Edinburgh City Council has heavily criticised the decision to keep the city in level three of the coronavirus restrictions, with councillors saying the capital has been ‘unfairly treated’ by the Scottish Government.
As part of a debate agreeing to an emergency motion, tabled by the council’s ruling SNP/Labour administration, councillors warned that the decision to remain at level three will damage businesses and cause job losses throughout the city.
Council leader Adam McVey, SNP, and depute council leader Cammy Day, Labour, tabled the motion which demands the Scottish Government explains its decision, which went against the advice of Public Health Scotland officials.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the latest data showed case numbers were rising in Edinburgh.
At a meeting of the council on Thursday, the council leader McVey heaped praise on Sturgeon, but disagreed with the decision of Scottish cabinet members.
He said: “The First Minister said yesterday that Edinburgh’s numbers are ticking up, and the First Minister is, of course, absolutely correct – but our point is not about us arguing the data, our point is very clear, it is about the advice from Public Health officials and what their recommendation is.
“That is the judgement that I think we should be following and that is the judgement that I think should have led Edinburgh into level two.
“These are difficult judgements, there’s no getting away from that, and I don’t think anybody in the country would trade places with the First Minister in the last eight months.
“There is a possibility that cabinet took a decision which in the end will be right, but the fundamental is we’ve been waiting as a city for the numbers to dip down, and they have done, even though they’re ticking back up again, and that is what we’ve been waiting on quite consistently to get to a lower level of restrictions and move towards a closer version of normal.
“I don’t think most of us would win betting against the First Minister’s judgement, but I do think in the instance the cabinet should have followed Public Health advice and led Edinburgh into level two.”
Councillor Cammy Day, who represents Forth, was unequivocal in his criticism of the decision.
He told the meeting: “I feel Edinburgh has been unfairly targeted, and I don’t understand why we have not had the fair treatment I feel we deserve.
“The impact on businesses will be horrific, the impact on our citizens will take some time to recover from, and I hope Scottish government will take heed of the representations the council leader has made to them, and the many others, and at least reconsider some of the tier three arrangements.”
The emergency motion was passed by the council with no dissenting motions being put forward.
The decision to keep Edinburgh at level two of the coronavirus restrictions, and the council’s emergency motion, were also debated during First Minister’s Questions at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday afternoon.
Leader of the Scottish Labour Party and list MSP for Central Scotland,
Richard Leonard, asked: “We all understand that Scotland’s strategic framework says decisions on lockdown should be based on judgements, as well as facts, but does the National Incident Management Team, do Public Health Scotland, not have access to the same data and intelligence that the First Minister and her cabinet have?
“Because we know that Public Health officials briefed the council leadership and chief executive of Edinburgh that the city should be moved to level two.
“That’s not just hearsay, that is what is stated in an emergency motion that is being moved by the SNP leader of the council this afternoon, so why did the First Minister and her cabinet move to overturn that advice?”
Sturgeon replied: “We take advice from the National Incident Management Team, we look at all of the indicators and we apply judgement to that, the Chief Medical Officer is part of the cabinet discussions.
“On Edinburgh in particular, and I would preface my comments here by just saying that, why on earth would I want to keep Edinburgh, or any part of the country in a higher level of protection, when I didn’t think there was a need to do that?
“Let me just share with the chamber the latest data on the city of Edinburgh.
“This is the figures that were available yesterday, we’ll get updates figures later today, but over the past seven days the number of cases per 100,000 in the city of Edinburgh has gone up by 14%, test positivity has gone up by 0.5%, test positivity is still moderate in Edinburgh but it has increased in five of the last seven days.
“The latest data shows that case levels have increased in four of the past seven days, today’s case numbers that were reported to Parliament just a moment ago, the health board breakdown of those show that Lothian accounts for the second biggest number of cases that we have reported today.”
Story by local democracy reporter Joseph Anderson