Local lockdowns will require local furlough schemes, say mayors

Politicians and business leaders waiting to hear what localised lockdowns will look like

A cyclist in an empty Manchester street last month




A cyclist in an empty Manchester street last month. The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, is sceptical about local lockdowns.
Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Local furlough schemes must be put in place to compensate workers and businesses in the event of any local lockdowns, regional politicians and business leaders have said.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, announced last month that “we will have local lockdowns in future where there are flare-ups” of coronavirus. But the government has yet to issue any detailed guidance, prompting consternation across local authorities about what such lockdowns will look like and how they will be enforced.

Ben Houchen, the Conservative mayor of Tees Valley, said he could only support “micro lockdowns” to respond to an outbreak in a school, business or institutional setting, for instance. “I don’t see how you would enforce regional lockdown,” he said. “Teesside is actually split between the north-east and North Yorkshire. Are we putting the army on the border if one locks down and the other doesn’t?”

He said micro lockdowns could only work “if we get track and trace right and proper testing”.


Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, the mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool city region respectively, are both highly sceptical about local lockdowns. In a joint statement they called on the government to introduce a local furlough scheme for people whose workplaces may be closed down or who are unable to get to work. They said local authorities must be provided with sufficient funding to provide food and humanitarian assistance to the community for the duration of the lockdown.

Businesses say that if they have an outbreak and are required to shut down, the government should cover their costs and commit to testing all employees quickly.

“If we had to close down, we would expect coverage of our costs – that means total wage bills, total costs of the company to close,” said Richard Swart, the chief executive of Berger Closures in Peterlee, County Durham, which makes clamps and seals for the packaging, food and nuclear industries. “If we got an order to close down, they would have to have pretty strong grounds and it’s got to be proven that infections had happened.”


Berger’s sister company in Houston, Texas, had an outbreak of Covid-19 and shut its factory. “But they tested everybody within three days and were then able to open up again. That’s what should happen here, not people being told they should just self-isolate for two weeks without being tested,” Swart said.

Jamie Driscoll, the mayor of the North of Tyne combined authority, said localised lockdowns could only work with proper testing and tracing, with results delivered “as close to real time as possible”.

Peter McCall, the police and crime commissioner for Cumbria, noted that police already have the powers to enforce local lockdowns. McCall, a former army officer who served in Sierra Leone during an Ebola outbreak, suggested that ensuring people get enough food was arguably more important than policing on what he called “the bumpy road to zero”.

In Sierra Leone, the army delivered food and water to those told to isolate. In a local coronavirus lockdown, he said, “it wouldn’t be beyond the wit of man to ask for x-postcode to get a priority for supermarket deliveries”.