The third national lockdown has brought with it many new problems for local authorities and other public bodies as we strive to support struggling residents and businesses.
In a rural district council such as Craven, which covers a large part of the Yorkshire Dales, we have a mixture of issues. We need to make sure the businesses that remain open are safe for our residents. We need to protect our rural communities from visitors who travel in to beauty spots, ignoring any restrictions or guidance in place. We need to support the businesses that are closed, by paying out millions of pounds worth of grants. We need to continue providing essential services. And, we need to continue advising our residents to keep themselves and others safe, supporting them in any way we can
However, we are doing this against a backdrop of stories about mask-refusers and COVID-deniers, and endless debates over whether it is acceptable to drive five miles and go for a walk with a hot drink in your hand, or cycle seven miles from home.
This creates a vicious circle – it’s leading more and more people to look for loopholes in the law to justify their behaviour. And there are loopholes so big you can jump right through them. The gap between ‘Government guidance’ and the law that can be enforced is vast.
Visitors are arriving in the Yorkshire Dales, sometimes from hundreds of miles away, with their excuses ready-made. Some are clearly ludicrous. Others arise from confusion, as well as erosion of trust in Government.
The current emphasis seems to be focusing on enforcement, and this certainly can act as a deterrent – but only where it stands up in law.
Arguing about the intricacies of the law only encourages ‘flexing’ of the rules. What we need is clear, consistent messaging, not a bunch of new rules and regulations.
We need to continue to encourage people to do the right thing. This is not about what’s legally right, it’s about what’s morally right.
Paul Shevlin is chief executive of Craven DC