‘Leicester Lockdown took us by surprise’

Anne Court, Oadby and Wigston Borough Council

The city of Leicester and parts of Leicestershire was the first area of the country to experience the introduction of local restrictions. The move happened at the end of June when the government announced non-essential shops and schools would have to close again and the planned opening of pubs, restaurants and hairdressers could not go ahead later that week.

Alongside the city, the borough of Oadby and Wigston, to the south of the Leicester, was included in the measures. But Chief Executive Anne Court was taken by surprise by the news.

“There had been some rumblings – I know Leicester was concerned about its rates – but it was not until the health secretary made the announcement on the Monday night that I was made aware Oadby was affected. I had to seek immediate clarification from the county’s public health director to ask if the rest of the borough was included. It was, but it had not been clear in the announcement.”

Ms Court said it was “very difficult and confusing” to start with. “Businesses were understandably very upset – and we had little information to go on to start with. We had hairdressers who had booked customers in from 7am to 9pm – and then five days before that we were having to tell them they could not open.”

Ms Court said part of the problem was that councils were not getting data on where infections were spreading. “We were in the dark. We were not in the situation we are now so we were not aware what the rates were. Now all Leicestershire district chief executives have regular meetings on a Tuesday with the director of public health discussing the latest situation.

“These meetings are really helpful. We know what direction things are going in and we have an opportunity to discuss and agree localised targeted interventions about what steps may be needed.

“It’s important that we, as local district leaders, play a part in that. But at first we were not even on the Incident Management Board where the local leaders of Leicester and Leicestershire were meeting with the Cabinet Office and senior PHE officials. It was not intended for district leaders and chief executives to be included.”

This though soon changed after making representations and Ms Court said she and her leader were subsequently involved in the step-by-step process of unlocking the borough.

“Being involved in that meant we were able to communicate what was happening in the community. The guidance can be confusing so it is important we are able to explain to residents and businesses.”
But even then there were problems. It was announced on 31 July the borough was coming out of lockdown, but there was confusion on when the various restrictions were being lifted. “It was first announced pubs would open the following Monday, which was in line with a specific request of the police chief constable not to reopen on a Saturday. Communications went out to this effect and then later that evening at 7 pm the Department of Health suddenly announced they could open the next day, from the Saturday.

“All our communications to the public to that point was that it was happening on Monday. To have to backtrack on this was not very helpful as people lose confidence and trust in what they are being told. Local leaders need to be involved all along the way.”