Regional mayor says stringent Covid-19 restrictions without support are 'unacceptable'

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has strongly criticised the lack of help being made available for areas in tier three restrictions.

Wednesday, 14th October 2020, 5:04 pm

At a joint press conference with Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, Mr Burnham said ministers were taking a "penny-pinching approach to this pandemic" and demanded an 80 per cent furlough scheme for employees of all businesses which would be forced to close.

He said local authorities in Greater Manchester were being pressured to accept being placed in tier three and emphatically stressed he would not, as things currently stand, accept that.

Although he said the city-region would abide by the law he made it clear the present form of tier three would be imposed on Greater Manchester, not accepted, and he would consider routes, including potential legal action, to challenge the hardship people would face under it.

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Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham

Mr Burnham accused ministers of putting councils in "an invidious position" of having to decide which extra industries would have to close under tier three regulations and said he thought a national circuit-breaker lockdown would work better than more localised restrictions.

Mr Burnham said: "If we were to go down this route [of tier three restrictions without support] we would be surrendering people to certain hardship in the run-up to Christmas. There would certainly be job losses and business closures.

"We have objected to the idea that a furlough scheme should be paid at 67 per cent. The Chancellor has said people will be able to top that up with Universal Credit but we have run some checks and it is not correct to say that everybody would be able to top their income up that way.

"We won't accept tier three on the current terms. It is morally wrong. It is risking people's health in a different way. The Government is asking us to commit an act of self harm by levelling down our economy.

"It feels very much to me that areas are being pressured to accept tier three and the Government is passing the buck and the bill on to local leaders and areas. We do not find that acceptable.

"We have gone from an approach of whatever it takes to get the country through this to a penny-pinching approach to this pandemic where the cost will fall on people in the real world and businesses already close to the brink.

"We will not cave in to the pressure without being given the clear evidence and substantial financial support needed to protect our communities. I am talking about 80 per cent furlough guaranteed across all sectors that would be forced to close. That was good enough earlier in the year, it should be good enough now.

"It's also not acceptable that we haven't had a substantive discussion with the Government about this."

Mr Burnham shared slides showing just how many people across the city-region would likely be affected if Greater Manchester was moved into tier three restrictions.

They included 20,000 staff working in 1,900 pubs, 63,000 people in accommodation and food services, 32,000 employees in entertainment and recreation and 20,000 taxi drivers, as well as 187,000 self-employed people.

He said there were now two routes ahead: the Government's current regionalised approach and a national circuit-breaker.

Mr Burnham made it clear which of these he thought was the better option, saying chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty has already suggested he does not think the base measures for tier three, the ones which are imposed before discussions about extra closures take place or are imposed by the Government, go far enough to drive the current figures down.

He said: "A regional approach without the support needed to carry people through, without support for the self-employed and without support for businesses beyond the £3,000 offered would make for an extremely challenging situation indeed.

"A majority of Greater Manchester leaders feel it would be preferable at some point to go for a national circuit-breaker rather than this regional approach.

"We are mindful there are growing numbers of cases and are always prepared to do what is right to protect the health of our residents.

"We have real doubts about whether the regional approach will work. We have had 10 weeks of local lockdowns and they will only succeed if neighbouring areas don't have very high case levels. Everybody is linked to what their neighbours are doing."

Mr Burnham said it was vital that all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester now stick together, saying the problem demands a unified response across the city-region rather than a patchwork of different responses in different local authorities.

He also said he and Mr Rotheram wanted to provide a united front despite Greater Manchester being in tier two restrictions and the Liverpool City Region in tier three, saying the issues of how the Government was treating the North West faced by both areas were the same.