Motion to Approve
My Lords, the regulations that we are debating today came into force on 3 August and 19 August respectively, but the story of these regulations began a month earlier, on 3 July, when the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Leicester) Regulations 2020 imposed the first interventions in Leicester and neighbouring boroughs. Those original regulations required the closure of all non-essential businesses and restricted indoor gatherings, overnight visits and visitors. We reviewed the regulations every 14 days, working closely with local leaders.
Aware of the distress caused by local lockdowns to the people of Leicester, we have relaxed restrictions whenever that appeared safe to do so. Thus, on Saturday 18 July we removed the borough of Blaby and Charnwood from the protected area. Then on 24 July we amended the regulations to allow specified businesses, out-of-school childcare and educational establishments to reopen in Leicester. The amendments that came into force on 1 August removed Oadby and Wigston from the protected area.
The regulations that we are debating today repealed the three previous Leicester regulations. That is why we are not debating Statutory Instruments 2020/754, 787 or 823, which have been revoked. The (No. 2) (Leicester) regulations are what we are debating today. They came into force on 3 August. They allowed more businesses to reopen across the city, fine-tuned restrictions on residents and applied the learning of our work in the city. For example, residents were allowed overnight visits, and the restrictions on gatherings were replaced by restrictions preventing different households meeting up with each other inside homes and their gardens.
Then on 19 August the (No. 2) (Leicester) regulations were amended. With a more stable incidence rate of the virus of 70 per 100,000, my right honourable friend agreed that it was safe to allow more businesses to reopen, in accordance with Covid-secure guidance, but not to relax the restriction on households meeting one another in another home. We also published guidance for people living in Leicester to help them to understand what they could and could not do under the restrictions, which was updated each time there was a change.
I am acutely aware that your Lordships are familiar with the detail of these regulations after several debates on local interventions. Rather than rehearsing the detail, I would like to share with the House some of what we have learned from this process, learnings that we have applied to other lockdowns. I reiterate that this has been a partnership between national and local government. National government was required to apply the right legal restrictions. It provided extra analytical insight from the data that was beginning to come on stream from our test and trace operations and other operational resources. NHS Test and Trace provided mobile testing units and supported the development of a local contact tracing service, which achieved a success rate of over 91% in tracing those not reached by the national service, so that was a successful model for other areas. However, that success would have been impossible without the herculean efforts of local leaders and the local community, and I am sure that all noble Lords will wish to join me in paying tribute to them. I give particular thanks to Public Health England’s experienced regional director of public health, Dr Sue Ibbotson, and her team, who have provided invaluable advice and expertise to complement the work of the two excellent local directors of public health, Ivan Browne and Mike Sandys.
From early in July, Leicester City Council, Leicestershire County Council and the local resilience forum co-ordinated testing and tracing, instigated communications and brought about community and business engagement as well as managing education and adult and social care. In doing so, they have used their profound local knowledge to reach all parts of the community. For example, they have translated messages into multiple languages spoken locally and ensured that they have been delivered by trusted local leaders. This has helped to build support for the restrictions across the area. They have engaged with local businesses in the wards with the highest incidence rates to provide advice on Covid-secure practices.
This excellent work was recognised by Dame Ney in her report Rapid Stocktake of Lessons Learnt and Good Practice in the Management of Local Covid-19 Outbreaks, published in August. She noted that there was a
“commitment by all agencies and their staff to work together and tackle the situation.”
She commented on their
“openness and flexibility in seeking solutions”.
She also recognised the ongoing “continuous learning” that was developing both local and national ways of working.
The effective collaboration in Leicester—of central resources and expertise working with local knowledge and implementation on the ground—took a huge effort to get right. There was some grinding of gears, but the lessons learned have informed our response in other areas, and I pay tribute and give thanks to all involved.
We always knew that the path out of the lockdown would not be entirely smooth. It was always likely that infections would rise in particular areas or workplaces and that we would need to be able to respond quickly and flexibly to these outbreaks. This has been the story in Leicester. The protected area covered by these regulations was extended on 22 September so that, once again, it included the Borough of Oadby and Wigston. Unfortunately, following a drop in the incidence rate in that area earlier this summer, rates have now risen to an unacceptably high level: 102 per 100,000 people for the seven days from 9 September to 15 September.
