By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Kent council chiefs will be scrutinised over the controversial Covid tier system during an extraordinary meeting next week.
Boris Johnson’s government placed the county into the highest set of restrictions amid “significant” pressure on the area’s seven main hospitals and high case numbers in places like Swale, Medway and Thanet.
However, concerns have been raised about the level of financial support available to Kent businesses through the tough tier three period. Retailers, hairdressers and gyms reopen but pubs, restaurants, cinemas and hotels remain shut.
Kent County Council’s (KCC) scrutiny committee has arranged an emergency public gathering on Thursday (December 10) to discuss the impact of the Whitehall decision on the 12 districts.
A report published to the panel of 13 councillors last night says: “An additional meeting of the scrutiny committee will be held to discuss the coronavirus tiering in Kent and its implications.”
KCC leader Roger Gough (Con) will be scrutinised over the council’s response alongside County Hall’s deputy leader Peter Oakford (Con) and Cllr Clair Bell (Con), who is the authority’s cabinet member for public health.
They will discuss the “policy decisions” that have been taken in response to COVID-19, just days after council executives called for a review to the county-wide coronavirus tier approach on Monday.
Swale, Thanet and Medway remain among the highest risk areas in the UK, with between 457 and 563 weekly cases per 100,000 people, according to the latest Public Health England data from November 22 to November 29.
Other parts of Kent are below the national average. Tunbridge Wells recorded 96 cases per 100,000 people and 125 in Sevenoaks over the same period. This represents an increase of between 10% and 20% from the week before.
KCC’s Labour group called for an extraordinary scrutiny meeting six days ago. The motion received cross-party support from some Conservative and Liberal Democrat backbenchers. It was voted through by eight votes to four.
Ashford South county Cllr Dara Farrell, who is the Labour party’s leader, says there has been “considerable anger” and “bewilderment” about the tiers.
He said: “There seems to be some ambiguity about what it will take for Kent to get out of tier three.
“No-one is expecting us to move out in December 16 and that will be the death sentence for hospitality in Kent.”
The Prime Minister has pledged a £1,000 grant for wet pubs that have shut across tiers two and three, including those in Kent, during the festive period.
Earlier today, Deirdre Wells, CEO of Visit Kent, said the extra cash “falls short” of the money needed to plug the gap for tourism and hospitality businesses.
Several Tory MPs voted against the Government’s county-wide approach during a Parliamentary vote on Tuesday, including Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark, Ashford’s Damian Green and Tom Tugendhat, of Tonbridge and Malling.
Meanwhile, KCC’s Conservative cabinet said on Monday there was a “strong case” to move the county into restrictions on a district-by-district basis.
Cllr Gough said: “We are not denying that there is quite a widespread problem here. There are trends which are very, very concerning. At the same time we have to be very mindful of the impact these restrictions have on our businesses.”
The KCC scrutiny committee will convene next Thursday (Dec 10) from 4pm.