UPDATE July 18: also see my latest article “EXPOSED: How the Tories Caused Leicester’s Covid Outbreak.”
“Angry, frustrated and disappointed but frankly not surprised” pretty much sums up how a lot of people in Leicester feel about our City Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby. When the membership of the Labour Party elected a socialist to be leader of their party, Sir Peter and his crony councillors instead of supporting this change, chose to regularly and publicly denigrate Jeremy Corbyn. Angry is an understatement for how many socialists felt about Sir Peter antics on this matter, and so many were relieved when an independent investigation threw light upon and criticised Sir Peter’s anti-democratic reign of power in our city. More recently, frustrations were reignited when Sir Peter’s Council insisted that “Public Health England has found no evidence to suggest that the rise in coronavirus cases in the city is linked to the textile industry.” This untruth was quickly rebutted by the regional organiser of the Bakers Union.
So, yesterday when we got the bad news that Leicester’s lockdown was being re-imposed, it was odd to hear that Sir Peter was “angry, frustrated and disappointed but frankly not surprised” in the Tories’ latest actions.
Sir Peter had voiced these frustrations during a television interview broadcast on Sky News. During this interview he had correctly accused the government of failing to share data about the employers of individuals infected with Covid-19; which happens to be exactly the type of data that would be required to pinpoint any outbreaks to sweatshops. Hence as no accurate employment data is being collected by the government Sir Peter’s Council can in their ignorance pronounce that Public Health England have “no evidence” of a connection!? You might understand why people are angry in Leicester.
But despite all Sir Peter’s political shortcomings (and there are many), I do agree with him on one important point and that is that the government needs to take a more localised and targeted approach to implementing regional lockdowns. There would appear to be no good scientific reason why the whole of Leicester should be locked down.
So, when Sir Peter suggests that we only need to lockdown 10% of the city he is referring to the information contained in the little local data that we do have – that the government only recently passed on to the Council. This data demonstrates that there are just twenty neighbourhoods in the city where more than 10% of the people who have been tested for Covid-19 have been confirmed to be infected (over the most recent two-week period). These twenty neighbourhoods covering an area of the city whose total population is approximately 36,000 individuals.
However, Matt Hancock is not concerned about helping councils implement localised lockdowns. So when he announced the latest city-wide lockdown for Leicester, Hancock explained that he had delegated the decision for setting the boundaries of new slightly revised lockdown to the Tory leader of Leicestershire Country Council. Speaking in Parliament Hancock said:
“The initial definition of the geography covered by the lockdown was a decision I delegated to Leicestershire County Council and that it made and published. The leader of Leicestershire County Council, Nicholas Rushton, has advised me, based on the data and the best public health advice, that he recommends that the restrictions now apply only to the Oadby and Wigston area of Leicestershire, as well as the city of Leicester itself, and I have accepted his advice.”
Labour MP for Leicester South, Jonathan Ashworth, passed on a good opportunity to make a firm case for localised lockdowns, but nevertheless he still posed a good question to Hancock about the Tories delay in imposing the first national lockdown. Ashworth had asked why the government had took seven days to act upon SAGE’s scientific advice, given to them on 16 March, that noted that full lockdown measures should be enforced as soon as possible. And Hancock had responded by stating that 16 March was “precisely when the lockdown was started,” when in reality, as we all know, the lockdown only began on 23 March. Having let this lie slip so easily from his lips, Hancock then went on to muddle matters further when he explained that when the boundaries for Leicester’s new lockdown were being drawn up…
“I gave the Mayor of Leicester the opportunity to put forward any changes he might have wanted to within the city boundary, but he declined to do so.”
This of course is patent nonsense, as the City Mayor clearly wanted a limited lockdown that applied only to those limited parts of the city where infection rates were greatest.
This is not the first time that the Tories have been caught out lying about Leicester, and no doubt it won’t be the last time. Time and time again the Tories have insisted that Leicester, like other local authorities, had access to all the testing data they needed to act, when this was not the case. But as a recent statement made on 11 July by the Director of Public Health for Sandwell (in the West Midlands) makes absolutely clear, local authorities “are blindfolded by a lack of data”. Demonstrating that Leicester’s problems are the same felt in other areas, Sandwell’s Director of Public Health explained:
“(1) We don’t get timely data on positive COVID-19 cases – it’s usually several days old. So if cases are rising in your local area, we can’t intervene early to prevent outbreaks.
(2) We don’t get data on the workplace of those testing positive. So if an outbreak is emerging where you work – we can’t get in early and prevent it from escalating.
(3) We don’t get data on the positive COVID-19 cases that the Test & Trace system has failed to get in touch with. So if you’ve been in contact with someone who is infected, we can’t work locally to help find you and notify you.
(4) We don’t get data on why so many positive cases are not being followed up by Test & Trace. Is the info at testing incomplete? Does it seem to be people in a particular area? Or maybe an age group, ethnicity or language? We know our local population well and could help.
(5) Local public health teams could do so much more to help prevent COVID-19 infections if information was shared with us. Let’s build a system that works seamlessly across national, regional and local levels. And let’s do it soon – because winter is coming.” (Tweets made by Lisa McNally, July 11)
The government really needs to get its act together, and quickly! But this seems very unlikely as in the same speech that announced Leicester’s fate, Hancock added that the use of “Randox swab test kits is paused in all settings until further notice” because they were “not up to the usual high standard that we expect”. Just the latest controversy swirling around the Tories testing debacle. Indeed, Ashworth pointed the Tories had given the £133 million testing contract to Randox “without any competitive tender”; although he might also have reminded Parliament that one of Randox’s very well paid consultants is Owen Paterson, the Tory MP for North Shropshire. (For more details about such “cronyism and corruption” read George Monbiot’s “When secret coronavirus contracts are awarded without competition, it’s deadly serious,” Guardian, July 15, 2020.)
 Each of the twenty so-called “Lower Super Output Areas” is a small neighbourhood of about 1,800 people.