Northern mayors urge MPs to reject Rishi Sunak's 'insufficient' furlough replacement

Scheme will see people across the country ‘plunged into hardship’

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Saturday 10 October 2020 18:05
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Andy Burnham: 'To accept the chancellor's package would be to surrender our residents to hardship'

Rishi Sunak’s new furlough scheme is “insufficient” and will lead to the destruction of livelihoods across the North of England, city mayors have warned. 

At a joint press conference on Saturday Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram, Dan Jarvis, and Jamie Driscoll urged MPs to demand a vote in the Commons on the financial support package – and to reject it.

Greater Manchester mayor Mr Burnham told journalists the package was “insufficient to protect our communities as we go into autumn and the winter ” and would see people “plunged into hardship”.

He said the plan would achieve “the precise opposite of what this government was elected to do: it will level down the north of England and widen the north-south divide”.

Mr Sunak’s scheme pays two thirds of the wages of workers whose businesses have been forced to close by law. It was announced on Friday ahead of new measures to tighten lockdown restrictions that are expected to see more businesses closed in outbreak areas. 

But the northern city mayors say the scheme is less generous than the 80 per cent furlough it replaced, that it gives  no help to the self-employed, and that it does not help people whose businesses will be indirectly affected by the measures. 

They also highlighted a six-week gap between the introduction of new measures and the payment of any assistance which would see people go into rent arrears and debt.

“If you work in a bar or in a kitchen linked to a pub on possibly living wage but more likely minimum wage, how is it possible to live on two thirds of your wages if the government has forced your business to close? Those people can't choose to pay two thirds of their rent or two thirds of their bills,” the Greater Manchester mayor said.

Mr Rotheram, mayor of the Liverpool city region, said the package had been greeted with “incredulity and dismay” by northern leaders.

“We are actually talking about lives and livelihoods in this instance. Imposing new restrictions without also providing adequate funding support is simply not acceptable,” he said.

Mr Driscoll, the mayor of North Tyne, which includes Newcastle, added: "When the state says you may not go to work, you may not trade, then people should be getting 100 per cent compensation. Being paid two thirds of your wages, especially if you're on minimum wage, is not acceptable.

 “We are all as one on this across the whole of the north: if you take away someone’s freedom to earn a living you have to compensate them fully.”

The government has said previously MPs will be given a vote on new lockdown measures where possible, following discontent from Conservative MPs.

The northern leaders however say the government has told them the financial package is non-negotiable, and that it was introduced at the last minute.

Mr Burnham said “the muscle of the north” in parliament – whether Labour or Tory – should force the government to change its approach.

The mayors are also angry that the government announced the financial package and briefed the new lockdown measures to newspapers before engaging with local leaders.

 Dan Jarvis, mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said it had been a “mistake” to brief newspapers, adding: "Nobody sat in Whitehall could ever understand the situation on the ground in the communities we represent ... It's felt on occasion that rather than partners we are passengers in this process."

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