The Week in Parliament
This weekend we will see the next stage of the lifting of lockdown, with pubs, hotels and campsites preparing to open again from Saturday 4th. All except in poor Leicester, which will be continuing the current phase of lockdown as part of the Government’s plan to impose local lockdowns on coronavirus hotspots. These local lockdowns have long been trailed as an important part of the restriction reduction progress and have received support from over the political and scientific spectrum as an important step in tackling the ongoing crisis.
Despite the general agreement on them, there are big questions to be asked about their operation. We have yet to see the specific regulations that will allow the continuation of the lockdown locally, and much of the data being used to identify these local hotspots seems to have been somewhat hidden from local officials and councillors. We have our own big questions, particularly, what consultation is being undertaken on these lockdowns? How are the views of local people being taken into account?
It would seem that we are not the only ones with questions. Over the last couple of days the Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby has become a regular face in the news, expressing concerns about the lack of communication from Central Government on the continued state of affairs. This morning, Tory Grandee Lord Heseltine was on the Today programme, highlighting what he described as a glaring omission in the PM’s speech on recovery of any mention of bringing local leaders into dialogue.
The lack of discussion, particularly on the continuation/reimposition of local lockdowns on communities has the potential to cause a lot of trouble for the Government. In our Briefing Paper 38, we highlighted several reasons that consultation and engagement should be a key part of the ongoing review of coronavirus restrictions. One of the key ones was the need to carry the public will with you. Imposing regulations is fine, but if the public are not happy to comply, or don’t feel they’ve had a say in how they are imposed, then there may well be problems in actually securing compliance with them.
This might be a particular problem when imposing targeted restrictions on individual locations. When everyone is chafing under the same hardships, people are more willing to let those hardships slip, but when particular locations are suffering and the rest of the country is not, concerns about fairness are likely to rise to the fore. The data might be there to support it, but data can often seem distant and unfathomable, particularly if just next door you can see Loughborough enjoying a cooling pint in a local pub. There is an increased risk of large numbers of people concluding that the borders within which the new rules apply might not necessarily need to be entirely impermeable, as we have seen with beaches recently.
Looking further into the future (and this is a developing story as I write), we have seen the release of the new Government guidelines to get all children back into the classroom come September and the start of the new school year. In his statement to the House, Gavin Williamson was asked what consultation there had been with teachers, presumably a gentle nod to the multiple educational u-turns the Government has already been forced into when previous attempts to partially reopen schools failed. Responding to Kate Green, the new Shadow-Secretary of State for Education, he asserted that the Government continues to consult widely, and not just with the unions. As with many recent Government policies, this consultation would seem not to be being done through the usual consultation framework, but instead outside the usual processes, rendering it something of a mystery. The Government might need to be reminded that transparency should be a key part of the consultation process, and undertaking opaque, behind-closed-doors consultations is no way to bolster public confidence in the legislative and policy-making process. Hopefully we will get a little more detail soon, both on how local lockdowns are to function, and on how they are being consulted upon by the Government.