There’s a financial incentive for councils to lock downWed 10:55 am +01:00, 14 Oct 2020
Grants from central government and increased fines could make lockdown more attractive to local leaders.
This week, the government promised a total of £1 billion in financial support to local authorities under the new three-tier lockdown system. Areas subjected to Tier 2 lockdowns will be granted £1 per head of the population, and £2 per head for Tier 3. Meanwhile, £30million has been earmarked for local authorities to pay for Covid marshals and other ‘compliance and enforcement’ activities.
Presumably, no local authority, city, council member or mayor relishes the thought of a stricter lockdown – it will cause terrible destruction and heartbreak. Liverpool mayors Steve Rotheram and Joe Anderson said that they did not agree with some aspects of the Tier 3 lockdown, but were aware that government would bring in rules ‘with or without them’. And so rather than argue forcefully against lockdown, they negotiated to secure the best financial package possible.
As mentioned above, the funding is also going towards enforcement of lockdown regulations and self-isolation, which there are fines for breaching. That, in turn, raises more funds – the revenue from fixed-penalty notices, whether they are issued by local police, environmental-health officers or new Covid marshals, goes into local-authority coffers. In theory, the lockdown fixed-penalty fines should be going straight back into public health (as littering fines would go towards the environment). But, in reality, revenue from fines is not always that well ring-fenced in local authorities.
Councils absolutely need support. But it’s important to be aware that this type of financial support has the potential to be self-perpetuating. And, as with the first lockdown, no exit strategy from the new tier system and funding has been laid out. Just yesterday, Essex County Council asked the government to put them into Tier 2 – will the additional funding provoke more requests around the country?
Liverpool’s NHS triage data shows that while 111 calls peaked at over 400 per day in mid-September, the trend is declining and under 200 a day now. Meanwhile, 59 per cent of Liverpool’s recent cases were in under 40-year-olds. Liverpool council didn’t respond to my request for more details, but it is likely that, in line with the rest of the nation, positive tests have been driven upwards largely by 17- to 24-year-olds and the return to university. Elsewhere in the north, Manchester’s cases have been falling since 4 October and Liverpool’s appear to be levelling. The young are less vulnerable to Covid (nationally, the average age of death with or from Covid is 82) and rising positive cases in the young may signal a positive move towards community immunity. So far hospitals are not overwhelmed and deaths are low. Specifically in Tier 3 Liverpool, latest data shows that just 26 people died between 6 and 12 October (just below four per day on average).
What options do local politicians who are concerned about the lockdown have at this stage? Francis Hoar, the barrister working on Simon Dolan’s legal challenge to the government, tells me: ‘Firstly, local authorities are not legally obliged to enforce the regulations. Secondly, they can challenge the regulations. Councils on the brink of bankruptcy could get together jointly and issue proceedings against the secretary of state in a judicial review.’ For instance, Greater Manchester avoided Tier 3 after Sacha Lord, the region’s night-time economy adviser, threatened the government with a judicial review, supported by local hospitality businesses. If local authorities really want to spare themselves the pain, is more legal pushback needed?
As things stand, the hospitals are not overwhelmed. A forensic view of the case numbers goes a long way to dispelling fears. Perhaps we should be cautious about what we are doing to business and society, rather than just the transmission of one virus. As many have said, the cure is now worse than the disease. No amount of financial compensation paid to local authorities now is going to make up for this destruction of livelihoods, society and human relationships.
It’s six months since the UK lockdown began and how many people you have round your house is still a police matter. New restrictions continue to be introduced without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Meanwhile, protests are banned and Covid Marshals are being hired to patrol a high street near you. spiked exists to fight for freedom and we will continue to challenge the illiberal New Normal. But to do so we need your help. Unlike so many things these days, spiked is completely free. We rely on the generosity of our readers to keep us going. So if you already donate to us, thank you! And if you don’t, please do consider making a donation today. One-off donations – or better yet, monthly donations – are hugely appreciated. You can find out more here. Thank you!