There’s ‘no support’ for Birmingham’s new COVID-19 rules, top Tories tell government

Leading Conservative politicians have criticised the government for placing Birmingham in the new ‘high risk’ tier two category that will damage the hospitality sector.

The new restrictions will ban city residents from mixing with other households in any indoor setting, including pubs and restaurants, from Wednesday 14 October.

West Midlands elected mayor Andy Street and Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell have both expressed their disappointment over the measures which they say are not supported by experts or regional leaders.

Mr Street said: “This is something the latest epidemiology does not support, and I am disappointed that the government is pressing ahead with this despite the united view of local leaders.

“I am urging the government to review this decision as soon as possible. In the meantime, they must offer financial support to hospitality businesses which are now set to suffer a loss of income.”

Noting that the most important change was the ban on households mixing in hospitality venues, Mr Street said: “The main problem in the West Midlands remains transmission within household settings, and stricter measures for the hospitality industry will not solve that.”

He added: “The vast majority of people across the region have been superb in helping stop the spread of coronavirus in recent months. This phenomenal effort under current conditions is slowing the rise of infections across the region.”

Meanwhile, speaking in Parliament, Mr Mitchell urged the prime minister to think again on his plans.

He pointed out that the “medical evidence and the political consensus” in the West Midlands demonstrated that the area should stay in the ‘medium risk’ tier one, with the addition of the current local measures.

Mr Mitchell said: “Will he [the prime minister] bear in mind that we have unity among the politicians and public health experts across the West Midlands… in support of the current levels of restrictions, because they do appear to be working.”

Councillor Ian Ward, Birmingham City Council’s leader, also expressed disappointment at the tier two decision.

He said: “The negative impact of the new restrictions on the [hospitality] sector and the lives of the people who work in it can’t be overstated.

“The sector supports more than 135,000 jobs across the West Midlands and it’s essential that further financial support is made available to those businesses affected. I am now seeking assurances that funding will be provided.

“In order to get these restrictions lifted we need to drive that rate down and that will only happen if everyone does their bit.”

Criticism of the decision has also come from Paul Faulkner, chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce.

He said: “We are incredibly disappointed and frustrated at the Government’s handling of the current situation.

“Despite having invested vast sums of money in Covid secure measures, the region’s hospitality sector is being thrown under the bus with no substantial evidence of significant transmission in hospitality settings.”

Mr Faulkner added: “We need the government to step up, fix the failing test and trace system, follow the evidence and deliver meaningful support to save businesses and jobs as we battle through the winter months.”

Leading restaurateurs on Westside have joined political and business leaders in expressing disappointment and frustration over new COVID-19 restrictions.

Nitin Solanki, from Siamais Thai restaurant in BrindleyPlace, said: “No business can survive the new rules. This is going to have a massive detrimental effect on hospitality.

“We were down 50 per cent on cash-flow in July and with the 10pm curfew we lost an extra 30 per cent – and now if we are compliant with the latest restrictions we will lose even more.

“The way our venues are set up, we have lots of larger tables – it’s very group friendly. So now, realistically, if people are only in twos or fours we lose an extra 40 per cent in turnover.

“I was worried about the furlough scheme ending but now with these new restrictions the situation to me feels hopeless. It is so upsetting personally.”

Aktar Islam, who runs Argentinian restaurant Pulperia in BrindleyPlace, said: “Restaurants like ours are being battered for no reason. Hospitality is being used as a scapegoat.

“Our industry is slowly being killed off. It is being targeted but the figures I have seen show hospitality is responsible for less than four per cent of Covid cases.”

Westside BID general manager Mike Olley summed up the situation as a “real pig”.

He said: “It effects everyone. This is not going to be good for the economy of the UK. Jobs will be lost, money for many will be short and, whilst we know this will all be a distant memory one day, right now it’s horrid.”

By Tony Collins

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