The Leicester regulations have demonstrated our willingness and ability to take action where we need to. We will, of course, use the experience of these measures in Leicester to inform and help us to develop our responses to this and other local outbreaks in the future. As I said earlier, there have been ongoing reviews of the Leicester regulations, and the next review is due tomorrow. We will, of course, make the outcome of this next review public in due course.
I am grateful to your Lordships for your continued engagement in this challenging process and the scrutiny of these regulations. In particular, I thank the people of the protected area in Leicestershire, who have responded so well to the measures put in place. It is thanks to their continued efforts that we are able to reopen non-essential retail, childcare and educational establishments. I reassure the Chamber that we will make further relaxations as soon as the epidemiology permits. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very glad to be able to take part in this debate, and I thank the Minister for his introductory remarks. Of course, these two regulations were laid some weeks ago, and I make no apologies for returning to a major theme of the debate on Covid regulations last Friday. Of course, we are faced with a huge backlog of regulations, some more of which we are debating later today, with a whole set more to be debated tomorrow. All of these are retrospective and highly restrictive of the way we live our lives.
In responding on Friday, the Minister pointed to the rapid nature of decision-making in the crises and stated that parliamentary scrutiny is valued by the Government, with regulation debates being taken seriously. I do not think there is any question about the Minister’s own commitment to this House, but the Government’s record is one of consistently riding roughshod over Parliament, with major announcements made elsewhere, a Prime Minister who has consistently tried to take Parliament out of decision-making and special advisers in Downing Street instructing Ministers on what they can and cannot do, often with little notice.
This may be a small point, but the Minister may be aware that, once again, the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has criticised his department for the quality of the Explanatory Memoranda that are laid in relation to these kinds of regulations. Specifically, it notes that there is not enough detail and that they are too vague. In particular, the amending regulations simply do not give Members enough clarity about what is entailed. The Select Committee says:
“When law is imposed with immediate effect in this way it is even more important that the explanatory material provided is clear and fit for purpose.”
I accept that, at the beginning of the crisis, extraordinary measures had to be taken, but we are now six months in, with many more months to come. Surely, we have to find a better way of doing things? Ideally, we should be debating regulations before they come into force. If that is not possible, then they should be taken soon after they have been laid, not weeks and, sometimes, months later.
We should also have the ability to see and question the leaders of the local authorities involved. Neither of the SIs before us seems to include the details of consultations with the appropriate local government leaders. I know that, today, the Minister mentioned the important partnership between the Government and local authorities, and I certainly echo his tribute to the local directors of public health and, indeed, the staff of Public Health England. However, I refer him to the comments of Sir Peter Soulsby, the elected Mayor of Leicester, who said that he had been kept in the dark with regard to what it would take to get the restrictions lifted. He still has not received an answer and has also compared Leicester to other areas with higher rates and no restrictions, asking why the city was being treated differently.
Therefore, I hope that, today, the Minister might be able to say what Leicester has to do to get the restrictions lifted. Secondly, when regulations are laid in the future, can we have an explicit statement by the leader of the appropriate local authority as to his or her views on the regulations?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this statutory instrument. These coronavirus instruments are now becoming familiar on the Order Paper; each tells a story about people’s lives and gives lessons that are, perhaps, not yet all learned. As the Minister has said, Leicester was the first local area lockdown, and it is somewhat poignant that we are debating two regulations that are not all that old and include stepwise easing of local lockdowns at a time when we have just had to return to stronger measures for everyone.
Before getting to today’s statutory instruments, I will note that Leicester had its first statutory instrument before the summer break, followed by progressive lifting of measures and reductions in the area covered by the local measures. The paper trail from then—which is continuing—does show the regularity of fortnightly reviews and accompanying changes. I live some 85 miles from Leicester, so I am not local, but I did see news coverage and hear grumbling because local lockdowns always bring hard comparisons with freedoms just along, or just over, the road.
However, there were success stories too, especially with Leicester councils, for example, being early movers in using local tracing when the national system could not contact people. The lessons there have been followed elsewhere, but, sometimes, there still seems to be a centralising bias and a lack of information.
