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North of England leaders call for more cash as further lockdowns loom with three-level system of restrictions

Ireland has a five-level system, with the whole country currently under Level 3.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Image: Aaron Chown/PA Images

Updated Oct 10th 2020, 3:07 PM

LEADERS ACROSS NORTHERN England are urging the British 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 today, 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.

Sunak announced yesterday that workers in businesses which are forced to close under the new restrictions will have two thirds of their wages paid by the UK government.

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 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.

Burnham said the British government was treating the North [of England] 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.”

Earlier today, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said he expected his city to be in the highest category of restrictions.

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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.

Meanwhile, yesterday 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.”

Talks between the British government and local leaders are to continue over the weekend.

A further 13,864 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were reported yesterday, and 87 more deaths were confirmed of people who died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus.

Separate figures suggested coronavirus cases are doubling about twice as fast in the North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands as for the whole of England.

In North Wales, new coronavirus restrictions are being introduced in Bangor following a sharp rise in cases, the Welsh Government has announced.

From 6pm today, 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.

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