Tuesday, 27 Oct 2020

Coronavirus: Pressure builds on Greater Manchester after Merseyside gets extra COVID funds

Merseyside has scooped an extra £30m in Tier 3 COVID-19 cash from the government, piling pressure on Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham to do a deal.

Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram – praised by Boris Johnson during the past week – announced that the new money is to support businesses hit by the lockdown.

It comes on of £14m already received to support the local Test, Trace and Isolate system and local enforcement efforts, making a total of £44m to compensate for Tier 3 restrictions.

And along with £7m that the city region received when it went in to Tier 2 status, it means Merseyside has received a total package of £51m in coronavirus cash from the government so far.

“Once it became clear that Tier 3 restrictions were going to be imposed on our City Region, we held a series of meetings with the government throughout last weekend, with the aim of protecting our NHS and supporting local people and businesses,” said Mr Rotheram, announcing the latest handout.

“We have been absolutely clear since we were put into Tier 3 that we would continue to press the government and hold meaningful dialogue to secure vitally needed extra economic support.

“The result of this is that, today, we have obtained from the government, an additional £30m in funding.

“This is welcome news for our economy and the thousands of people whose businesses and jobs will now be supported through this very difficult period.”

Mr Rotheram, former Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, has been praised by Mr Johnson several times in recent weeks, in Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons and in his Downing Street news conferences.

In contrast, after Mr Burnham complained that no new talks with the government had so far been arranged this weekend, Downing Street hit back: “No. 10 reached out this morning to try to arrange a meeting with the Mayor of Manchester.

“We will continue to try and reach an agreement on these difficult yet necessary measures to protect the NHS and the people of Manchester.”

But a defiant Mr Burnham is now calling for parliament to agree a three-point plan for Greater Manchester.

He is demanding:

  • A “fair furlough” of 80% of wages for those whose companies are forced to close under Tier 3 restrictions
  • 80% of incomes of self-employed people such as taxi drivers and security workers guaranteed
  • A greatly enhanced business support scheme

Despite his plea, Mr Burnham has also hit out at Rishi Sunak, declaring in a New Statesman interview: “I think the problem now is, to a large degree, the chancellor.

“I think he’s made wrong judgements throughout this. The Eat Out To Help Out scheme was a poor judgement and the wrong message coming out of lockdown.

“The cost of that should have been paying for the furlough now. The Treasury funded more or less the more gimmicky things, and they haven’t funded proper support.”

In an unusual Tory split, Mr Burnham has also won the backing of Tory MPs from Greater Manchester after he was attacked by 20 Conservative colleagues representing seats under Tier 1 restrictions.

Led by Jerome Mayhew, the MP for Broadland in Norfolk, Mr Burnham’s Tory critics wrote to him, urging: “We know you are calling for a national lockdown now but urge you to reconsider.

“It does not make sense to shut down the whole country when the virus is spiking in particular locations. It is very clear to us – and the people we represent – that the local and regional approach is the right response to the current situation.

“We urge you to work with the government to get the virus under control in Greater Manchester, so we can all avoid the pain of another national lockdown.”

But Tory MP William Wragg, whose Hazel Grove constituency is in Greater Manchester, hit back and told his colleagues to “concern themselves with their own constituencies”.

“I would not wish tighter restrictions on their constituents,” he said. “We’re willing to work constructively to improve the situation in Greater Manchester and would ask for the short time and space to do so.”

And Christian Wakeford, the Tory MP for nearby Bury South, said politicians in the region were “united in opposing Tier 3 in its current form” in order to get the best solution for residents.

“Interventions from fellow members who don’t understand the situation are neither wanted nor helpful,” he added.

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