The first of the (No. 2) regulations that are the subject of this debate was actually the fifth set of changes, so a complete new regulation was made for clarity. Therefore, although it looks like it is imposing closures, those are mainly retaining previous measures, and it is actually allowing the opening up of bars, cafes and so on. It was subject to further review, resulting in the second of today’s Leicester SIs, opening up more businesses. There is then another amending SI on 15 September, which opens up the remaining businesses, as in the rest of England—although, overall, there are still more restrictions on personal socialising in Leicester than there are in England generally. The next review is tomorrow, I believe.
I do not want to guess or estimate whether Leicester is still worse off for infections than anywhere else, but I would not lay a bet against everywhere soon having more restrictions on household mixing. The ability to mingle with lots of different households in groups of six manages to be at the same time too restricting for family circles yet too permissive when used gregariously.
Others will make the future choices, but if the Government are to keep as much of the economy going as they can, it means ensuring that working parents with young children have sufficient childcare help, whether they work at home or go out. There has been a move in the right direction with linked childcare households but, in the face of another six months of restrictions and the season of illnesses, the provision that if you dissolve a linked childcare arrangement you cannot replace it with another is unrealistic. What about emergencies or illness? What if one arrangement can no longer function but another long-term substitute is available? Why not regularise what will have to happen in practice for both the individual and the national economy to survive?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles. I thank my noble friend for presenting these regulations for consideration.
As has been noted by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, there is a retrospective flavour to this debate, which is all too familiar with the regulations that we have been considering on coronavirus. I accept the need for regulations, but surely we can overcome this retrospective nature and debate these things in a more timely way.
The great danger is that, when these regulations were brought in, the infection rate was falling, fatalities were falling and there was a very different flavour to the atmosphere then, compared with now. Against that background, can my noble friend tell us what the infection rate is currently in Leicester, Oadby and Wigston, and indeed in Blaby and Charnwood, which were initially subject to some of these restrictions too? It would be good to note whether the numbers are still falling; I rather doubt it myself.
The Minister stressed the local nature of the approach, which is something that many of us believe in very strongly. We have currently a rather overcentralised system of controls and should be aiming for a much more local approach. I would welcome the Minister saying something about the attitude of Her Majesty’s Government to the implementation of policy. I accept that there has to be a national framework, but I think that we would all welcome more local input and use of local expertise.
The Minister referred to some difficulties in Leicester. I accept that this was the first area of the country to go into local lockdown, so some grind of gears was, as the Minister said, perhaps inevitable—although the gear-grinding was much more reminiscent of when I was learning to drive. There were far more problems of communication than perhaps the Minister has outlined. What lessons have been learned about the experience in Leicester? I accept and welcome the multilingual nature of communications, and I have no doubt that that is being replicated in other parts of the country that are now subject to lockdown, but I would welcome the Minister saying something on that too.
Of course, Leicester is an area with a large black and Asian minority ethnic population—a long-established and very well integrated population from those communities on the whole. Can the Minister say whether any lessons are being learned about the challenge and fact that these parts of the community are affected disproportionately, and what action is being taken as a consequence of lessons learned in communities such as Leicester?
Being the first, in a local sense, to be in more of a lockdown than the rest of the country, Leicester has suffered more economic impact. I welcome the bold Job Support Scheme that has been announced by my right honourable friend the Chancellor in another place; many of us have been pushing for that for some time. Above all, I ask the Minister to give more strategic thought to what we should be doing as a country in relation to the split between the centralised approach—indeed, overcentralised at the moment, I would argue—and a more locally focused approach that I think we should be aiming for.
My Lords, I spoke in your Lordships’ House about the Leicester lockdown on 29 July 2020. Since then, there have been some changes in the rules owing to fewer cases of coronavirus, but there have been small flare-ups in Leicester recently. It seems that, in bringing in new regulations, local authorities and police have not been consulted properly. Sir Peter Soulsby has objected to these new restrictions.
In these difficult times, there has to be proper consultation and discussions before bringing in new regulations. Leicester has many restaurants which cater for the Asian communities. Many people are employed in these restaurants and visitors regularly travel from London to Leicester to enjoy the Indian cuisine, but there is a danger of bringing the virus from London as Londoners travel to Leicester.
