County council using Christmas as an inducement to influence public opinion on Covid restrictions say Southend councillors

Southend councillors have accused council bosses in Essex of using Christmas to “turn public opinion” on their decision to implement stricter coronavirus restrictions.

Essex County Council asked the Government to place them into tier 2 of the new three-tier system as a proactive way of reducing Covid-19 infection rates and have now claimed they could be free from the tighter restrictions before Christmas.

But councillors in Southend – which chose to stay at tier 1 due to low infection rates – say county bosses have no way of knowing when restrictions would be lifted and accused them of using Christmas to try and turn public opinion.

Southend’s Conservative Group leader, Councillor Tony Cox, said: “Essex County Council want to do all they can to turn public opinion but there comes to a point where you can’t sensitise people to a stupid decision.”

He continued: “Look at how many authorities since lockdown have actually come out of tighter restrictions – there is just one, Luton.

“There is no exit strategy for this so they cannot make these claims.

“My view has not changed. It was premature and there is no evidence, even scientific evidence, to show that proactive measures work.

“These types of restrictions don’t break covid. They break people, they break businesses and they break mental health.”

Councillor Martin Terry (Ind), who oversees community safety, also criticised the comments from the county council claiming he fears Christmas is something that is being used “politically” and as a way to “blackmail people”.

He said: “The simple fact is parts of Essex have high levels of coronavirus, including Thurrock, which are much higher than in Southend.

“In our view Essex used a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Essex is an enormous county and some people living in parts with low infection rates must be furious, especially in the northern parts of the town where there is virtually no spread at all yet they are being treated as though they live in an area where there is a high spread.

“In Southend we are keeping a close watch on our numbers but they are relative low. We have got to make sure we are also looking out for people’s livelihoods. Our rates are about half some other areas.

“If the numbers creep up, we will consider tier 2 but right now we don’t need to. Essex took the wrong approach and they are punishing people in parts of the county but placing them in a tier they don’t need to be in.

“Southend does not need to be in tier 2.”

He added: “One feels Christmas is being used politically as a way to blackmail people.”

Despite claims from the county council that they will “look to go back to medium tier” by December 15, local authorities have no control over the tier they are placed in.

It is a decision made entirely by Westminster.

Despite being pressed several times by opposition politicians, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is yet to lay out an “exit strategy” for regions in higher tiers.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter