Communities could face local coronavirus lockdowns lasting months unless the Government delivers an effective contact-tracing system, Sir Keir Starmer has warned.
Speaking to the Local Government Association annual conference – taking place online – the Labour leader said there was a “massive problem” with the NHS Test and Trace programme.
He said figures from the Office for National Statistics suggested that three-quarters of the people infected by the virus were not being contacted by the system.
Unless the situation improved, he said it could be very difficult safely to lift local lockdowns – like that in Leicester – once they have been imposed.
“If we don’t get to grips with it we could be in local lockdown situations for months and months and months. It is going to be the story of the summer if we are not careful,” he said.
Sir Keir also called for local councils to be given additional powers to ensure they were able to enforce local lockdown regulations.
“If you need to close down a particular area at the moment, I don’t think local authorities have got the necessary powers to do it,” he said.
“What we can’t have is a situation where statutory instruments or other bits of legislation have to be passed in a hurry in response to each outbreak. There is a huge amount of work to do there.”
The Labour leader said that with councils facing an estimated £10 billion “black hole” in their finances as a result of the pandemic, local services would be slashed without additional support from central government.
“After a decade of cuts the coronavirus crisis and the Government’s inaction have created a perfect storm,” he said.
“Councils are faced with much higher costs for key services such as social care and much lower revenues through falls in areas such as business rates.
“It could mean further cuts to social care, fewer police officers. It could mean street lights going on later and going off earlier. It could mean libraries, gyms and community centres staying closed.”