On one side, public health is most important but, on the other side, businesses suffer a great deal in these lockdowns. Schools also have to be closed down at the same time. The scientific data has shown that there are more people in Leicester who have tested positive and the Government had to act swiftly to lock down the city, or part of the city. There are also many manufacturing companies in textiles and other fashion items. Some factories have very congested spaces and social distancing can be difficult for workers.
As this is a public health issue, the Government must be able to act swiftly and have taken powers to do so. Many more lives could be lost if the Government had not taken such powers. Can the Minister say whether any research has been done as to why Leicester has had these repeated flare-ups?
Leicester is a vibrant city that I have loved for decades—from the moment I took a government delegation there 22 years ago to examine its outstanding record on community integration and its community leadership from women.
I echo the many concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, particularly with regard to the lack of evident constructive dialogue with the local mayor. I hope that the Minister will remedy this at the earliest opportunity.
With the knowledge that this disease has taken too many lives, and disproportionately so the lives of minority populations, including significant numbers of those on the front line of the NHS and other critical services, what analysis is under way by our Government to prevent an equally adverse impact as we embark on new challenges and restrictions? Are there lessons applicable to other similar areas?
I raise the particular concerns drawn to my attention by a number of professionals in the field, including Barnardo’s, on the mental health of young people. Already, one in eight of those aged five to 19 have been diagnosed with mental health conditions, including those who are struggling with grief, loss and bereavement. Among them are those from disadvantaged areas and children of minority heritage who are negotiating additional challenges and barriers of prejudice, racism and religious discrimination. I know that the Government are already committed to programmes to address some of these difficulties, but the Minister will also be aware that CAMHS services are struggling to meet demands and referrals have become cumbersome and delayed.
Can the Minister say whether he is considering, or will consider, working closely with Barnardo’s and other reputable, long-standing NGOs to meet the excess demand, address the needs of minority heritage children, in particular, and engage with professions that are suitably qualified from these communities? I am happy, given I have the luxury of four minutes, to offer my services as a former child protection officer. But he does not have to take that up; just stick to the professionals if that is what he is comfortable with.
Is the Minister aware of the new Barnardo’s advert highlighting the impact of losing loved ones? Will he consider adding to these campaigns the Government’s voice and initiatives and mitigate future harms to children, not only in Leicester but elsewhere?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his work on these regulations and for presenting them today. I am happy to join him in congratulating the leaders, public workers and residents of Leicester on their efforts to cope with the chopping and changing of restrictions on daily and family life.
As other noble Lords have commented, I am seriously concerned about the ongoing undermining of parliamentary scrutiny and accountability for measures that have such a devastating effect on areas of our country and its citizens. The seemingly arbitrary rules are having a detrimental effect on public confidence, and even though we are debating measures that have been superseded several times, we still have no information before us that explains the rationale in any detail and no information on the cost-benefit analyses of these measures, on the impact on other health concerns and the problems they cause for family life or on the potential number of deaths from Covid-19 that may be avoided, versus the number of deaths from other causes.
Could my noble friend please explain to us—if not today, then in writing—the Government’s overall assessment of the impact of local lockdown measures on public health? For example, a study published in the Lancet Public Health reports that detection rates for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular and circulatory diseases, mental illness and cancer have plunged, citing a diagnosis rate around 50% lower than the average of the last decade. Lockdowns may suppress Covid-19 infection rates, but that is not the same as saving lives. There will be many people in Leicester who will not have received life-saving treatment and would like to know what assessment the Government have made of the number of deaths that have been caused by other illnesses during lockdown.
Lockdowns should be a last-ditch, life-saving measure after carefully balanced consideration of all other risks, rather than a sledgehammer to beat just one illness regardless of serious side-effects. Parliament needs this information and so do the public.
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for yet again coming to explain another sheaf of affirmative instruments about faraway places that most noble Lords probably do not know much about. However, some do.
