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Mayors are a force for good. And it's time Johnson recognised that

Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham
·7-min read

Like so many around the world, the people of Greater Manchester and London have suffered terribly as a result of Covid-19. Thousands have died and years of hard-won economic progress has been undone in a matter of months – with businesses closed, jobs lost and unemployment predicted by some to hit 1980s levels. We must be honest that things are likely to get worse before they get better.

The nations and regions of the UK should have been the government’s biggest ally in the battle to control the spread of this virus and to protect jobs and livelihoods.

Tier one – medium

  • The “rule of six” applies, meaning socialising in groups larger than six people is prohibited whether indoors or outdoors.

  • Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work and are not counted as being part of the six-person limit.

  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate but pubs and restaurants must ensure customers only consume food and drink while seated, and close between 10pm and 5am.

  • Takeaway food can continue to be sold after 10pm if ordered by phone or online.

  • Schools and universities remain open.

  • Places of worship remain open but people must not mingle in a group of more than six.

  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of people who can attend (15 and 30 respectively).

  • Exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors, and – if the rule of six is followed – indoors.

Tier two – high

  • People are prohibited from socialising with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting.

  • Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work.

  • The rule of six continues to apply for socialising outdoors, for instance in a garden or public space like a park or beach.

  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate but pubs and restaurants must ensure customers only consume food and drink while seated, and close between 10pm and 5am.

  • Takeaway food can continue to be sold after 10pm if ordered online or by phone.

  • Schools and universities remain open.

  • Places of worship remain open but people must not mingle in a group of more than six.

  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of people who can attend (15 and 30 respectively).

  • Exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors but will only be permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with those they do not live with (or share a support bubble with), or for youth or disability sport.

  • Travel is permitted to amenities that are open, for work or to access education, but people are advised to reduce the number of journeys where possible.

Tier three – very high

  • People are prohibited from socialising with anybody they do not live with, or have not formed a support bubble with, in any indoor setting, private garden or at most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events.

  • Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work.

  • The rule of six continues to apply to outdoor public spaces, such as parks, beaches, public gardens or sports venues.

  • Pubs and bars are only permitted to remain open to operate as restaurants, in which case alcohol can only be served as part of a substantial meal.

  • Schools and universities remain open.

  • Places of worship remain open but household mixing is not permitted.

  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of people attending (15 and 30 respectively) but wedding receptions are not allowed.

  • The rules for exercise classes and organised sport are the same as in tier 2. They can continue to take place outdoors but will only be permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with people they do not live with (or share a support bubble with), or for youth or disability sport. However, in Merseyside, gyms were ordered to close when it entered tier 3.

  • Travelling outside a very high alert level area or entering a very high alert level area should be avoided other than for things such as work, education or youth services, to meet caring responsibilities or if travelling through as part of a longer journey.

  • Residents of a tier 3 area should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK, while people who live in a tier 1 or tier 2 area should avoid staying overnight in a very high alert level area.

We are uniquely well placed to help. As mayors, our focus is exclusively on the city regions we run. But the Westminster Punch and Judy show struggles to relate to this more grown-up and pragmatic “place before party” approach.

Proof of this is the cross-party coalition that stood up for Greater Manchester over recent days; the joint decision by the mayor and council leaders from all parties in London to go into tier 2; and the genuine collaboration and support shown by metro mayors, whatever their political colour, throughout the crisis.

Mayors work hand in glove with local NHS leaders and regional public health experts. We have a deep understanding of the complexity and diversity of our communities. We have strong links with local business leaders and understand the strengths of our local economies. Crucially, we have shown ourselves capable of reacting to events more quickly and devising more innovative solutions than national government.

However, instead of treating us as part of the solution to the pandemic, the government has at times treated us as the enemy. Westminster has sadly shown it is not mature enough to deal with devolution. The government may have all the money and power, but ministers simply cannot cope with differences, disagreements or compromise. Rather than partnership we have both been subjected to party politics, personal attacks and deliberate disinformation.

The prime minister has taken decisions with huge consequences for our regions. Offers of help on everything from the still-failing test and trace system to supporting vulnerable residents have been ignored. Increasingly desperate appeals for the funding we need have been rebuffed – and not just from us, but from Conservative mayors too. Now in London, meanwhile, the government must urgently come up with a deal that keeps TfL services running and doesn’t punish Londoners.

There is a class issue here too: the businesses being forced to close are concentrated in the poorest communities

While the government acted too late in March to save thousands of lives in London, it began lifting the national lockdown in the summer too early for the people of Greater Manchester – while the virus was still spreading too quickly. The region was then left languishing in restrictions similar to tier 2 from late July – with catastrophic consequences for local businesses, but no additional support for employers and workers facing those restrictions.

Having underfunded places to deal with tier 2, they are now doing the same with tier 3. Though Greater Manchester succeeded in getting backdated support from the government, it won’t be enough to deal with the consequences of a crude tier 3 formula that penalises cities. The chancellor takes no account of the number of businesses in an area and the fact that busy city centres like ours have more hospitality enterprises. But there is a class issue here too: the businesses being forced to close are concentrated in the poorest communities. They will be hurt most by tier 3.

This isn’t about wanting preferential treatment. It’s about basic fairness. It’s about treating cities fairly – wherever they are – given they are hit harder by lockdowns. The problem with money and power being concentrated in Westminster is that Whitehall doesn’t see the direct impact of policies in Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield or even parts of London.

Ministers want us to bite our tongues. When we don’t, they threaten to withhold support for the low-paid in Greater Manchester or remove free travel for kids in London.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Other countries have shown that with strong co-operation between regional and national authorities, it’s possible to get the virus under control and protect the economy.

As we approach a difficult winter, we invite the prime minister, as a former mayor himself, to sit down with us to chart a better way forward. Levelling up will fail if it’s dictated top-down. So let’s now draw a line over the arguments of recent days, work together to control the virus and lay plans for a recovery led by the regions.

Mayors are here to stay. It’s time for Westminster to grow up and work with us, not against us.