientific evidence and are in place to suppress the virus, protect all of us while doing everything possible to support the economy.”