I shall comment on one or two points that have been made. First, the Minister said that in Leicester, local people, local authorities and other agencies had made herculean efforts. That is true of other areas, but people are now being threatened with another six months, and it feels like a threat, though I understand it is not meant as such. Their energies and resilience are being severely tested, and more practical support, including money from the Government, would be very helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, both referred to the fact that the process we are using to deal with the regulations in this House is not satisfactory. It is not. I will have more to say on that later today.
The noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, mentioned black and minority ethnic involvement. I come from an area with a substantial ethnic minority population, and I wonder if the Minister will have more to say about that in this discussion.
Neither Leicester nor Blackburn, nor even Bradford, which shares a border with Pendle on the moors, are part of Pendle. Nevertheless, I should declare an interest as a Pendle councillor; I may refer to it from time to time in this debate and the next.
The other points the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, made—although I suspect we come from a different ideological starting point—are very important and will become more important. We should discuss them.
The Leicester regulations demonstrate the extraordinary complexity of this whole thing. This is the sixth set of regulations, as my noble friend Lady Bowles mentioned. The three amendments to the original regulations were a complete rewrite, and now there are new amendments. One gets the impression that, with the best will in the world, much of the Government’s decision-making on this, which affects local areas, is being done—I will not say on the back of fag packets, because they are out of fashion nowadays—on whatever they use nowadays. Week by week, people who live in areas that have the highest rate of Covid-19, which include east Lancashire, are on tenterhooks to see what is going to happen next. Sometimes, it is what the local people have put forward, as the Minister suggested. In other cases, things seem to come out of the blue. Although the situations have been changing a lot, more stability would be welcomed by all the people who are doing their best to deal with this on a local level. Working out the interrelationship between new national rules and local rules, as they come and change week by week, is extraordinarily difficult, although people do their best to explain it. I wonder whether, sooner or later, some national rules will come which will be more restrictive than local rules and will then apply in a particular area.
Testing is crucial. We all know that testing is crucial. The comments from the Prime Minister two days ago were not helpful, and they have been more or less rowed back on. But it is not just how many tests are done or how many testing kits are sent out, it is the speed of the results and the follow-up of the contacts—at the local level—which is often so important. This still needs a great deal of work. The Minister said yesterday that things were getting a lot better in this respect, but it is not always obvious on the ground.
Finally, yesterday I asked the Minister a couple of questions about the new regulations which provide people with £500, under certain circumstances, if they are isolating, and also about the evidence of enforcement. What the Minister told me was that this would be done by the normal processes by which public benefits are handed out, and that the enforcement would be by local agencies and the local police. What he said was very vague and general, and I wonder if he has some specific ideas on exactly how this is going to be carried out.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the very complex statutory instruments that we have before us—although actually, we are quite clear what is before us today—which constitute the end of a long series of revocations. I was reflecting on whether I could remember if we have actually discussed any of these, but frankly, I cannot.
I start by thanking the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for all its hard work in keeping Parliament up to speed with scrutinising these regulations. It is worth reflecting on the summary of the 27th report, which arrived with us today, on the regulations in this batch and the ones we are discussing next and tomorrow. Noble Lords on that committee must be sitting in almost permanent session at the moment, and they deserve our gratitude.
In that report, the committee quoted from the Explanatory Memorandum:
“The number of positive Covid-19 cases has continued to decline in Leicester”—
and, indeed, in Blackburn, Darwen and the north of England, with the exception of Bolton.
“As a result, this instrument will apply easements made elsewhere in England on 25 July to the areas covered by the Blackburn and Bradford Regulations and Leicester Regulations. In addition, the instrument will apply the easements made elsewhere in England on 15 August to the areas covered by the Blackburn and Bradford Regulations and North of England Regulations, apart from the area of Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council.”
The point about this is that no clear reference is given to which instruments of 25 July and 15 August are intended or to what business may now operate, as different restrictions are eased in each area. The Committee said that it found the original Explanatory Memorandum vague and inadequate, and requested the Department of Health and Social Care to revise it to include a much more specific explanation of the changes to the law that it made. It went on:
“When law is imposed with immediate effect in this way it is even more important that the explanatory material provided is clear and fit for purpose.”
I hope that the Minister and his colleagues have taken that on board.
