FULL INTERVIEW: Dan Jarvis on county's Tier 3 lockdown package and on whether he fought for South Yorkshire to get the best possible deal

As the residents of South Yorkshire brace themselves for a long winter under “high alert” coronavirus restrictions, we spoke to the county’s mayor Dan Jarvis about the deal secured for the region and what it means for its residents.

By George Torr, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 21st October 2020, 10:54 pm

This is everything Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis said about the impending Tier 3 Covid-19 restrictions for South Yorkshire.

Q: You’ve been in talks with the Government but following on from Manchester and the talks there, how hard did you fight for South Yorkshire? What did you initially ask for and has the Government played hardball in these negotiations because the region’s own MPs have said this is a standard package.

Dan Jarvis: “I’ve fought very hard, these have been tough talks and tough negotiations and in the end we secured the best possible deal that we were able to do.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Mayor of the Sheffield City Region Dan Jarvis speaks to the media as South Yorkshire moves into Tier 3 lockdown. Picture: Chris Etchells

“What we’ve got to do now is get on and make sure we use that money wisely for the benefit of our businesses and to support our economy.

“But crucially, what we’ve got to do while working with our councils is to reduce the pressure on our NHS. I’m deeply concerned about the level of hospital admissions - the rate of infection is too high and I’ll expect further support from Government to support us in that process.”

You spoke last week and asked for a specific economic package, what was that figure?

Dan Jarvis: “Well I’ve never given a running commentary on the negotiations but I’m confident that we could not have secured more money.

“Colleagues are right to call upon Government to do more, I want them to do more, I want them to provide more financial assistance and support in other ways.

“The truth of the matter is we will enter Tier 3 for the right reasons to reduce the rate of infection but what we’ve got to do now is move heaven and earth to drive down the infection rate so we spend the minimum amount of time possible in Tier 3 - that is a team effort with our councils, NHS and other partners.

“But people can be rest assured I will continue to make the case for more resources for South Yorkshire.”

Q: You can understand people’s frustration moving into Tier 3 but looking across to Manchester, Mayor Andy Burnham said they wanted £90 million, went down to £65 million the Government said no, so are you not willing to say what this region properly needs for Tier 3?

Dan Jarvis: “What I can say is that I’m very confident we could not have secured any more financial support at this moment in time from Government.

“I drove a hard-bargain and did as much as I possibly could to secure that amount of money which gives us the opportunity to give quite significant support to a range of different businesses.

“That’s the challenge now to get that money deployed into the wider economy as quickly as we can.”

Q: What is the criteria to drop back down into Tier 2? The four councils and yourself have agreed that if one area has a sharp decline in cases, one council can come out.

Dan Jarvis: “This was raised with the Prime Minister today (Wednesday) and quite rightly he needs to set out that strategy. I’ve made the same calls and Government need to tell us what the rate is for anyone in the area to come out of Tier 3.

“We have agreed the principle that no single council area will spend more time in Tier 3 than is absolutely necessary.”

What would you say at this point when it appears the Government has not budged? Why did the negotiations take as long as they did if Government from the off set said you’re getting £30 million for businesses and £11 million for Test and Trace?

“That’s your characterisation of the negotiations and it’s not how it actually was. I wouldn’t say it was the case that Government hasn’t budged.

“I’ve driven a hard-bargain to secure the best possible arrangement I could. Would I have liked more? Of course, every mayor would.

“The conversation with Government about support was not just about finances but in other areas as well. This conversation will continue and I will do everything I possibly can to make sure we get the support we need.

“We also have a responsibility ourselves to work cooperatively with our councils and our NHS and the public. They have an important role in this so I urge them to follow the guidance so we can spend as little amount of time in Tier 3.”

Q: About the financial deal, it’s been described as a standard package, you’ve admitted that yourself, £30 million pounds - a lot of people will be worried at this point so what is that being spent on in terms of the economic support.

Dan Jarvis: “It will be allocated by our councils and they’re working at pace to best look at how to deploy that money for the maximum benefit of our businesses.

“I completely understand the urgency of getting that support out there as quickly as possible. Our businesses are under huge pressure and will continue to be so in the near future particularly in hospitality and leisure.”

And the £11 million for Test and Trace, explain how does that money help the region?

“Well that money will provide additional Test and Trace capacity but it's important to remember it's not just about the money there will be other support coming from Government - we’ve negotiated additional testing capacity into our council areas.

"There is also going to be enhanced communication and messaging and should we take up the offer, our Armed Forces are on standby not in an enforcement role but in additional personnel to help councils.

“There is a wider package, not just the finances but the money is vitally important.

“I will continue to make the case to Government, that conversation will continue.”

Q: A couple of questions on the tiered system, Tier 3 brings extra restrictions, extra confusion in a lot of cases.The rule on pubs, is one that’s been raised a lot, what is the clarity on this? Is it only pubs that can serve substantial meals but in theory what’s stopping somebody ordering a burger and chips and then having 10 pints?

Dan Jarvis: “I think the rules are quite clear, if a pub is serving substantial meals under the Tier 3 criteria it is open and able to trade.

“What we’ve been very careful to do is minimise the impact on our economy - we want our businesses to remain open and that’s why we’ve negotiated that as few of them will close as possible.

“Leisure centres and gyms are a good example. We had discussions about this and we were very keen to ensure that they remained open because we think that’s an important outlet for their wellbeing.”

I only ask this question about pubs because it doesn’t really stop people spending hours on end in a pub. It’s been reported elsewhere that there might be a two-drink rule for example. Are you aware of any restrictions to that effect?

“I think to an extent we’ve got to rely on common sense of the public and overall people here have been very sensible.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that Winter will soon bite and the pressures on our NHS are significant - we had to take a decision to alleviate that burden and what I’ve done is work around the clock with our council leaders to satisfy ourselves it’s the right thing to do.

“As I’ve said, those conversations with Government will continue to get more support and financial assistance.”

Q: A specific question around amatuer sport, lots of Sunday League football teams play on the weekend can they still play?

Dan Jarvis: “The rules are very clear, there are restrictions on amateur sport and I completely understand the impact it will have on people's lifestyles but if you look at the rate hospital admissions and the rate of Covid-19, it is not where it needs to be.

“We’ve had to elevate the level of restrictions, Tier 3 was a way of doing that to enable us to draw down a significant amount of resources.

“None of us want to be in Tier 3 for a single minute longer than necessary and that’s why we need to work hard to come out as quickly as we can.”

Just to clarify the rule of six is continuing and with amateur sport like football, two teams playing 11 a side can no longer continue from this weekend?

“That’s my understanding and as a football and a sports fan, that is a deep regret.

“There will be a period of transition over the next few days to get their head into what the new rules will be which come into effect early Saturday morning.

“People should understand that we’ve taken this decision because of the imperative to reduce the burden on the NHS and to safeguard the economy.”

Q: Can I ask you about the Government’s handling of these negotiations, there’s been a big focus on Manchester, but what is your own opinion of how they have handled themselves during the talks you’ve had?

Dan Jarvis: “Of course Government has made mistakes throughout this process but what I’m concerned with now is actually getting on in South Yorkshire.

“It’s quite easy to criticise the Government and complain about the way they’ve handled it, of course I have my concerns. I was one of the northern metro mayors who a few weeks ago came out and said much more to consult better with local areas.

But right now, my focus is reducing the rate of infection, reducing the pressure on our NHS and getting our numbers down. That has to be our overriding priority.”