Liam Byrne, Labour’s Shadow Mayor of the West Midlands, has given his full support to West Midlands parents demanding urgent answers from the Tory Metro-Mayor for the West Midlands, after the Mayor tried to use misleading ‘r-rate’ figures to justify the Government’s ‘unlock’ strategy.
The r-rate, or reinfection rate is seen as a crucial signal of whether the Coronavirus is advancing or retreating.
In his article for Tory website, ConservativeHome on May 19th, the West Midlands Tory Mayor Andy Street said,
- ‘In our region, the R rate is now 0.68 – considerable progress for a densely-populated region that has been badly affected by the outbreak.”
- The following day he went further and declared “Although we don’t see regional R rates, ours we can work out has come down really, really well.”
But the Mayor’s statements provoked a furious backlash from parents and Birmingham councillors who accused the Mayor of playing fast and loose with the truth - after local public health directors confirmed the R-Rate for the West Midlands was FAR HIGHER. Birmingham is currently the local authority with the third highest number of cases, reflecting its large size, which Walsall, Sandwell, and Wolverhampton all have incidence rates in the English top 20.
Dr Justin Varney, Birmingham’s Director of Public Health has confirmed that the estimates for the 7 boroughs and cities across the West Midlands is actually between 0.7 and 0.9 – perilously close to 1, which would mean the rate of infection increasing rather than decreasing.
Now, concerned parents are demanding urgent clarity from the Mayor. In a letter, seen by Liam Byrne, the West Midlands ‘Save our Schools’ group say:
“…we are concerned that misleading data is being used at a time when it is essential that we get it right if there is to be the safe reopening of schools.”
The West Midlands ‘Save our Schools’ group went on to further say: “We believe it is important for schools, parents and children to have clear scientific advice informing any decision to reopen schools in the West Midlands.”
The demand was followed by a letter from Cllr Paulette Hamilton, Birmingham’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health to the Mayor in which she says:
‘I'm sure you appreciate that the difference between .68 and .9 is significant when it comes to COVID-19 and I believe it would be wrong to give anyone a false sense of the true position in our region at a time when we continue to reinforce vital public health messaging to our communities’.
Liam Byrne said:
“If we’ve learned one things from this crisis, it’s that chaos costs lives.
“The Tory Mayor has confusingly claimed the R-rate ‘in our region’ is 0.68, meaning for every one hundred people with Covid19, they will pass the virus on to 68 other people. But that Mayor knows that this isn’t true. He knows that the figure he has used is for the whole of the West and East Midlands regions combined. He’s deliberately using figures that includes data for rural Shropshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire to justify his support for the Government’s plan to reopen schools.
‘But in our actual region, covering the seven Boroughs and Cities of the West Midlands, the R-rate is much higher. Either the Mayor knew his figure was misleading and used it anyway or he doesn’t know what he is talking about”
Liam Byrne added, “I want to see children back in schools as soon as is possible. But that can only be done when we are absolutely clear that it will be done safely without risking the health of our young people or the hardworking staff in schools. By using misleading statistics for political gain, the Tory Mayor is making this harder.”
Notes to Editors
- For further comment call Liam Byrne MP – 07946 584318
- Andy Street Article: https://www.conservativehome.com/thecolumnists/2020/05/andy-street-easing-the-lockdown-means-trusting-the-people.html
- Email from Justin Varney to Liam Byrne MP, Thursday 21st May 2020
“There are now three websites where R is being published:
Nationally its estimated to be between 0.7 and 1.0 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-publishes-latest-r-number
Its estimated to be 0.8 (range is 0.7-0.9) for the West Mids here: https://epiforecasts.io/covid/posts/national/united-kingdom/
and 0.68 for the Midlands here: https://www.mrc-bsu.cam.ac.uk/now-casting/
So I think the Mayor was quoting the Midlands figure which came out just after the national figure and is the endorsed government figure. This is the one that is based on the household surveillance system where the epiforcast one is on public domain data I think so slightly different set of figures.”
- Letter from Save our Schools, West Midlands
We are writing to you about the Government’s guidance for the reopening of schools and the current R rate in the West Midlands. As representatives of parents across the region, we are concerned that misleading data is being used at a time when it is essential that we get it right if there is to be the safe reopening of schools.
As parents, the lockdown restrictions and the shutting of schools to children other than those of key workers and vulnerable children has had a significant impact on the education of our children. We all share a deep concern for the consequences of this, particularly for those children from deprived backgrounds. As you know, a very high number of pupils in West Midlands schools are from a BAME background where the fatality rate is much higher - and many of these students live in multi-generational households and as many as one in five of the homes in our inner city are overcrowded.
Nonetheless, we also feel that it is paramount for public health and the safety of our children to be the primary concern as to whether schools should reopen in the coming weeks. No child, teacher or parent should feel pressured to reopen and return to school until they feel it is safe to do so.
Considering the safety concerns for our children, it is absolutely vital that any reopening of schools in the West Midlands is informed by clear scientific evidence. In an article on Conservative Home this week, you stated that, ‘in our region, the R rate is now 0.68 – considerable progress for a densely-populated region that has been badly affected by the outbreak.’ Indeed, considerable progress has been made in the region due to the sacrifices we have all made to suppress the spread of coronavirus.
However, the R rate figure of 0.68 that you highlight is not the R rate for our region but for the whole of the Midlands, East and West - a region that stretches from rural Lincolnshire to the Staffordshire Moorlands.
It has since been contradicted by the Director of Public Health for Birmingham City Council who contends that the R rate for the West Midlands is in fact within a range of 0.7 – 0.9. The Director has also explained that due to higher numbers of cases and deaths, areas such as Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsall and Sandwell would track slightly higher than the West Midlands figure.
Given the deep concern of parents and teachers, it is crucial that a wrong impression of the current infection rate in the West Midlands does not influence the reopening of schools on 1st June. Not least because the R rate given by the Director of Public Health for Birmingham is so perilously close to a rate higher than 1, whereby the number of cases of coronavirus may begin to increase exponentially again.
We therefore ask you, as concerned parents of children from schools across the West Midlands, to withdraw the statement you made in your Conservative Home article regarding the R rate. We believe it is important for schools, parents and children to have clear scientific advice informing any decision to reopen schools in the West Midlands.
Due to the pressing nature of this matter and that we are being asked to send our children to school on the 1st June, we would appreciate a quick response and certainly before the 1st of June.
Save Our Schools West Midlands
5). Letter from Cllr Paulette Hamilton to West Midlands Metro-Mayor Andy Street
Can I make a point about in response to your recent statement about the R Rate in the West Midlands?
In your article on the Conservative Home website, you incorrectly stated that the all important R Rate for our region was now 0.68
Birmingham Director of Public Health, Dr Justin Varney, has confirmed that this is not in fact the rate for the West Midlands, but for the whole Midlands (East and West).
The rate for the West Midlands is in fact estimated to be in a range of 0.7-0.9 (see https://epiforecasts.io/covid/posts/national/united-kingdom/
I'm sure you appreciate that the difference between .68 and .9 is significant when it comes to COVID-19 and I believe it would be wrong to give anyone a false sense of the true position in our region at a time when we continue to reinforce vital public health messaging to our communities.
Can I respectfully request that you ask the Conservative Home website to correct the statistic?
Thank you and take care.
Councillor Paulette A Hamilton
Holyhead Ward Councillor
Cabinet member for Adult Social Care and Health
Health and Wellbeing Chair