Statement on new coronavirus restrictions
As many constituents will now be aware, County Durham, along with the rest of the North East, will be subject to tier 3 restrictions when the national measures expire on the 2nd December. I know how important this issue is to my constituents, so I wanted to make my position on this decision clear.
First of all, I am incredibly disappointed with the decision to place Durham in tier 3. When the national lockdown was announced last month, Durham was in tier 2. With cases falling, Durham has now been placed into a higher tier than we were in before the lockdown began. This begs the question; was a national lockdown announced to bring the infection rate down across the country, or was it solely introduced protect the South at the expense of the North? It is difficult to ignore that tier 3 restrictions are primarily focused upon the Midlands the North East.
My frustration is increased by the fact that the Government is relying on a regional approach to Covid-19 restrictions, while at the same time refusing to properly fund local contact tracing at the expense of the far less effective and more expensive centralised system run by the private sector. Until the Government stops throwing money at private companies to under-deliver on coronavirus contracts and creates a functioning track and trace system, I fear that this cycle of lockdowns will continue until a vaccine can be rolled out.
It is for this reason that I am extremely concerned about the economic impact upon the North East. Over the last decade, the region has been ignored by successive Conservative governments. We have all seen the empty shops on our high streets and we know that many more people are struggling to make ends meet. The coronavirus pandemic has only added to the longstanding regional inequality within the UK. If we are to be placed under the most severe restrictions, while the economies of other regions are allowed to open further, then this gap will only grow. Therefore, these measures needed to be accompanied by financial support from Government that was not just aimed at keeping the region afloat, but that also began to narrow the North-South divide and attempted to fulfil the Tories’ pledge to level up the North East. However, I have been informed that these restrictions will not involve any extra funding for the region. This is simply not acceptable.
This is not to say that this lockdown has not had an impact. Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of our communities, the number of cases has continued to fall slowly. It is important that communities continue to follow the rules, continue to socially distance, and practice good hygiene. With positive news regarding several vaccine trials, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, it is vital that that the Government makes clear how our region can move into tier 2 restrictions, as well as how the they will facilitate it. They cannot make decisions from Westminster, withhold funding and resources, and then expect local authorities to be responsible for clearing up their mess. It’s time the Prime Minister and his Government got a grip.
On Tuesday, these measures will come before Parliament and MPs will be asked to vote on them. Time and time again, I have supported public health measures that would protect my constituents and our region. But with every vote, I must weigh up whether the measures posed will provide more benefit or harm to my constituents. Over the weekend, I will be thinking long and hard as to whether I can support these measures. Constituents are of course welcome to contact me with their views, and I will try to make the decisions that best protects my constituents and our communities.