Andy Burnham criticises Government for 'unfair' treatment of north during pandemic

17 May 2020, 12:10

Mayor of Greater Manchester on coronavirus support for the north

By Megan White

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has criticised the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, claiming the north is being treated “unfairly.”

Mr Burnham said he was given “no advance notice” of coronavirus lockdown restrictions being eased last week and that explained the “nervousness” across the north of England.

He also questioned where extra financial support for Manchester’s transport system was after Transport for London were given £1.6 billion in a Government bailout.

Speaking to LBC’s Andrew Castle, Mr Burnham called for “national unity” and said he has “not sought to play politics” throughout the crisis.

He said: “I think we do need to try and preserve some national unity given that this is a national crisis.

“It’s just it’s got hard in the past week with some of the decisions reached by the government and the way they’ve been behaving.

Andy Burnham said he was given “no advance notice” of lockdown restrictions being eased
Andy Burnham said he was given “no advance notice” of lockdown restrictions being eased. Picture: PA

“On Sunday night, I found out about the change in lockdown like everybody watching it on television.

“The problem is I’m running the trams and buses in Manchester – how are we meant to cope with that when people are being asked to return to work within a few hours but we’ve had no advance notice?”

Asked what he thought should have happened, Mr Burnham said: “I would have expected council leaders, mayors, others around the country to be taken through the government’s thinking, let’s say in the middle of the week before the announcement, shown the science, and an explanation as to why the measures were safe in the north given that the R number is much higher here than it is in London.

“Take us through it, treat us properly, and perhaps then we might have been able to endorse it more.

“The problem is it was kind of sprung on us without any explanation, and that explains the nervousness you’re seeing across the north at the moment.”

Asked if he would consider “going his own way,” Mr Burnham said he “didn’t want to do that.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester: "Peak in the north is likely to be this month"

He added: “I was on a phone call with the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago, and I said to him let’s work hard to keep a spirit of national unity, I think it’s important at a time like this.

“I’m serious about that, I’ve not sought to play politics through this, I’ve tried to be constructive with the Government.

“It’s just it’s hit a point this week where you can’t sort of roll with these decisions anymore, we do have to point out the unfairness.

“The latest allocation to councils of funding saw a massive shift out of the north and into the south.

“This is a virus which is clearly linked to deprivation, and it’s northern towns that are facing the biggest challenges.

“How on earth can the Government justify removing the deprivation weighting from the funding allocation?

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“Those kind of decisions are not justifiable in my view.”

He also called on the Government to help cities across the country with extra funding for public transport to allow for extra services amid social distancing.

The Mayor said Manchester would need “one-sixteenth” of what London has been offered and thinks it would be “reasonable” for the Government to step in.

As part of his role as Mayor, Mr Burnham helps to control Greater Manchester’s buses and Metrolink tram system under Transport for Greater Manchester.

He added: “This week we saw a big funding package for London transport - £1.6 billion – and I just ask the question where was the funding deal for Manchester, for Birmingham, for Sheffield, for Liverpool?

“There wasn’t one, and the reason this is important is when we can only carry 20 per cent of passengers on buses and trams, we obviously have to put extra services on to try and get people safely to work.

“But apparently we don’t deserve that level of consideration.

“We’ve got a TFGM and they haven’t been given a funding deal similar to London.

“We were given three-quarters of the money we needed to run a 20-minute tram service, and that’s all we’ve had so far.

“We need, if we’re looking through the rest of this year, with the low number of people we can allow on buses and trams, I would say at least £100 million to put in place services to carry people safely to work, given that many people here don’t own a car, so they can’t just listen to what the Prime Minister says about driving.

“That is one-sixteenth of what London has been offered and I think it’s reasonable for the second city to have a package in this order.”