The Government were criticised for the way they introduced and subsequently made changes to the local lockdown in Leicester. During a debate in the House of Lords on the original lockdown regulations— I know that we have discussed this at least once, on 29 July, just before the recess—I pointed out that the media knew about the lockdown before the council, the local police or the NHS. I hope that is one of the lessons the Government have learned in this process.
We need to recognise that the people of Leicester have not experienced being out of lockdown since the initial measures were imposed in March. That has been taking its toll on all the communities in Leicester. It is true that the mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, suggested that government data should have been shared much sooner. Again, I hope that is a lesson learned. Jonathan Ashworth MP, one of the local MPs, said that the lack of clarity from the Government had left the people of Leicester feeling really anxious, especially those who had been shielding. Local Leicester businesses are campaigning for judicial review of the Government’s handling of the local lockdown. The Chancellor said that he would do “whatever it takes” when the lockdown was announced, and they believe that specific economic relief should have been provided in the areas affected by local lockdown.
In recent weeks, some restrictions have been lifted, particularly those relating to the commercial sector. In spite of figures improving as a result of the local lockdown, repeated calls for the restrictions to be lifted in line with the rest of the country seem not to have been considered. Will the Minister tell us whether that is the case? My understanding is that Leicester is now 24th on the list of local authorities of interest, so unless there has been a spike that I do not know about in the last week or so, some consideration should be given to that.
We need to place on record credit for the pioneering approach in response to the local lockdown as part of the review recently carried out by Dame Mary Ney. Local interventions around targeting and testing, community engagement, the work in engaging businesses and carrying out enforcement, as well as local contact tracing, are key to the fact that, although cases in Leicester have started to rise, it has not been at the exponential rate seen elsewhere. If anything, they have stabilised around the current level.
As winter approaches, it will become more difficult for people in Leicester, as elsewhere, to meet their relatives and friends outdoors, which will impact in particular on the elderly. There is no doubt that people’s mental health will suffer—particularly that of young people, especially young women—and months will pass with grandparents being unable to play with their grandchildren in their gardens, while households in places with similar infection rates will have been able to mix. Some, of course, have had a summer in which they could mix with their families, as I did myself with my family in Bradford. I know that I can no longer see them, of course, but we will be talking about Bradford next.
The mayor has said that it does not feel fair. Does the Minister believe that Leicester is being treated fairly? I know that money has been given to the council to commission its own contact tracing, and that the local authority will have the insights, cultural connections and sensitivities for that kind of work.
I have two final questions for the Minister, about testing in care homes and schools. The Government promised weekly testing in care homes. In Leicester, where this is an absolute priority because it is a high-risk area, there are real problems about getting test results back, with some people having to wait seven days. That means that the next test happens before the previous test result is returned. Schools in Leicester are reporting serious issues with testing, particularly of children. The Minister is aware that there are no available appointments to book; pupils must remain at home in self-isolation, missing out on yet more time in the classroom. This is despite all the talk of prioritising these local areas during Covid spikes.
These are serious issues that need airing. They are probably not confined to Leicester, but because Leicester was the first, it is the most important.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their thoughtful questions. I will try to get through as many of them as I can. I start with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, about the speed with which the regulations before us were presented. In defence of the work of those who draft the Explanatory Memorandums, there has been a huge amount of legislation going through Parliament because of Covid. The team that draft it has been augmented; we have brought in more parliamentary training in order to bring more people on to that team. I pay tribute to their very hard work, but I completely and utterly recognise the points made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. Complex regulations brought into this place at speed rightly deserve a clear Explanatory Memorandum. We will endeavour to ensure that that happens with all the material we bring to Parliament in the future. The noble Baroness rightly praised the work of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I echo that: the work it has done is unsung and deserves our praise.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked how we judge whether an area should come out of lockdown. This is now done by an extremely thoughtful team run by the joint biosecurity team. They look at a very large number of measures. They look at the connectivity of a given place. A high street in the centre of a busy town with strong community relations up and down the country is inevitably going to be of higher focus than, say, a rural, self-contained area. They look at on-the-ground intelligence from the local infection control teams, who will have their own assessment as to how well the restrictions are being applied and followed by people on the ground. They look at the direction of travel of the infection rate, both locally and nationally, and within the groups in a given area. They look at acceleration—whether something is holding at a given level, or moving in one direction or the other at speed. We are learning all the time from both British and international comparisons, and we look at the response of the people on the ground and the resources of the local authorities for implementing local measures. These are some of the factors that play into the assessment and, as noble Lords can see, an extremely complex but thoughtful process is now in place.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, rightly asked about the involvement of local authorities and whether the leader of the local authority should make a statement. The frustrating truth is that the virus does not respect political boundaries in the way we would like it to; it tends to flood over them. One of the challenges we face is trying to build political alliances across boundaries, where people may have different priorities and alliances. Therefore, building those cross-boundary alliances is a key part of what we do.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, talked about family links. She is entirely right—one aspect of the disease is our understanding now of how far people travel to pursue their family and community connections. We can trace, through genetic detective work, who has what disease and from where, and it is astounding how far and how quickly the disease moves through the corridors of family and community links up and down the country. The noble Baroness also mentioned the challenges of working parents and childcare. We completely recognise those challenges: they are intimate, personal and profound. We have already moved a long way, particularly in the north-east with recent changes, to try to accommodate these important challenges, in particular those of women, who are suffering in a particularly tough way during this disease.
