‘Don’t blame Luton for Bedford being in tier 2’ say council leaders

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Councillors have hit back at claims that Bedford has been dragged into tier 2 coronavirus restrictions by Luton.

Before the second national lockdown, which ends this week, Bedford was in tier 1, and Luton had been placed in tier 2.

As national restrictions come to an end on Wednesday (December 2), Bedford, Luton, Central Beds and Milton Keynes will emerge together under new tier 2 rules.

But a meeting heard that not only have the tiers changed but that Bedford is doing a “very nice job of having a high rate of infection all by ourselves.”

Cllr Louise Jackson (Lab, Harpur) is Bedford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for health and wellbeing.

She said: “I have heard people suggesting that we are in tier 2 because of Luton. It’s more likely that we’ve pulled Luton down from tier 3 than being pulled up to tier 2.

“We’re doing a very nice job of having a high rate of infection all by ourselves. When Leicester went into lockdown in the summer, they were all very alarmed by their rates of infection, something like 60 in 100,000.

“The rates were nothing like what we are seeing here, right now.”

Lib Dem Mayor Dave Hodgson, speaking at Friday’s extraordinary meeting of the local outbreak engagement board, said: “We are not in tier 2 because of Luton. We had 65 patients in hospital, which is one or two under the peak in wave one.

“And there are a growing number of deaths.”

Responding to a question from Conservative group leader Cllr Graeme Coombes (Wilshamstead) on whether the borough could be moved down to tier 1, the council’s outgoing chief executive, Philip Simpkins said he thought it would be “a challenge.”

And the chief officer for public health, Ian Brown, said it is his “professional view” is that tier 1 restrictions are not strong enough to hold back the growth of the infection.

“If we were to go into that tier, within a few weeks we would find ourselves jumping straight back up into tier 2,” he said.

“I think unfortunately, and it pains me to say it, but I think we need to have a sustained period of significant restriction in order to suppress the R enough to get through the dark days of winter, and hopefully come out in early 2021 with a plan for vaccinating a high proportion of the population.”

He urged people to stick to the rules or the borough could end up in a “worse place”

Committee members sympathised with pubs that can’t open because they are unable to provide substantial meals, and don’t have the same levels of support that exist under tier 3, where they are forced to close.

The Mayor wants local MPs to lobby for “proper support for pubs” which cannot open, especially in the villages where “the shop’s gone, the school’s gone” and they are the only community facility left.

Cllr Jackson urged residents to buy healthy takeaways from local businesses and urged the government to “pull their finger out and provide a proper level of support.”

by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter

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