Unity and confidence are first casualties in Manchester lockdown war of words

Six months ago, we were 'all in this together', working to protect the NHS and save lives; but in the past week I have witnessed the disintegration of this unified approach.

Public trust and confidence are in short supply in Greater Manchester, warns Amanda Coleman
Public trust and confidence are in short supply in Greater Manchester, warns Amanda Coleman

Young and old, North and South, working and jobless have all been set against each other. This was definitely not what anyone set out to do, but this is where we have ended up.

The negotiations around Greater Manchester’s 'Tier 3’ lockdown have been a war of words between local and national government.

On one side was Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, along with local council leaders and MPs, while on the other were Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, and an array of ministers.

There was talk of leaked information, confused statistics and political posturing.

It is the first time I can remember the Government imposing a ‘high noon’ deadline on anything.

In the middle of all this were the people of Greater Manchester, who were left unsure of what was happening, seeking clarity, and feeling the cold chill of a long tough winter ahead.

The frustration with this situation is that crisis communication – and communicating through a pandemic – requires people to work with decision-makers.

They must understand what is required and be ready to take the required action.

At the heart of an effective response is trust and confidence.

People need to trust what they are being told and what they are asked to do.

They need confidence that there is a plan and a way to deal with what is happening.

The exchange around the Greater Manchester lockdown has done nothing to support this.

Words that were used in swift exchanges will long be remembered by those who have been affected.

The decision to put the area into ‘Tier 3’ will put people into poverty, close businesses and split families.

I know people who are struggling to find work, and who are facing the heartbreak of closing businesses they have spent years building.

I also know people who have been ill with Covid-19 and have tragically lost friends and relatives to the virus.

These are all the people who should have been at the heart of the communication taking place in recent days.

Along the way we have lost sight of the real issue, which is that we are in the middle of a pandemic and need to work together to find a way forward.

That means we all support each other and find ways to get through the difficulties.

And yes, we do need to be bothered about the small things – because they matter.

Stop calling your friends standing alongside you at the podium by their initials – eg Professor Van-Tam, not "JVT" – and develop a consistent and clear narrative that is more than announcements made from a podium.

Crises require honest and authentic communication with a heart.

It is time to remember what really matters in all this: the people who are affected.

Work to support and help them, bring people together, and focus on getting through this pandemic.

Amanda Coleman is former director of corporate comms at Greater Manchester Police and now a crisis comms consultant

Thumbnail credit: Getty

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