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Andy Burnham 'open-mouthed' job scheme only extended as London rules tightened

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
Andy Burnham, mayor of Manchester, holds a news conference, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Manchester, Britain, October 20, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Andy Burnham, mayor of Manchester. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has hit out at the UK government for only extending support for firms after coronavirus restrictions were tightened in London.

The regional mayor said he was “open-mouthed” as UK chancellor Rishi Sunak announced higher subsidies for all firms on the job support scheme, and extended business grants to areas with Tier 2 restrictions such as a ban on indoor household mixing. Lockdown grants for firms had previously been limited to Tier 3 areas where they had been forced to close.

Burnham, a former Labour minister and leadership contender, spoke of his disbelief that such support had only been announced months after Greater Manchester and other areas were placed in Tier 2.

Giving evidence in parliament in a select committee on the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, he told MPs: “I’m really struggling with this announcement...not because I begrudge people working in pubs or restaurants in London the help, of course I don’t.

READ MORE: UK businesses in Tier 2 lockdowns get extra support

“But why now? Why has it taken London to go into Tier 2 for Tier 2 support to become a national issue?

“That’s the question everyone has to answer, not just the government but the country has to answer that. Why do we see London’s issues much more than we see Liverpool’s issues, Greater Manchester’s issues?

“It was a case of ‘hello’? We’ve been under these restrictions for three months. Bolton had their pubs closed for three weeks with nothing.”

He also hit out at the government for not highlighting such plans during talks with Greater Manchester leaders over the past fortnight about tighter rules and additional support for the region.

He tweeted after the hearing: “Why on earth was this not put on the table on Tuesday to reach an agreement with us?”

Watch: Johnson emphasises with Burham as Greater Manchester moves into Tier 3

READ MORE: UK government debt at highest level in 60 years

The government confirmed cash grants on Thursday of up to £2,100 ($2,750) a month “primarily” for hospitality, accommodation and leisure firms “adversely impacted” by restrictions in high-alert or Tier 2 areas.

It also appeared to concede regions facing such curbs for months already deserved additional support, a point Burnham said he had made repeatedly during negotiations with Downing Street.

“These grants will be available retrospectively for areas who have already been subject to restrictions,” said a Treasury press release after Sunak outlined his latest plans to MPs.

The announcement marks the third time in a month the chancellor has caved to pressure to expand his business and worker support package. Alarm and the political and business backlash has grown over rising job losses since the government sought to wind down support by ending the furlough scheme.

WATCH: MP says job support schemes have ‘more holes than Swiss cheese’