COVID-19 restrictions row intensifies as they are eased in parts of borough
A furious political row has intensified this afternoon over the announcement that COVID-19 local restrictions are to be lifted in parts of Calderdale – but not all – from September 2.
Calderdale Council’s ruling Labour group and the Conservative opposition have been at loggerheads over the application of local restrictions, which the borough has been subject to since July 31 because of rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.
The Government has announced late this afternoon that the local restrictions on two households mixing will be lifted in parts of the borough other than Halifax, which remains subject to local restrictions for the time being.
It means people in the other parts of Calderdale will be able to mix with family and friends outside their household, in line with national social distancing rules.
Businesses and organisations which opened elsewhere in England on August 15, including bowling alleys and indoor play areas, will also be permitted to re-open if they are in the parts of the brough released from the exemptions – the Brighouse, Calder, Elland, Greetland and Stainland, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe, Luddenden Foot, Rastrick, Ryburn and Todmorden wards.
But a statement issued by opposition Conservative group leader Steven Leigh (Ryburn) this afternoon before an official annoucement has fanned the flames.
Coun Leigh’s group’s statement issued earlier this afternoon said that: “We are delighted that our Targeted Approach will be adopted.”
Labour group leader – and Leader of the Council – Coun Tim Swift (Town) has reacted furiously, accusing the Conservatives of putting politics before health and saying the “mistimed” letter from the Conservative group proved that they had been informed about Government decisions on change to local lockdown restrictions hours before such decisions had been officially announced.
“This alone is clear confirmation that the actions of the Government and the Conservative party over this issue have been solely motivated by party politics, with no interest or concern for the health and wellbeing of local people,” he said.
For their part, the Conservative letter questions Coun Swift’s leadership and said: “Calderdale’s one-size-fits all approach was unfair.
“Calderdale residents in low transmission areas were unnecessarily subject to restrictions.
“This was having a preventable impact on Calderdale residents and the local economy.”
Coun Swift, in a jointly signed letter with Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchliffe to Government published earlier this week, was critical of the Government’s handling of the pandemic and today he added: “Against this appalling background, this council and this administration have done and will continue to do everything in our power to keep local people safe.
“We will also continue to strive for consensus, even when we have differing views of the way forward because we care about the borough.
“We now see clear evidence that the Conservative group are more interested in party politic point scoring than in working together to support local people.
“This is a sad day for Calderdale.”
Coun Leigh said the Conservative group condemned any comments made about COVID-19 made by the Leader of the Council or anyone else purporting to represent the council, which were not in accord with the consensus views officially expressed by the council’s Leaders Group.
The Conservative statement questioned the call in the midweek joint statement by Couns Swift and Hincliffe for the whole boroughs to revert to the national guidelines as Calderdale’s
Director of Public Health Debs Harkins has said she wanted to see stabilisation show a pattern.
The bitter row has seen the Conservatives pressing for more localised lockdowns which Ms Harkins expressed concerns about, arguing people are not static and cross ward boundaries within the borough.
Coun Swift has also warned about the impact of sowing division.
His joint letter with Coun Hinchliffe to Government said: “Different restrictions ward by ward and place by place decided by Tory backbench MPs undermines local council leadership and is no way to lead a nation through a national pandemic.
“You need to set a clear national framework for the nation which local authorities operate within.
“Instead you’re making it up as you go along.”