GOVERNMENT ministers who opted to keep Barnsley in its tier three bracket yesterday - despite a sharp decline in coronavirus cases during the last six weeks - have been urged to include local leaders in the future decision-making process.

The borough will remain in strict measures for the Christmas period after health secretary Matt Hancock announced only Bristol and North Somerset would move from tier three to two.

It had been hoped Barnsley’s hospitality trade - hit hardest by two lockdown spells and recent weeks spent closed due to the town’s tier three placing - would be given respite thanks to declining positive rates which have seen huge reductions from an October peak of 568.7 cases per 100,000 to just 136.9 as of last week.

Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis, who is also Barnsley Central’s MP, said: “This decision is absolutely the last thing our communities and businesses wanted to hear - for many Christmas is critical to their survival.

“I would reiterate that this decision was taken solely by central government.

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“Once again local leaders have been cut out of the decision-making process and not even afforded the basic courtesy of being consulted, or informed in advance, about this decision.

“These decisions are absolutely crucial to our residents, businesses and communities, but yet again they are being made about us, without us.

“Covid is still deadly and is still spreading.

“Lockdowns have brought the rate of new infections down, but we are going into Christmas in a perilous position.

“Our communities, businesses and NHS cannot afford a third spike in the virus in January. We are so close to being able to spend time with our families as normal, so we must not risk another lockdown.”

A South Yorkshire-wide funding pot which includes £30m from the government, £16.5m from the Sheffield City Region and £6m each for the county’s four councils is set to make its way to the town’s hospitality sector.

Existing grants to businesses to help them through December have been increased.

Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton told the Chronicle: “Staying in tier three is disappointing, but it was expected.

“What’s important now is that we follow guidance over Christmas and support the hospitality sector, as they are losing out on their busiest time of the year.

“While the grants on offer won’t cover the profits they would have made during December, we’re doing all we can to back them so that when the time comes, they can reopen safely.”

Public health boss Julia Burrows revealed that despite rates being on a daily downward trajectory, cases have crucially risen in recent days, and backed the government’s call to ease pressure on the NHS.

Five criteria had to be looked at, according to ministers, including new infections, cases in the older population, hospital admissions, the speed in which rates have fallen and how many hospital beds were free.

South Yorkshire has had 104 new cases in the last week, has 632 people in hospital - around 1.5 times higher than the spring’s peak - and its 8 per cent fall rate is 3 per cent higher than the government’s requirement.

“Unfortunately, pressure on NHS services remains high in Barnsley,” Julia added.

“By moving out of very high restrictions we would put our hospital at additional risk as well as the lives of vulnerable people.

“I understand this may be frustrating for many people, as so many have worked hard to reduce our rates.

“However, it is vital that we do all we can to keep the virus under control as much as possible as we have seen how quickly infections and deaths can increase.”