Message from the Mayor of Hackney: Response to the government's new coronavirus guidance

Philip Glanville

Like many Hackney residents, I tuned into the Prime Minister’s statement last night hoping for some clarity and a clearer sense of the Government’s plans for the coming weeks and months.

Unfortunately, Mr Johnson’s speech prompted more questions than it answered, and I know many people will be feeling anxious about what it means for them and their loved ones, for our borough, and the country.

The speech followed a challenging weekend for councils across the country. In Hackney, the warm weather meant that many people used their permitted daily exercise to enjoy our beautiful parks – some of them will have popped into one of the shops selling food and drink, and many will have been with family members or housemates. All of this is allowed under current government guidelines.

Photos of London Fields and Broadway Market were all over the media, suggesting that people were flouting the guidance in large numbers. I know that some of you will be angry about these pictures, and while there’s no denying that some people were ignoring the rules, a local eye will tell you that the reasons why our parks were busy - overcrowded housing, shared accommodation and large families - are far more complex than one might assume.

This makes it difficult for the already stretched police to manage, and with the new rules being more vague it will be important that we all think about what we can do to support our community and keep people safe. In our public spaces it’s essential that we follow basic common sense – even if your actions are within the letter of the rules. We have challenged businesses to stop selling alcohol in open containers where we were able to, and I also want to assure you that the police and council staff were deployed over the weekend, jointly tasked to engage, explain, encourage – and finally, where needed, use police powers to enforce. 

The new guidance makes it even harder for people to understand what the best thing to do is. The previous advice to ‘stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’, was clear. Now there’s far more ambiguity, and I share people’s frustrations, especially as we have only recently seen the expansion of testing into the borough that will be essential to monitor the virus and trace and tackle transmission. I know many parents and staff are concerned about the lack of clarity around the reopening of schools; businesses will be wondering when they can open their doors; workers will be trying to understand whether – and how – they should be travelling to work. Despite asking, councils have received no further guidance than anyone else who watched the speech last night. I believe there is a real chance it will increase confusion and conflict if it isn’t reviewed by the Government in the coming days.

As a Council, we’ll do all we can to help you navigate these new guidelines, and update you when we can through this newsletter, via our website and social media, within the local press and through Hackney Life, as well as posters and information in our parks and busiest shopping areas. We’ll also continue to provide the vital services you rely on, from social care for vulnerable children and adults, to waste collections and keeping our streets clean. However, this comes at a cost, and we must keep the pressure on the government to support local councils to provide these services and step in to fill gaps in government support for residents, businesses and local charity and voluntary organisations.

We all know that Hackney is special. It’s a place where we celebrate diversity and people from different perspectives and backgrounds get along with each other. It’s one of things I’m most proud about as Mayor, and it’s something we need to remember and reflect on in the coming weeks. We need to remember that we’re all living very different versions of lockdown, and our experiences and challenges vary wildly. We need to show each other respect, be understanding of each other’s circumstances and do what we do best – support our neighbours, look out for each other and continue to demonstrate the #HackneySpirit that has defined our community’s response so far. 

Philip Glanville

Mayor of Hackney

For more information on the latest government guidance visit www.gov.uk/coronavirus