Schools Should Not Reopen Until There is a Guarantee It’s Safe

May 16, 2020

Mayor, Jamie Driscoll speaks to the Newcastle Chronicle


North East employers were left “genuinely worried” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s weekend announcement that staff should go back to work, North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll says.

He criticised Mr Johnson for making the announcement before guidance for firms and staff was available, and for failing to consult regional leaders including mayors.

Speaking to ChronicleLive, Mr Driscoll also said:

  • Schools should not reopen until there is a guarantee it’s safe
  • There’s a “black hole” in funding for the Tyne and Wear Metro
  • Plans for local or regional Covid-19 lockdowns could backfire

Mr Johnson has made a point of speaking to regional mayors about the Government’s response to the Covid-19 coronavirus. On May 1 he held a conference telephone call with what’s called the M9 group of mayors, including Mr Driscoll.

Following the meeting, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “Clearly, as we get this whole country back on its feet, mayors should be at the forefront of local recovery.”

But Mr Driscoll said he had not been consulted about Mr Johnson’s television address on Sunday, when the Prime Minister called on people to return to work.

The Labour mayor said: “My understanding is that even some Cabinet ministers didn’t know.

“We needed guidance – which is only now starting to come out – before he announced these things.

“I know businesses that are genuinely worried and don’t know whether they should open or not, because they don’t know if it’s safe.”

The Government has now published guidance for firms explaining how they should implement social distancing in their workplaces.

Mr Driscoll said: “Business leaders I have been talking to have been openly mocking the approach . You can’t have a situation where you announce there will be major changes and then days later the detailed information comes out.”

Key workers have been allowed to send their children to school throughout the lockdown, but the Government has said it hopes to open classrooms for every child in some year groups after June 1.

Mr Driscoll said: “As for schools coming back, I’m of the opinion that unless we get a guarantee that it’s safe then we shoudn’t be doing it.”

The lockdown had a devastating impact on ticket revenues for the Tyne and Wear Metro.

The Government has provided the Metro with £8.6m in emergency funding to keep trains running, but this is only due to last until mid-June.

As people return to work, the Metro and the region’s bus services will become even more vital. But social distancing – which means passengers have to sit further apart – means income from fares will be severly cut for the forseeable future.

The Government’s plan for ending the lockdown includes identifying outbreaks of Covid-19 at what it calls “community level”, so that local lockdowns can be re-imposed to contain outbreaks.

A document published by the Government states this could include measures “to close schools or workplaces where infection rates have spiked, to reduce risk of further infection locally”.

Mr Driscoll said he doubted whether local lockdowns could work.

“I certainly think we need clarity of messaging. If you are going to have different messaging from one town or city to the next then I don’t think that’s helpful.

“There are people travelling all over the country. There are supply chains. If we open the rail system, what are we going to do? Say you can’t get off at particular stations?”