By Cllr Graham Morgan, Leader of Knowsley Council
“I think it’s fair to say it’s been a quite a confusing week. And a difficult one too for many people. I know from talking to family, friends and residents that the ongoing lockdown is definitely presenting more challenges. I am hearing from people that they have “good days and bad days” and, whilst I know we are all searching for some certainty about the future, I think most people don’t feel like they have that right now.
“That can be really hard and I understand that the struggles people are facing can seem never-ending at this point in time. The desire to get back to normal or even to just spend an hour with close family or friends is overwhelming sometimes. I know that I really struggle myself with not being able to get out and about in our communities as much as I want to. Thankfully, I am still able to do some volunteering activity, although that comes with major social distancing restrictions and even that can feel a little strange.
“This is an unprecedented life event for us all and, as time passes, we will all be reflecting on just how impacted our lives have been and continue to be – they have changed completely. Changes we could never have predicted and, for the most part, changes we would never have wanted to see.
“I think the nation looked to the Prime Minister last Sunday to provide some clarity on life moving forward or at least a route back to something resembling normal life. But COVID-19 does not let us have that certainty, and following some confusing messages from the Government, I know that I started the week feeling as confused as everybody else.
“Indeed, I know that I’m not alone in my frustration and confusion following the broadcast on Sunday. The switch from “Stay at Home” to “Stay Alert” might have provided the fuel for a million jokes and funny clips on social media (which I am sure provided much needed light relief for many) but there is a very serious issue to be considered – especially for us in Knowsley and in the wider City Region.
“Whilst infections and deaths are reducing nationally, we in Merseyside are not coming down the “other side” of the epidemic curve as fast as other areas. Right at this moment, Knowsley has some of the highest rates of infection in the whole of the UK. And put simply that means that we have a much higher risk of further infection in our communities if we ease the lockdown now. More people are likely to die in Knowsley if restrictions are loosened too quickly and if people are unclear of the rules and indeed the risks for them and their families.
“That’s why this week all local authorities in the City Region have come together through our Directors of Public Health to define clearly our local position. That includes understanding all of the data behind infection rates, assessing how our care homes are doing and what hospital admission rates are looking like, for example.
“It is really important to ensure that all residents across the City Region have clear and consistent guidance to follow at such a confusing time. The message we all want to share right now is that we really MUST continue to stay at home as much as possible.
“If we do this collectively, we should be able to see more positive indications that we are dealing with the virus locally. We should be able to see a way out of this current situation and we should hopefully start to resume our lives – even if it is just in small ways at first.
“One of the key steps for parents in this regard is considering when schools will reopen and there has been a great deal of discussion about that this week. The Prime Minister’s suggestion of a gradual return no earlier than 1 June has certainly caused some concerns for parents/carers and for school staff too. Teaching unions have expressed their opinions very vocally and our schools and governing bodies really do have some complex decisions to make, and work to do, in the coming weeks and months.
“Although it is the responsibility of each school to make its own decisions about re-opening, the Council wants to support our school community as much as possible. This is a really difficult time for them and we recognise the value of their contribution to date – keeping settings open for the children of key workers or those who are vulnerable.
“So, we are working closely with all our schools and our message to them is clear – in Knowsley, the priority is for schools to re-open SAFELY rather than quickly or on any particular date.
“The health and wellbeing of our youngest residents and those wonderful people taking care of them is just too important to risk. That includes teachers but also our own Council staff who provide the support which schools need – school cleaners, school meals staff etc. They are all in our thinking and we will continue to work with schools to help them plan and prepare properly before they open their doors to children and young people.
“Finally, I just wanted to pick up on something I discussed at length in a previous update – Government funding. As you know, I have been vocal (along with other Leaders) about my concerns that the Government isn’t keeping to the promise they made to do “whatever it takes” to support local authorities financially during the pandemic. This is something I have also discussed at length with our three Knowsley MPs who share my concerns and are committed to helping us raise awareness of our challenges in Westminster. This week our efforts to raise awareness of our situation here have been boosted further when one of the three was given an opportunity to raise our concerns with the Prime Minister in Parliament. Hopefully, his personal awareness of Knowsley’s situation might improve our chances that the Government will stay true to their word. We can but hope. I will of course keep you updated on this.