By Tony Earnshaw
Confusion reigns at the highest levels of local government following the government’s decision to introduced new advisory guidelines affecting Kirklees.
Health chiefs, council chiefs, MPs and even new West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin were blind-sided by the online announcement, which was made without fanfare last Friday evening
None of them were formally notified.
They are now seeking urgent clarity around the question mark over weddings, funerals, staycations, the re-opening of the leisure sector and even planned operations.
In a sharp attack on the government Ms Brabin said: “Updated guidance, slipped out on a Friday teatime on the cabinet office website, is, frankly, shocking.”
Kirklees Council Leader Shabir Pandor said he hoped it had been “an error” as the district’s hospital rates and death rates were low.
“We are doing whatever we can to respond to the pandemic but the responsibility overall is the government’s. For them to drop this on us is completely unfair.
“We will step up and do our part but we can’t do it when there’s no trust or no confidence in how they communicate with us. It’s not on.”
Surge testing at across Kirklees is set to begin tomorrow (Weds).
The surprise news led to a hastily arranged press conference as senior figures scrabbled to understand how the borough might be affected – and how it might be communicated to hundreds of thousands of affected people.
Ms Brabin said she was “confused and disappointed” to learn that she along with Kirklees Council’s Director of Public Health, Rachel Spencer-Henshall, had not been spoken to directly.
She said people “on the ground” who had to deliver changes had also been left out of the loop.
“We’d already seen last year a lack of communication and what that can deliver for communities.
“The community of Kirklees has absolutely suffered [over] this last year. We’ve been in some version of restrictions for over a year.
“Businesses have gone bust, people have lost loved ones, they’ve not been able to see the people they care about – and now a Friday teatime announcement that can change people’s lives.
“It just feels so disrespectful.”
Like the majority of other people Cllr Pandor found about the guideline changes via social media.
“That’s not the way to communicate,” he said. “There should be a lot more planning, a lot more preparation, a lot more joined-up working with government and local authorities.
“You can’t just suddenly drop something like this. It’s not fair on our communities. It’s confusing, it’s disappointing and we owe our communities a lot more than the way we communicate with them over the last few days.”
He said people who were expecting to return to some semblance of normality with weddings, holidays, and visiting pubs and restaurants deserved clarity, not confusion.
“If the new guidance means that you can’t travel in and out of Kirklees and at the same time we have got a roadmap, which is easing the opening of hospitality, leisure, pubs and clubs, and the general message is that we’re gradually getting back to normality, then bringing in this new guidance just confuses the whole situation.
“It just throws everything up in the air.
“That is so disappointing because we don’t understand the logic or the rationale.”
Clr Pandor added: “There is a lot of good faith out there in local authorities and local communities.
“Government know that I have always stepped up in terms of anything they have asked for. They need to respect that goodwill. The only way we can get out of this together is to carry on that good faith and partnership working.
“Residents and communities are genuinely confused now so I hope we can clarify the situation very, very quickly.”