My constituency has been placed in tier 3 restrictions along with the rest of the north-east. Although I was disappointed by that decision, I can accept the need for the measures to protect public health. However, I cannot accept the lack of support from the Government, the regional inequality of the restrictions and the complete lack of an exit plan.
The support currently offered to businesses is simply nowhere near enough to protect our local economies: £20 a head in business support for the duration of tier 3 will be of little comfort to businesses in the north-east which have been under increased measures longer than most other areas. Without genuine support, businesses will go under, jobs will be lost and people will be pushed further into poverty. Covid-19 is a great threat to public health, but there is no greater cause of illness than poverty. To place the north-east in tier 3 without genuine support for workers and businesses is to condemn thousands to poorer health and worse life chances. To support that would be to abandon my responsibility to my constituents.
In addition, the Government have repeatedly refused to fund local contact tracing properly. It is far more successful and cost-effective than the Government’s shambolic centralised system, which has mainly served to help to line the pockets of the Government’s friends in the City. Without a functioning test and trace system, a cycle of lockdowns is inevitable until a vaccine can be properly rolled out. The Government have had eight months to sort that and they have failed. They desperately need to step up.
The Government advocate a regionalised approach to covid-19 restrictions, yet insist on dictating restrictions to local authorities, ignoring their advice on contact tracing and withholding the necessary funding. If the Prime Minister wants a regionalised system, he needs actually to support our regions.
My constituents want to know how we can reach tier 2. Local authorities need to know what the infection rate targets are and how the Government will support them to bring them down. Currently, that is as clear as mud. Unfortunately, as the Government do not have a plan B, hon. Members must choose between inadequate restrictions and no restrictions at all. These measures will hurt our communities, yet we also know the damage that the virus will cause if left unchecked. In their current state, the restrictions would be deeply damaging to Durham, and the financial support is not there to mitigate that.
If the Prime Minister had wanted Labour Members to vote for the measures, he should have presented something that we could actually vote for. It is not the Opposition’s job to vote for bad legislation or to pass the Government’s business. I urge the Government to give businesses and workers the support that they desperately need, to fix track and trace, and to start treating the north fairly.