Northern leaders call for more cash to cope with looming lockdowns
Leaders across northern England are urging the Government to provide more cash to support areas which face going into further lockdowns or risk “levelling down” the region.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said that accepting Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s financial package would be to “surrender” people to hardship in the run up to Christmas.
Speaking at a press conference with political leaders from Liverpool, Sheffield and Tyneside on Saturday, Mr Burnham said the measures risked “severe redundancies” and business closures.
He added: “To accept the Chancellor’s package as outlined yesterday would be to surrender our residents to hardship in the run up to Christmas and our businesses to potential failure or collapse.
“We are not prepared to do that.
“It will level down the north of England and widen the north-south divide.”
His comments come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to outline a new three-tiered system of restrictions on Monday with measures expected to see pubs and restaurants shut across the north of England.
Under the three-tier system, different parts of the country would be placed in different categories, with areas in the highest level expected to face tough restrictions such as hospitality venues closing.
Mr Sunak announced on Friday that workers in businesses which are forced to close under the new restrictions will have two thirds of their wages paid by the Government.
Mr Burnham said he was calling for cross-party support from MPs across the North for a vote in Parliament on the support proposals announced by the Chancellor.
“I would not rule out a legal challenge,” he said.
In an open letter published alongside the press conference the leaders added: “We believe the Government should bring forward a separate vote on the financial package to provide an opportunity to reject the current financial package and requiring the Government to return with an improved package taking account of the important points we have raised.
“We would ask that you use whatever routes might be open to you to bring about a vote in the House.”
The letter is signed by Mr Burnham, Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram, Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis, Mayor of North of Tyne Jamie Driscoll, and Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council.
Mr Burnham said the Government was treating the North as second-class and that councils had been given “no good reason” why the financial package was not, in his opinion, good enough.
He added: “And the only conclusion you can come to is that at the start, when it was all ‘whatever it takes’, that was when it involved the whole country and, we might say, the south of the country.
“All of a sudden when it involves the North, it’s not whatever it takes any more, it’s what we are prepared to spend.
“And it’s actually about treating parts of the country as second-class. And it’s about treating some workers as second-class citizens.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was also critical of the business aid package and said there were gaps in it.
Speaking at a Co-operative Party virtual conference he said: “I think, though, that the Government has lost sight of the guiding principle, and the guiding principle should be that restrictions are always accompanied by appropriate economic support.
“If that had been the principle throughout, we wouldn’t be in the mess that we are in at the moment.”
The managing director of MOJO, Martin Greenhow, who owns five bars in the UK based in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham and Harrogate, has described the words of the northern leaders as a “breath of fresh air”.
Mr Greenhow, who is on the brink of having four of his five bars in local lockdown areas, told the PA news agency: “We’re looking like we’re going to be hit from all angles – I’m beginning to feel like we’re being stalked.
“To hear the northern leaders in that press conference say those things, that was a breath of fresh air and it’s refreshing to hear people are listening.
“A large portion of that is, I think, it is now coming home to people – we are looking at a total collapse of a whole sector.”
Mr Greenhow described local lockdowns as the “metaphorical final nail” – saying the 10pm curfew is “killing us already”.
Earlier on Saturday, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said he expected his city to be in the highest category of restrictions.
Speaking on BBC radio 4’s Today programme, he added: “I do believe that the measures that will be introduced will be a lockdown of public houses from Wednesday within the city of Liverpool and beyond the city of Liverpool in terms of the whole region.
“We do believe that there will be a concession to restaurants in terms of allowing restaurants to stay open until 10 o’clock.”
Real estate adviser Altus Group has said there are 7,171 pubs in areas with restrictions across the north of England at risk of temporary closure.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said that his area was expected to enter tier two restrictions and echoed calls for more support for businesses.
While he welcomed the Chancellor’s “unprecedented” support package he said that many businesses will not be eligible because under the tier two rules they will not be forced to close.
Mr Houchen added: “With further restrictions set to come into force in the Tees Valley in the coming days, especially for our hospitality businesses, it is essential that more support is given to firms impacted by tier two restrictions.
“Many of the fantastic hospitality businesses we have in our region will not be eligible for this new support as the rules will not legally require them to close, but due to a ban on households mixing, they will suffer a significant fall in customers and trade.”
Meanwhile, on Friday evening the leaders of West Yorkshire councils also warned another lockdown will have a “devastating” effect on the town and city centres and regional economy.
In a joint letter to the Chancellor and health and housing secretaries on Friday, the leaders said “significantly” more financial support was needed to prevent an even deeper economic catastrophe.
They added: “In a three-level approach, there must be significantly more support available to businesses in areas that are in either level two or level three to avoid an even deeper economic catastrophe.”
A Government spokeswoman said all financial support will be kept under review, to support businesses and protect jobs over the coming weeks and months.
She added: “Throughout the pandemic, we have worked hard to protect jobs and support the economy, whilst trying to limit the spread of coronavirus.
“This is why we have set out an unprecedented package of financial support. The Job Support Scheme is just one element of this comprehensive package, which includes rental support, mortgage holidays, and £9.3bn of extra funding for the welfare safety net to help those unable to access other forms of support.”
Talks between the Government and local leaders are to continue over the weekend.
A further 15,166 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were reported on Saturday, and 81 more deaths were confirmed of people who died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.
Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies show there have now been 58,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
In North Wales, new coronavirus restrictions are being introduced in Bangor following a sharp rise in cases, the Welsh Government has announced.
From 6pm on Saturday, people will not be allowed to enter or leave the area without a “reasonable excuse” and can only meet people they do not live with outdoors, it said.