Most of the West Midlands and all of Staffordshire will remain in Tier 3 for at least the next two weeks, it has been confirmed.
Following a review of the tiers across all English regions, health secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons this morning that most of the West Midlands – including Birmingham, Solihull, Dudley, Coventry and Warwickshire – and Staffordshire – including Stoke-on-Trent – will remain in the ‘very high alert’ level until the next review on December 30.
And while Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and Worcestershire remain in Tier 2, Herefordshire will move down a tier – to Tier 1 – on Saturday.
Business leaders in the region have reacted to the news.
West Midlands mayor Andy Street said: “The Government assess the regions of Coventry, Warwickshire and Solihull as one cluster and Birmingham and the Black Country as another cluster. For Coventry, Warwickshire and Solihull, I argued strongly, so did many other people, that they should move to Tier 2 and I know it genuinely is incredibly disappointing, frustrating and a little perplexing that this has not happened.
“The Government have taken a very cautious approach to this, possibly thinking about the Christmas relaxations, but it’s hugely frustrating for those areas whose wonderful areas to get the virus down have not been rewarded.
“In terms of Birmingham and the Black Country, good progress has been made but the numbers were – and remain – higher.”
He added: “Now we’ve got to keep the faith that we can get our numbers down and we can get to Tier 2.”
Henrietta Brealey, director of policy and strategic relationships, the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, said: “While the news is not unexpected, it will way heavy on the hospitality, visitor economy, accommodation and events businesses in our region – and the many thousands more that supply them.
“We are deeply concerned that the so called “Christmas rules” will lead to a spike in cases in the new year and a continuation or even enhancement of these measures.
“The latest round of government support is spectacularly inadequate for many of our independent businesses, not even covering the rent.
“Furlough won’t protect jobs if their employer goes out of business. Bounce Back and Coronavirus Business Interruption loans will cost the government more if the company fails and cannot repay it than if the business is just supported through this time.
“We are urging the government to #BackOurBusinesses, use the £2bn in covid-19 reliefs being returned by major high street retailers to increase the support available for impacted businesses and take action across key policy areas – and do it urgently.
“If we lose these businesses, it will take years for them, and the communities they employ serve and contribute to, to recover.”
Leisure boss Mike Olley – who runs the Westside Business Improvement District (BID) – believes keeping large areas of the UK in Tier 3 could actually result in a sharp rise in infections.
Birmingham’s Westside area includes the renowned ‘golden mile’ of Broad Street as well as Brindleyplace, Gas Street Basin and surrounding areas where some 150-odd bars, pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues are based.
Mr Olley said: “By keeping our entertainment district closed, people will be wanting to meet up and socialise to the maximum levels allowed over Christmas, and probably much more.
“What may have been a careful sip of sherry on the doorstep could now turn into a veritable party in the warm and stuffy halls, lounges, dining rooms, kitchens and garages of thousands of family homes across the Midlands.
“Compare that risky environment to the safe places that entertainment venues have created and you could be unleashing a mass of Covid-19 infections that will keep Birmingham, the Midlands and the UK in semi-lockdown for weeks or even months ahead.”
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Councillor Tony Jefferson, leader of Stratford-on-Avon District Council, said: “This is bitterly disappointing news, especially as we have all worked really hard together to keep the level of infection rates down locally, compared to the rest of Warwickshire.
“I would like to thank everyone for doing their bit and sticking to the rules and hope that we do get to see the benefit of this in the future.
“As I said previously, when we embarked on our legal challenge to the original Tier announcement following the second lockdown, the District Council has been supportive of all of the measures that the Government has put in place throughout the pandemic and shared the common objective of keeping our residents safe. But the frustration against this decision still remains, despite being assured of being reviewed at a lower level.
“We will continue to work with residents, businesses and communities and with the Government to ensure that the maximum support is made available to them. We know our hospitality businesses across the district will all be affected and this will have a devastating impact on our future economic recovery. However, it has to be said that hospitality businesses also need time to prepare to enable them to open safely and for them the worst possible position is continued uncertainty.”
“I would ask everyone to continue to follow the guidelines and help us to get out of Tier 3.”