Government slammed for ‘failing to engage’ over coronavirus pandemic

Josh Salisbury (06 January, 2021)

Town hall officials say the u-turns around schools could have been handled much better

34358L: Tooley St HQ of Southwark Council; R: Cllr Kieron Williams

Southwark’s Council leader has criticised the Government’s handling over the coronavirus crisis in recent weeks, saying officials in central government had repeatedly failed to engage with the town hall.

Amid this week’s national lockdown, council boss Cllr Kieron Williams said government had walked away from constructive dialogue with local leaders, despite London being at the epicentre of the new virus strain.

“The most frustrating thing throughout this whole pandemic has been the refusal of Government to work with local leaders to plan the best possible response,” he said.

“We thought we’d got to a better place in September time where we’d work together, but the Government chose to walk away from those arrangements at the end of the last year.”

This lack of local engagement was apparent in the schools’ closure debate, Cllr Williams told the News. “Look, it all could’ve been handled so much better over the last two weeks. It was clear rates were going up, and that we needed the measures we now have.

“The back and forth on schools must have been incredibly difficult for schools, teachers and parents.”

Originally primary schools in Southwark had been given a delayed start, but not in neighbouring boroughs.

Now all schools – but not nurseries – are closed in-person except to children of key workers and vulnerable children.

He later added: “It’s hard to understand how the government got themselves into that place.”

While cases increase – with 724 cases per 100,000 on the latest data in Southwark, 20 per cent higher than the previous week – officials are hoping that swift vaccinations will provide a route out of the crisis.

“I’m confident we can get the vaccine into people’s arms as soon as we get it,” he said. However, while 2,000 doses have been given out in Southwark, the speed of the rollout depends on the supply.

Cllr Williams also urged businesses and residents needing extra support to contact the council.

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