My noble friend Lord Bourne talked about the retrospective flavour of these regulations. I am afraid to say that that is simply an aspect of how quickly we are moving. He also asked about the infection rate in Leicester, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. It is currently 103.9 and rising. That is an extremely frustrating statistic because, as you will remember, it was only just over 100 when these regulations were brought in. In other words, it has gone down and then back up again. The positivity rate is 8%—that is quite high, and it speaks of there being an infection challenge in Leicester.
We acknowledge that, across the country, there is a particular problem with young people. They do not get hit by the symptoms of this disease themselves, but they are vectors of infection. One of the challenges we have in Leicester, as we do in many towns, is that young people are, quite understandably, frustrated about the restrictions placed upon them and are not necessarily abiding by the social distancing restrictions. That is one reason why we have had to bring in new measures beyond the rule of six in the Prime Minister’s recent announcement.
The noble Lords, Lord Bourne and Lord Bhatia, both asked about lessons learned. There are dozens of lessons learned, but I can indicate two that are particularly striking. First, we have learned it is better that plans for local restrictions originate locally, rather than coming from the centre and being passed down. Secondly, no one likes to see added restrictions imposed on their area, or to see this happen because an adjacent geographic area has an infection rate issue. That is one of the things we have had to do, and it is a really big challenge for those concerned.
The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, also asked about Asian communities and what we have learnt about them. Government marketing and communications into hard-to-reach communities, such as the Asian community in Leicester, but also the seasonal agricultural working community in places like Hereford, are not what they should be. We have come a long way in learning how to use languages and community media, and we now have a strong partnership with local radio and TV directed at those communities. We have learnt a lot and come a long way.
The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, rightly cited mental health as a key issue. It is one that we discussed earlier today, and about which we are particularly concerned, investing £8 million in the Wellbeing for Education Return fund. I welcome the noble Baroness’s suggestion that we work with Barnardo’s, an organisation that has enormous respect and trust in government, and I would be glad to work with her on that.
My noble friend Lady Altmann asked about assessments. May I direct her to the review by Dame Mary Ney, which is a stocktake of local lockdowns? My noble friend questioned the whole principle of lockdowns—but may I reassure her that the principle of local lockdowns is to try to avoid national lockdowns? We have them because the virus largely plays a local role. We seek to impose local restrictions to avoid national restrictions. That is international best practice. But I completely acknowledge the damage done to local health outcomes, and we work hard to avoid it.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, rightly cited the importance of investment in local business. I remind him that we have invested £70 million in businesses in Leicester. He also asked about local authorities’ implementation of the £500 bonus. I assure him that it will be in place by 12 October, and that those who have not been paid by then will get retrospective payments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about whether things had been fair in Leicester. This virus just is not fair, and the way in which we handled it in Leicester represented the very best endeavours possible. Yes, of course there will be people in Leicester who feel hard done by—but we could not have tried harder, and we continue to do our best to crack down on this horrible virus.