During his research on the local responses to the crisis caused by the pandemic in Europe, Nicolas Bauquet, our Associate Director for Research and Transformation of Public Policy had the opportunity to discuss with Sir Peter Soulsby, Mayor of Leicester, and Florian Bercault, Mayor of Laval. Both cities have had to deal with particular restrictions over the summer, and their experiences in navigating that were strikingly similar. Nicolas Bauquet carried out this cross interview with them, in order to study and compare how both cities reacted to the crisis and how the decision-making process evolved. At Institut Montaigne, we believe that cross-national exchange and collaboration is key to tackling the challenges posed by the pandemic in Europe, and that the voices of local actors should be heard, if we want to build a collective framework of crisis management.
Under what circumstances was your city affected by Covid-19 restrictions this summer, and how has the situation evolved?
PS: The entire British territory was locked down from March 23 until the end of June. Towards the end of the lockdown, by which time the national government had effectively set up a testing regime, the first available figures suggested there was a worrying trend in the number of cases in Leicester. Shortly after, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health, announced to the press and British parliament that there had been an outbreak.
This announcement took the Leicester municipality by surprise, as there had been no dialogue upstream of the national decision making process. It took almost 11 days for the local authorities to clearly understand what this outbreak amounted to, and the national organization for public health only provided us with vague figures and a very brief report.
This decision provoked much frustration for the Leicester authorities, who had not been trusted with any of the data or been implicated in the process. Almost more importantly, the national levels of authority had failed to take into account the local expertise and knowledge of the Leicester municipality. The absence of local consultation in decision making processes hinders the effectiveness of public decisions overall, but this is especially the case for Leicester, which has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the UK. It is precisely the local authorities who have an understanding of all the various communities and the ways in which they interact.
As a result, there has been considerable frustration in the process of explaining to the citizens of Leicester what’s been happening, and particularly to the business community, who has been particularly impacted.