Liverpool is in the top tier, but not for football this time.
Liverpool City Region – made up of 1.6 million people living in the boroughs of Wirral, Halton, St Helens, Sefton, Knowsley and Liverpool itself – is in Tier Three of the government’s new ‘simplified’ system of restrictions that, within hours of being launched, left people more confused than ever.
The Government simply ignored the advice of its own Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) for a national ‘circuit-break’ to try to slow the spread of the virus, provide crucial time to get the track, trace and isolate system back up and running and protect our NHS.
Instead, it opted to hide the advice until after it had imposed a new top-down system that the Chief Medical Officer said will fail to slow the spread of the virus, while jobs and local businesses go to the wall.
Any suggestion of a national political consensus on how to tackle this second wave of death and misery has crumbled with the official Labour opposition now backing the SAGE advice, the Government party riven by divisions, and local leaders in the worst affected cities and regions left to battle to protect their own patch without access to the national resources required.
Any decent government would pay heed to scientists on SAGE, like Liverpool’s own Professor Calum Semple, who fears that the government’s latest botched interventions have come ‘too late for the hundreds of people who are in hospital at the moment.’
Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Trust says it is at a ‘critical point’ and poised to start cancelling non-urgent operations to free staff and beds to deal with increasing Covid admissions.
As Prof Semple explains, by the time these new interventions have an impact, ‘we’ll have experienced another doubling of cases and with that there will come deaths.’
Liverpool and the wider region face some really difficult weeks ahead. The restrictions already announced, and the uncertainty about when they will end, will put a huge strain on individuals and local businesses. It is a terrible blow to an economy that hadn’t yet recovered from the first lockdown.
A lot of people are rightly angry that our region has been singled out. For instance, when the nation locked down, the furlough scheme protected 80 per cent of people’s wages. The new scheme will protect just 67 per cent of wages for those in closed businesses. You have to struggle hard to live on 100 per cent of an average Liverpool wage. You simply can’t live on two-thirds of that. Small businesses will lose between one-third and half of the support available during the national lockdown.
The Government has ignored the science when it comes to the climate emergency for so long we shouldn’t be too shocked that it has turned its back on the call from SAGE for a two to three-week ‘circuit break’ backed up by common sense interventions to reduce social contact, like supporting people to work from home and universities to put all teaching online.
Liverpool City Region has four major universities on its doorstep – the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores, Hope and Edge Hill. The paths from University to halls of residence and the communities where students live are now paved with the virus.
That is not to blame the students for wanting an education and following government advice to travel and receive face-to-face tuition. The Government simply failed these young people and failed the places where universities are based.
This has the makings of a tragedy for the Liverpool City Region. It will take decades to recover.
It is not simply a matter of the economy. The terrible response to the pandemic has cut off individuals from the support of family and friends, particularly those in care homes.
Lost incomes raise fears of lost homes and lost hope, and risk the loss of more lives through suicide.
Labour controls the councils that make up Liverpool City Region and holds the position of Metro Mayor. Everyone recognises the cost of the austerity imposed on the region by the Lib Dem-Tory Coalition that has extended now for a decade.
Labour has been dealt a poor hand of cards, but it has played them appallingly badly.
Squabbling between the six borough leaders and questionable failed deals with developers are a backdrop to a long-term economic regeneration strategy that has been destroyed by the pandemic.
Labour’s vision for the region’s recovery relies on global tourism – drawing visitors in through an expanded airport and ever bigger ships berthing at a new cruise liner terminal in the centre of Liverpool. It relies on attracting ever more international students paying exorbitant tuition and accommodation fees, and it relies on growing international trade through an expanding port.
That vision was always bad for the environment. Post-pandemic, it will also be a non-starter for reviving the economy and bringing back jobs because fewer people and goods will criss-cross the world.
Long term, Liverpool needs a new, bold vision for recovery based on a Green New Deal that protects incomes and creates jobs that are sustainable for people and the environment. It needs to be a Liverpool built on equality, social justice and protecting our environment.
Today, in the midst of this pandemic upsurge, we need an end to Labour squabbling, clear leadership and messaging that explains the restrictions and wins public support for them. We cannot afford to lose the public here as the national Government already has.
We need a clear plan, and we need to believe it will work. Other cities and regions will follow Liverpool into Tier Three.
As a start, we need to build alliances to take back control of track and trace and let local public health and council teams who know their communities lead this vital work.
We need our councils to have full and open access to the data and to the SAGE advice as it is made, not weeks late. And we need a financial support package that allows people to keep food in their stomachs, clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads.
Green councillors will continue to work in our communities to support the isolated and most vulnerable and to build hope for the future.
The Tories want to close their ears to the science and Labour wants to put its faith in a failed past.
Better is possible, but only if the government listens to the experts on the ground and Labour engages with the people on a new vision for a post-pandemic Green recovery.
Cllr Tom Crone is the leader of the Green Party Group on Liverpool City Council