Council leaders across Devon have said the placing of the region in the tough ‘high alert’ measures will cause irrevocable harm to local businesses.
The councillors have said that the news will be ‘desperately disappointing’ and for many people in the drinks-only hospitality industry, they must be feeling near desperation at the prospect of what looks like a further lockdown for them.
And they have slammed the historic under-funding and reduction in hospital capacity that is one of the reasons why Devon has been placed in Tier 2, despite some of its districts having the lowest rates of anywhere in England.
Explaining why Devon has been placed in Tier 2, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said that the case rates are 121/100,000 overall, although there are higher rates in Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter. He added that the case rate in the over 60s is 85/100,000, though significantly higher in Exeter at 155.9/100,000), and there is pressure at the RD&E Hospital.
The Tier 2 measures mean you must not socialise with anyone you do not live with or who is not in your support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place. You can socialise though in a pub beer garden, but pubs and bars must close, unless operating as restaurants and hospitality venues can only serve alcohol with substantial meals.”
Cllr Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council said: “ I am really disappointing that South Hams will placed under Tier 2 restrictions on 2 December. In spite of low and decreasing infection numbers locally, pressure on local hospital facilities has been quoted as a reason.
“Local authorities from the South West have been lobbying to increase hospital capacity for years, but governments of all hues have never listened to us. There will be irrevocable harm to local businesses in the run up to Christmas as a result of our District being placed under Tier 2 restrictions and this concerns me greatly.”
Teignbridge Council Leader, Cllr Alan Connett said: “I’m hugely disappointed for Teignbridge, and even more saddened for the businesses that will be adversely affected by this decision. Whilst this news brings some hope for many of our businesses that they can open up again, our drinks-only hospitality industry must be feeling near desperation at the prospect of what looks like a further lockdown for them.
“We want to help these businesses as much as possible to diversify their offer, to enable them to work within the rules and reopen wherever possible, and also through our businesses grants and other support, so I’d encourage them to get in touch. We want to help and will where we can.
“We’re very unlucky that we’ve been placed in a higher tier than many expected, and it does feel like a slap in the face for everyone who has worked so hard to keep our infection rates low, keep our high streets and businesses Covid safe and stick to the rules.
“But what we need to focus on now is keeping our rates down, helping get our NHS through this critical period, and supporting our local communities to recover.
“It’s not going to be easy – we’re already seeing big increases in claims for universal credit, council tax relief and hardship funds, and our economy is being hit hard.
“By continuing to work together, we may be able to get into Tier 1, and we can support our businesses and traders by shopping locally wherever possible. Let’s keep Devon safe and strong.”
Cllr Neil Jory Leader of West Devon Borough Council said: “I know it will be desperately disappointing for many people that, as part of a wider Devon grouping – including Plymouth and Torbay – we have been placed in Tier 2. Everyone has been disciplined in keeping to the regulation resulting in falls to infection rates over recent days.
“I really hope that will continue and ask everyone to keep following the guidance so that, hopefully, we can keep driving the rates down so that we can look forward to next year with a sense of optimism and hope”.
Cllr David Worden, leader of North Devon Council added: “Although it wasn’t unexpected, we’re obviously disappointed to be placed in Tier 2, knowing what an effect it will have on our community. Our numbers are starting to come down but we are still above the average for Devon and we need each and every person in North Devon to strictly adhere to the guidelines, keep their distance, wash and sanitise hands regularly and not mix with other households so we can get back to Tier 1 at the earliest opportunity.”
Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of East Devon District Council added: “We are scheduling urgent meetings of senior councillors and officers to respond to this very bad news. The expectation of local people and businesses had been that we’d be out of lockdown on 2nd December – but now this. We will do all we can to respond as fully and positively as possible.
“It must be said that it is deeply distressing for Devon to be marooned in Tier 2. Despite campaigners – including me – warning the government for many years that to continually shrink our local hospital capacity was dangerous, we now find ourselves in Tier 2 mainly because of inadequate current and projected NHS capacity. The RDE is down a thousand staff, and more locals beds no longer exist.
“Non-Conservative councillors have been begging and pleading on this topic for years through the DCC Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee at DCC but the Tories consistently refused requests to go into battle to prevent the loss of East Devon’s community hospital beds.
“Now, our poor local businesses and employees – indeed our entire local economy – will pay the price for the failure of those Tories at Devon County who were not prepared to put the blue rosette to one side and tell truth to power.”
Cllr John Hart, leader of Devon County Council, said he was disappointed by the announcement and renew his appeal to people to abide by the guidelines to give the county the best chance of dropping into Tier 1 when the first review takes place in two weeks’ time.
He said: “Devon has done well so far in keeping case numbers relatively low and I would like to thank everyone for their actions during the latest lockdown, so I’m disappointed that we have been placed in Tier 2.
“It’s even more vital now that we all stick to the guidelines and maintain social distance, wash our hands regularly and wear masks where required so we can get cases down and get into Tier 1.
“And working with MPs and Team Devon partners I will be strongly lobbying the Government to provide tailored support for our hard-hit hospitality industry, which is losing out significantly during what’s usually their most lucrative period.
“I’m pleased local shops will be able to re-open in the run-up to Christmas and begin to help our economy recover, but in Devon, hospitality businesses are crucial and they need targeted support.
“In the meantime I would renew my appeal to people to stick to the rules to keep themselves and their families and neighbours safe and minimise the pressure on our local health services.
“I welcome the opening of the Nightingale Hospital in Exeter today but, as Boris Johnson has conceded, the South West still lacks hospital beds and this must be urgently addressed.”