Covid: Government accused of 'destroying trust' in north England pub restrictions row

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Carl Dinnen

A row has erupted over whether the government has discussed potential plans to temporarily close pubs and restaurants in the north of England with local leaders in the area.

Government ministers are weighing up the additional restrictions, according to ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Government ministers are said to be weighing up the new measures as infection rates soar in cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.

The move would be a hammer blow to the hospitality industry which is already struggling with the 10pm curfew.

The measures could be brought in as early as Monday, with widespread reporting in the national newspapers of the plans.

Speaking to ITV News, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said no decision has yet been made but that the government has a "clear process" on decision making - including communicating "closely" with local leaders.

But Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has slammed the government for "not telling us about their real plans" on the potential lockdown adjustments.

Mr Jenrick told ITV News "no decision has been taken yet" - despite the widespread reporting on potential additional limits on hospitality venues in the north.

Pressed on why no official announcement had yet been made, Mr Jenrick said: "I don't know what the newspapers are reporting or where their sources are."

He continued: "We have been very clear processes within government, we review the data every week, we speak closely with local directors of public health, with council leaders and chief executives and then decisions are taken".

ITV News put the comments to Manchester Mayor Mr Burnham who said he had met Mr Jenrick earlier this week but had not been told of any plans to introduce further restrictions in the area.

"I met Robert Jenrick, with the mayor of the local city region earlier this week," Mr Burnham told ITV News.

"He didn't - at any point - say 'there's a proposal to shut bars and restaurants in the north of England.'

"So we don't get given the detail - and they we come out of a meeting like that and we read it [the plans] in the paper."

Mr Burnham slammed the government for "destroying trust" and said he would not accept the restrictions without additional support for the impacted businesses.

"We're not having this imposed on us anymore. The government just decide what they're going to do, well that could leave many of our residents in a really difficult position for the rest of this winter.

"The government is losing people and it needs to decide what it wants to do [...] I have offered to work in partnership with them but there's only so many times we can bang our heads against this brick wall."

He added: "This is what we've had all along" in reference to communication between local and national governments.

Local leaders in Leeds echoed Mr Burnham's criticisms.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of Liverpool City Region, said: "The government's communication strategy is the announcements via media leak."

While leader of Leeds city council, Cllr Judith Blake, said the first she had heard of the plans were through the national newspapers, adding it was "completely unacceptable".

Downing Street said on Thursday that a “range of measures” are being looked at - with a particular focus on northern England, where it says infection rates are rising fastest.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said the data is being kept "under close review" with a "range of options" being considered.

He suggested new restrictions on hospitality could be introduced in England as ministers come under pressure to act after Scotland announced fresh restrictions on the hospitality sector.

Bur speaking earlier on Thursday, Mr Jenrick was unable to provide any evidence that the reported measures would help limit the spread of Covid in infection hot spots if they were brought in.

He said: "It is common sense that, with a virus that spread between individuals, the more interaction you have indoors - the more likely it is that the virus will spread."

Pressed on whether the government was now basing policy on "common sense", Mr Jenrick made comparisons with other countries that had pursued a similar policy.

ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener quizzes Robert Jenrick on the evidence behind the move:

Mr Jenrick told ITV News the UK was "not an outlier" in considering temporary closure of some hospitality venues.

The Communities Secretary made comparisons with Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria where, he says, similar measures are in place.

The Prime Minister's spokesman later clarified the evidence, he said: "Early data does suggest that a significant proportion of exposure to the virus is seen in the hospitality sector, and that is even more pronounced in younger age groups where we have been seeing the most rapid rise in infections"

He added that the data is "new" and that the government continues to "gather evidence and review it" but is not yet in a position to publish it.

Pubs and restaurants in Manchester have stayed open through local coronavirus restrictions. Credit: PA

Infection rates in Liverpool and Manchester have risen to 552 and 542 people per 100,000 people respectively in recent days.

In Newcastle, the infection rate is 480 per 100,000 people.

For context, the UK imposes quarantine restrictions on travellers returning from foreign countries where the infection rate is more than 20 people per 100,000 people.

It comes as Test and Trace figures reached their lowest weekly contact rate in figures released on Thursday.