The news that Carlisle was set to enter Tier 2 Covid-19 restrictions was shared in an update on the Government’s website yesterday – before local authority leaders were informed.

An update on the website notified visitors that Carlisle was, from today, under Tier 2 restrictions.

Stewart Young, Labour leader of Cumbria County Council, spoke of a day of confusion in which the Government’s position on whether Carlisle was to go into Tier 2 restrictions changed three times in a single day.

Prior to the update placed on the website, it was Mr Young's understanding that the prospect of Carlisle's addition to the Tier 2 list would be revisited next week, following discussions having taken place between authorities in Cumbria and the Government.

He was thus shocked to learn yesterday that Carlisle had been added to the list of Tier 2 locations.

Immediately, Mr Young and his colleagues rushed to seek clarification with Westminster.

Mr Young said the initial reply from the Government was that "‘it was a mistake, Carlisle shouldn’t have been in Tier 2'".

"We’re going to remove you from the list on the website," Mr Young said he was told.

Mr Young was told that an appropriate Government minister was set to acknowledge that it had been a mistake.

However, shortly after, the county council - the body responsible for public health in Carlisle and across Cumbria - were told there had been another change in direction.

“They changed their minds again," Mr Young said.

"The next thing they come back and say ‘you’re going into Tier 2, from midnight tonight’.”

The uncertainty faced by local officials in Cumbria as a result of this was described by Mr Young as "unbelievable".

"The communication has been dreadful," he said.

“I’ve just had a call with Nadine Dorries, one of the ministers."

Mr Young explained he had had an apology from the minister over the way the situation had been handled.

“There was no explanation as to what was happening.

“It’s caused a huge amount of confusion. And people were confused about the rules to start with.”

Mr Young said the way in which the situation has been handled threatens to undermine compliance with the rules.

“The strategy relies on compliance. If people are confused on what the rules are, there’s even less chance they’ll comply. If people lose that trust and confidence in the Government on an issue like this, it makes things very difficult.

“For instance, the police cannot enforce these rules without the cooperation of the vast majority of the public.

“It’s been an omnishambles. When I take a moment to step back and think about it, it is astonishing.”

Reflecting on the course of the day, Mr Young added: "When I take a moment to step back and think about it, it is astonishing. I've never seen anything like it."

​However, Mr Young said that the priority for both local and national Government at present is to focus on tackling the pandemic.

"It is not an easy job that the Government has, but the measures that they're taking are not sufficient.

"We are in the middle of a pandemic and we need to focus on a way forward. There will be time for a post-mortem on how things were handled at a later time. 

"I have asked for a further meeting with Nadine Dorries on Monday."

Mr Young explained that he hoped to address the funding arrangements from Government for Carlisle and more widely for Cumbria in his next meeting.

Conservative Carlisle MP John Stevenson said that more notice would have been preferable for Carlisle residents and businesses, but he underlined that “from the Government’s perspective, this is a fast moving situation, right across the country.

“We locally already knew the direction of travel. The numbers were going up.

“The Government had been liaising with Colin Cox and others.

“The Government felt it had to make a decision.

“I think it’s a decision everybody fully expected.”

He acknowledged that “it would be better for there to be longer notice.

“I feel sorry for some of the businesses that have had to respond with speed.

"But sometimes Governments have to make decisions quickly. Sometimes these decisions cause disruption to others.

“That is unfortunate, but they have to make decisions. I think everybody accepted Tier 2 was imminent.

“I think the main consideration was whether it was to come before or after the weekend.

“The more publicity that can be given to this the better, but we are very fortunate here that we have a very significant amount of media outlets.

“Therefore I think it has been extremely well-covered.

“I think people will be well aware of it.”

The Department for Health and Social Care were contacted for comment on this issue, but had not responded by the time of going to press.