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County council leader Izzi Seccombe comes under fire after tier rating decision

CONTROVERSY continues to rage over how south Warwickshire was put into Tier 3 after easing of the second lockdown.

As the region awaited news this week of a review of the tiers, it was revealed that Warwickshire County Council leader Izzi Seccombe had co-authored a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock with Coventry and Solihull leaders, asking to be considered together when the first tier decision was made two weeks ago.

The justification for this, they said, was because they shared some public health resources and Covid-19 strategic approaches.

The move was deemed by many to be why Stratford district – which had low Covid-19 rates – was put into the highest tier rating.

The front page of this week's Herald (43634841)
The front page of this week's Herald (43634841)

But the action was blasted by Stratford District Council, businesses and others who said they were in the dark about the county’s request to the government.

Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi declined to comment, but Leamington and Warwick’s Labour MP Matt Western told the Herald the county council’s actions could be “a sign of things to come”.

He added: “Other local councils and elected representatives were excluded from these vital discussions, and this is yet another illustration of the power grab we are witnessing from the WCC leadership in their plans to establish a countywide unitary authority.

“I have been warning residents for some time: any super-council would take power away from local representatives – such as Warwick and Stratford District Councils – and damage local democracy and accountability.

“And this is indeed a very costly example of the unilateral approach clearly being pursued by WCC.”

The Herald put a number of points to Cllr Seccombe, these were her responses.

Solihull’s rates when you made the request to be in the same tier rating – around 300 per 100,000 and Coventry was around double that of Stratford’s – why would you seek to be counted alongside them when they dramatically pulled Warwickshire’s averages up?

This had no impact on the Tier 3 decision; we have confirmation from DHSC that Warwickshire was looked at individually on its own merits when tier status was allocated.

This decision was taken because the Government had repeatedly made clear that tier allocations would be made on a larger geography than individual districts. To avoid the West Midlands Regional Level, we requested that Tier Status should instead be assigned at the Local Authority, Public Health level. We asked for the Beacon geography to be treated separately, given that Warwickshire’s Covid infection rate was lower than the West Midlands.

What consultations were made with councillors – county and district – and MPs ahead of making the request to be considered as a Beacon area for tier purposes?

To be clear, we didn’t ask to be considered as a beacon for the purposes of tier status but we did ask for the beacon area to be considered separately from the rest of the WMCA. We’ve been working really closely and successfully with our district and borough councils through the pandemic – the launch of our Lateral Flow Test centres across the county is testament to this – but as all indications from the government suggested this decision could be taken at a higher regional geographic level, there was no need for further consultation.

Can you comment on the suggestion that seeking to unite with Coventry and Solihull is part of the county council’s move away from district control and seeking of unitary power?

This has never been a factor or consideration, and nor should it be. Our priority is public health and supporting our businesses. We have worked very closely with our district and borough councils throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so.

Do you regret the decision to not ask for tier decision to be made at county or even district level? And what would you say to residents and businesses that have suffered consequently?

We were disappointed that the Government placed us in Tier 3 but as stated above, the DHSC has confirmed that Warwickshire was looked at individually on its own merits. To residents and businesses, we’d say that we know that this is hard and the impact on your lives and businesses is very significant. But ultimately, the best way we can support business recovery and secure a brighter future for 2021, is to contain the virus.

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