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The three tiers – A simplified system, but questions remain about consultation

This week, the Government announced the new system for the identification and implementation of coronavirus restrictions. The system is designed to streamline and simplify regulations and to make it easy for individuals to know which rules apply. Broadly speaking, the system works as follows:

  • ‘Tier 1- Medium’ where the rule of six applies indoors and outdoors, and pubs and restaurants must shut at 10PM.
  • ‘Tier 2- High’ involves a ban on mixing indoors, the rule of six applying outdoors and pubs and restaurants closing at 10PM.
  • ‘Tier 3- Very High’, involves a ban on mixing inside or outside in hospitality venues or private gardens, the rule of six applying in public space like parks, pubs and bars not serving meals being closed and guidance being issued against travelling into and out of areas

It could hardly be simpler. Until we start to look at some of the deals being struck on what areas are under which restrictions.

One of our consistent complaints during the crisis has been the lack of consultation on restrictions by the Government. We have written about it ad infinitum, whether it’s a lack of consultation with the general public, a lack of consultation with local authorities, or the court cases where this has been challenged. We have even issued a briefing paper on how local authorities should consult on their new health powers. With this new system, that has supposedly changed. Restrictions are being imposed in conjunction with local mayors and authorities.

There does however seem to be some disagreement over how this is being done. The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham made an appearance this week complaining that local leaders were unanimously opposed to the introduction of Tier 3 measures, and the lack of economic support that comes with that. A zoom call with local MPs descended into tumult and acrimony with some reports suggesting a rather curt end. A threat by the Prime Minister this afternoon to unilaterally impose measures on Greater Manchester will hardly have soothed the situation.

Now it emerges that even if consultation is taking place, it might not be happening in the most… conducive… of manners. Paul Brand, the ITV political correspondent reports having interviewed the leader of Preston Council who said that they were told if they did not agree to the proposals, the restrictions would be imposed anyway, and no local support package would be given. A disgruntled local leader perhaps? If so, perhaps not the only one. Helen Pidd, the Guardian’s North of England editor reports essentially the same story, this time in Pendle. Once again, a threat to impose measures without any support if local authorities did not agree.

When we called for more consultation, this was not quite what we meant. Consultation should always be done in the most genuine of manners. It should be a dialogue between parties, with the intention of better decision-making and allowing contributions. Whilst we cannot independently verify the truth of the stories being reported by journalists, that we are hearing the same one multiple times seems at the very least suspect. In a crisis such as this, trust in governing authorities, and between public bodies is very important. Genuine consultation can form a vital part of this. Risking relations with poor consultation is a fool’s errand, and will only lead to further trouble.

About the Author

Stephen serves as the Institute’s Legal and Parliamentary Officer. Before joining the Institute Stephen studied Law at Bangor University and pursued a Masters’ degree in Aviation and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal. After this, he returned to London and was called to the bar in 2016 at the Honorable Society of Gray’s Inn, before deciding not to go into practice and move towards public policy work instead. Within the Institute, Stephen provides legal, political and policy analysis of UK and global current affairs of interest to consultors and consultees.

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