Saturday, 31 Oct 2020

COVID warning: UK cities are on the BRINK – Liverpool mayor pleads for help

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“It’s not just Liverpool – it’s Leeds, Newcastle, Bristol, Birmingham, Sheffield and Nottingham – all of us.” Last week city chiefs in Leeds and Manchester warned the Prime Minister that local restrictions could cause economic disaster. Hotel occupancy and shopping footfall had both plunged, they said, and firms were folding. They pleaded for local furlough cash and business support. Yesterday, Liverpool chiefs unveiled a £40million emergency fund to rescue Merseyside hospitality and leisure firms from financial collapse.

On Saturday the city started living under new restrictions.

They include a ban on mixing with any other households in any indoor settings – including pubs, bars and restaurants.

This is in addition to the pre-existing rules against meeting other households in private homes and gardens.

The new rules apply to the whole Liverpool city region.

Latest figures show infections are rising in the city, with 413 per 100,000 people in the last week.

Now Mr Anderson has called on Government to introduce local furlough schemes to combine with lockdowns.

He said: “When [the Government] rightly introduced the national lockdown they had the furlough scheme.

“Now they have introduced local lockdowns so they should be introducing local furlough schemes, to help businesses to survive.

“People laid off will struggle with mental health, be claiming universal credit and we will lose their tax and national insurance contributions.

“We are talking about thousands of people that work for local authorities being made redundant across the country.”

Mr Anderson has invited the Prime Minister to Liverpool to assess the problem for himself.

He said: “He needs to see firsthand the economic damage being caused not just by COVID-19 but 10 years of austerity – and realise how important cities like Liverpool are for the wealth and wellbeing of the whole country.”

Mr Anderson, 62, said that like every UK city, Liverpool is struggling to tackle the economic impact of the pandemic.

He explained: “We started this financial year with an overspend of around £50million but reduced it down to £16million.

“Now we’ve lost 206 businesses in the hospitality sector in the last five months, meaning a reduction in business rate income.

“In Liverpool 38,000 people work in the hospitality sector, 50 percent of our business rates are paid by that sector.

“We are getting no income from our leisure centres and losing car parking income as people aren’t going shopping as much.

“That money should be coming into the coffers now to pay for next year but we haven’t got it. So next financial year we need to find the missing £45million.”

Despite the doom and gloom, proud Mr Anderson said he knows that Merseyside has an incredible future ahead.

He told us: “Liverpool’s best days lie ahead of it. But the next three years are going to be challenging. Central government has to recognise this – there has to be an intervention from them.”

The Labour leader, of Old Swan, in Liverpool, was elected as leader of Liverpool City Council in 2010, the same year David Cameron became Prime Minister.

Mayor Anderson said from that point central government grants were axed, budgets squeezed and city cash reserves dwindled.

He explained: “Since 2010 we have lost 60 percent of our funding.

“We used to have £116million in reserves, reserves for emergencies like COVID. We now have £16million.

Since 2010 we have lost £460million in funding a year and 3,000 jobs at the council – the parks, the cleaners, in children’s centres and libraries.

“That’s billions of pounds we have lost. It’s devastating.”

And the cutbacks have hit the poorest and the vulnerable the most, according to the married Liverpudlian father of four.

He said: “Morbidity rates of children are higher now than ever. We are cutting to the bone here.

“We get £176million in council tax a year and £200million in business rates. Yet it costs £250million a year just to run children’s and adult social care.”

Liverpool suffers as 70 percent of their council tax comes from small terraced properties on the lowest price bands.

Mr Anderson said: “We are even borrowing money to repair our roads, while the Government get millions in car tax and fuel tax from the people of Liverpool.”

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