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Local Restrictions: Reducing Covid-19 Transmission

Volume 681: debated on Tuesday 6 October 2020

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of local restrictions on reducing the rate of transmission of covid-19. (907107)

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of lockdown restrictions on limiting the second wave of covid-19. (907108)

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of local restrictions on reducing the transmission of covid-19. (907115)

I chair the Government’s local action gold committee, which considers the latest data and advice from experts, including epidemiologists and the chief medical officer, and the Joint Biosecurity Centre. Through this process, we consult local leaders and directors of public health. We have seen local actions in some parts of the country bring the case rate right down and we need to make sure that we are constantly vigilant to what needs to happen to suppress this virus.

Yesterday, the Health Secretary told me:

“we have been putting the extra money into…councils”—[Official Report, 5 October 2020; Vol. 681, c. 637.]

What money is that? He announced £7 million, split between nine councils, as compared with £12 billion for Serco. That is not putting the extra money into councils, is it? So may I ask him to show respect for Members of this House and, more importantly, for our constituents, and answer the question: when is he going to stop relying on the outsourcing giants and to support local public health teams with the funds they need, because that is how he and this country are going to fix test, trace and isolate?

We are, as the hon. Gentleman said in his question, putting money into local councils in areas where local action needs to be taken. We have an open dialogue with councils and local mayors about what needs to be done. But I urge him, on behalf of all of his constituents in Sefton, that it is better to support the whole effort to control this virus, not just part of it.

The Mayor of London has warned that the virus is now spreading widely again across London, although vital knowledge is being hampered by the problems with test and trace. Are the Government now looking at introducing wider restrictions across London? As a matter of interest for this House, will the Cabinet Secretary, as a part of that, commit to reintroducing a hybrid Parliament in such a situation?

I discuss these matters with the Cabinet Secretary and other colleagues across government all the time, and I also speak regularly to the Mayor of London. We maintain vigilance over the transmission of the virus right across the country.

Can the Secretary of State answer a very simple question: what rate of infection means that a local authority needs to go into local restrictions and what rate means that it can leave them? Of course I accept that there will sometimes be very specific circumstances, such as workplace outbreaks, that would need to be considered, but surely it is not beyond his level of competence to do both, because my constituents deserve to know when they can see their families.

Of course the hon. Member’s constituents and all those who are under local action restrictions yearn to see their families. We all yearn to be able to get back to the normal socialising that makes life worth living, but I am afraid that the answer to her question is in the question: because of specific local circumstances, such as outbreaks in a workplace or a halls of residence, it is not possible to put a specific number on the point at which a judgment is made to put in place local restrictions, which we do in consultation with the council, or to take an area out of them.