Seven of Yorkshire’s largest councils are seeking further detailed discussion with Government over the best balance of national and local measures as they bear down on COVID cases in their areas.
They are proposing arrangements for working with communities to prevent community and household transmission, and to support care homes and low income households.
The local authorities that are working together have all featured on the national COVID watchlist in recent weeks. They are: Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Rotherham, Sheffield and Wakefield.
They have written to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and Dido Harding, Chair of the NHS Test and Trace Programme. The letter sets out the nature of the challenges that exist in their districts – and puts forward an action plan for how they can be overcome through tailored interventions.
The much-needed measures are based on their direct experiences in Yorkshire. However, the seven leaders believe that they are also relevant to the way other councils, both elsewhere in the region and nationally, can bear down on what is proving to be “a stubborn tail” of COVID-19 cases.
The Government announced on 10 August that NHS Test and Trace and PHE will extend their partnership with local authorities in order to reach more people testing positive and their contacts to stop the spread of Covid-19. The announcement was welcomed across the seven Yorkshire councils who have been asking for this to be set up at pace. They look forward to the speedy implementation of these new arrangements.
The councils have also asked the Government for two further important interventions. These are:
- Extra support for low-income households during local outbreaks to reduce the risk of low paid and zero-hours contract workers being reluctant to get a test for fear of having to stay at home for 14 days without pay if they test positive for the virus.
- Additional funding for care homes, many of which are under occupied due to COVID-19 and may not survive long enough to act as a safety net for the NHS in the event of a second spike or the onset of severe winter pressures.
The council leaders insist that while these measures come with a price tag, they offer a cost effective and “value for money” solution in managing outbreaks and reducing the chances of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
They stress that these asks for support are underpinned by a shared local and national determination to limit the spread of infection; help people to stay healthy; support a safe economic recovery by reducing the risk of local lockdowns; and protect the NHS both over the winter period and the long-term.
While the Government has allocated grants to local authorities as part of the national programme, the high COVID-19 rates that exist in many parts of Yorkshire mean that new targeted local measures are needed which exceed the national grant.
Councillor Tim Swift, Leader of Calderdale Council, said:
“Unfortunately we’re seeing a worrying increase in COVID-19 infection rates in Calderdale since national lockdown restrictions were eased. We know that local action is vital to control the virus, and that our communities are great at working together to protect each other – we did it before and kept our infection rates low throughout lockdown.
“So it’s essential that we step up our united local activity to keep people safe and avoid a full lockdown. But this time of serious risk and national intervention needs national support. The Government’s move towards more local testing and tracing is a welcome step, but we need extra funds to sustain this and other targeted action.”
Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford District Council, said:
“We very much welcome the Government’s announcement on extending test and trace. It’s a vital tool and we need the extra investment to make it happen. Local authorities are best placed to understand and work with the needs of their local communities. The only way we’re going to beat this virus is by further strengthening our local activity.
“The actions we have drawn up add pace and scale to our efforts at a local level. We have developed a compelling case for more localised interventions and the added benefits they could generate. We look forward to exploring with Government how they can support us put them into practice.”
Sir Councillor Stephen Houghton CBE, Leader of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, said:
“The Government’s announcement on Test and Trace is very welcome news. We want to work with Government to take concerted and rapid action at a local level to get on top of COVID-19 so we can drive down community and household transmission particularly in areas of high prevalence. This letter sets out how we will work together with Government to do this.
“We are at a critical time. Pooling our shared experience in this way will be absolutely vital. Without urgent action on these issues, there is a very real risk of increasing infection rates, further local lockdowns, unsustainable pressure on the NHS and increasing inequality.”
Councillor Shabir Pandor, Leader of Kirklees Council, said:
“In Kirklees our infection rates have come down in recent weeks, and are currently stable and we’re in a really strong position to bring them down further but Government needs to meet us halfway and give us the resources we need to do this.
“A key part of our approach is to increase the amount of people being tested and to follow up all positive cases with a successful Test and Trace programme. We need more financial support to trace contacts at a more localised level so we can protect residents the best we can.
“This will inevitably mean more people either testing positive or being required to self-isolate. This will have an adverse impact on their household incomes and I would ask the Government to help us out. Businesses and employees in Kirklees need to be confident that they will not be out of pocket for doing the right thing and protecting others. I urge Government to reimburse them financially and to help us fight this virus and keep people safe.”