Burnham raises questions over timing of Chancellor's Tier 2 support package

22 October 2020, 13:11 | Updated: 22 October 2020, 13:12

Andy Burnham spoke to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee
Andy Burnham spoke to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. Picture: Parliament

By Maddie Goodfellow

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has questioned the Government's timing in introducing support for businesses in Tier 2 after Manchester 'lived under the same restrictions since July'.

Speaking at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Mr Burnham said that he was left "open mouthed" by the decision as he questioned the Government's motives.

"Manchester has been in Tier 2 for three months, London has just been put in and suddenly it has changed," he told the Committee.

"Of course I want business owners London who are struggling to get help as well, but everyone needs to be treated the same.

"I'm just struggling with the announcement because I keep thinking 'Why now? Why has it taken London to go into tier two for support to become a national issue?'".

His comments come as Rishi Sunak announced a package of further financial support for business owners living under Tier 2 restrictions.

Under current government rules, hospitality businesses under Tier 2 can only take customers from the same household unless they sit outside, resulting in a large drop in customer numbers.

Because the tier two restrictions suppress demand without attracting additional government support, they have been described as the "worst of all worlds" by the hospitality sector.

Areas in tier two include London, Essex, much of the West Midlands, Leicester, Nottinghamshire, Cheshire, West Yorkshire and north-east England.

Mr Burnham continued: "I was open mouthed when I read the headlines and it was called a 'support package for London and Birmingham'

"Places in the north such as Bolton had pubs closed for three weeks and no financial support was given.

"It makes me think what was this week all about with the negotiations with the government.

"On Tuesday I told the Prime Minister that Greater Manchester has been under Tier 2 restrictions for months so were different to other areas and that factor did not weigh at all in the final analysis.

"They just said no and only based it on a population based figure.

"It feels like they are dividing and ruling and having a one rule for them, one for us mentality."

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson confirmed Greater Manchester would get £60m in support, after Mr Burnham pushed for £65m, a figure rejected by the government.

Speaking about the effect of the pandemic on Greater Manchester, Mr Burnham said: "We’ve been in Tier 2 restrictions since late July which has had a big effect on people’s morale, mental health and has eroded strength of businesses.

"Westminster has all the money and power and mayors have to go on bended knee and plead for the money.

"In the UK we have devolution in name but not in reality.

"Why I found this such a fundamental issue is that the north of England get pushed around and is told no consistently.

"It came to a head because if you have to lock down jobs and lives in only some places you cannot do that on terms dictated from 200 miles away, it has to be on the terms of people there and local leaders.

"We were being asked to lock down on terms dictated from very far away and a stand had to be taken."

It comes as talks with local leaders in South Yorkshire were branded a "charade" as the area was confirmed to move up to Tier 3 this weekend.

On Wednesday, South Yorkshire leaders secured £41m in funding for "businesses and people".

Sheffield city region metro mayor Dan Jarvis said he "moved heaven and earth to secure the maximum amount of resource.

Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore said it was clear Downing Street officials and ministers were "going through the motions" in 10 days of negotiations just to "try and prove they were listening".

Ms Dore was speaking after Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis, who led the discussions, admitted he could not have secured any more cash, saying he "moved heaven and earth to secure the maximum amount of resource that we could".

She said: "I can assure you that Dan has been fighting vociferously for the people of Sheffield and South Yorkshire, just like I have been, because we genuinely thought we were in proper discussions and negotiations."

It is understood talks to move parts of the North East into Tier 3 have been put on hold, but Coventry will be moved from up from the "medium" Tier 1 restrictions this weekend, joining other Midlands neighbours in Tier 2 after a rise in cases.

The chancellor's spokesperson said of Thursday's announcement: "The chancellor is due to update the House of Commons on the economic situation, in particular, and so far as it relates to the new restrictions.

"And what we have always said is that our package of support is always flexible and always up for review to make sure that it is dealing with the situation as it evolves."