To beat the coronavirus we need to end the idea that Whitehall knows best – Andy Burnham

Spare a thought this Sunday  for people running businesses in Leicester.

This time last week, they were getting ready to re-open with the rest of the country and no doubt incurring big costs in doing so.

Today, they’re looking at pictures of businesses opening their doors and wondering whether theirs ever will.

When the PM unveiled his five-step plan for containing local outbreaks on Friday, I’m sure people in Leicester could hear the sound of a very large stable door being bolted.

If I were them, I’d be asking why did the Government give the go-ahead for the big re-opening in Leicester when it was clear to them by the middle of June that cases in the city were spiking?

I would also want to know why didn’t the Government share all of its intelligence on Leicester in a timely manner with the people on the ground so they could at least have tried to prevent a local lockdown?



Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham

This is the big question councils across the country are asking – because they know they could be next.

As it stands, though more data is now flowing, the Government is still not sharing everything it knows about local outbreaks with the councils in those areas.

It’s using the same “Whitehall knows best” approach that we saw on other issues like PPE and testing.

But it doesn’t know best. Councils are much closer to their communities and know them better than any civil servant. They have experts on the ground who are ready to chase this virus this down.

But they aren’t getting the up-to-date information they need.

Areas like Greater Manchester receive detailed national testing data once a week rather than once a day like the Government. Given that the virus spreads in hours, this puts us very much on the back foot.

We’ve also been told we can only have anonymised data rather than patient-specific.

One public health official told me this week that this was like local detectives trying to solve crimes without being given the names of any of the victims or suspects.

When asked why it won’t provide it, the Government says it is protecting patient confidentiality. But is that more important than protecting lives? And do they not trust councils to protect privacy too?

Councils and public health officials are well used to protecting confidential data. As the battle against this virus has now passed to the local level, they need to be given every tiny bit of intelligence if they are to win that fight.

I agree with the PM that local lockdowns should be the very last resort. The problem is we’re not yet empowered to take the earlier steps to prevent them.

From here on, I want to establish a clear principle with the Government: everything they know about Greater Manchester, we should know and at the same time.

That gives me a fighting chance of preventing a local lockdown in Greater Manchester and I am sure that is what the Government wants too.

But it will only happen if we have a new partnership of trust between national and local government.

source.



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