Yorkshire is at risk of being 'levelled down' by 'insufficient' support package, say metro mayors

Leaders from across northern England have warned that the Government's commitment to 'levelling up the country' could be in danger of going backwards if more cash isn't given to struggling businesses and residents in the area.

Speaking at a press conference, Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis said the North could be 'levelled down' due to the coronavirus crisis. His words echoed those of Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram and Mayor of North of Tyne Jamie Driscoll who all spoke at the conference on Saturday afternoon (Oct 10).

It comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an extension of the Jobs Support Scheme by providing firms who are legally required to close two thirds of each employees salary, up to a maximum of £2,100 a month.

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Mr Burnham said to accept the Chancellor's financial package would be to “surrender” people to hardship in the run up to Christmas.

Mr Jarvis said: "What we've seen is a top down overly-centralised approach that has not been anywhere near as effective as it should have been.

"Nobody sat in Whitehall can ever understand the situation on the ground in the communities that we represent. So we are part of this solution and we need to be involved at an early point in the Government's decision making process to ensure that it is shaped in the right way and that can be delivered and implemented by local leaders on the ground.

"Other colleagues have rightly laid out their concerns about the short-term economic measures that the Chancellor announced yesterday (Oct 9). Clearly we're still working through the details of what that might mean but it seems clear to all of us that it won't go anywhere near far enough to prevent very significant levels of hardship over the coming weeks and months and significant proportions of our business community will be - frankly - struggling to survive.

"I think it's very important the Government looks at what more could be done.

"The Government was elected on a manifesto commitment to level up the country. They were elected on a manifesto commitment to the Northern Powerhouse. And I think as others have said, there is a very real concern and risk that instead of levelling up, Covid is going to very significantly level down, and those communities that were already deprived, already struggling economically are suffering even greater as a result of the Covid crisis."

Mr Jarvis said conversations would continue to take place with the Government across the weekend to come to an agreement over the support package.

Mr Burnham said proposals to pay two-thirds of wages will hit the lowest paid, those on minimum or living wages.

He said: “These people can’t choose to pay two-thirds of their rent or two-thirds of their bills.”

He also suggested the timing of the proposals could leave people without any financial support for several weeks, with some first payments only due in December.

“That would leave people with no money for a period of six weeks and could push them into debt and severe hardship. We were told yesterday (Oct 9) the financial package that would accompany any new system of restrictions, as announced by the Chancellor yesterday afternoon, was final and non-negotiable.

“And I have to say, we cannot accept that. This package only appeared late in the day, and at the start of the week there was not going to be any financial package at all.

“Following pressure from mayors and other leaders that changed.

“But the analysis we have done of that package, and we’ve taken time to digest what the Chancellor had said, the conclusion we have reached is this package is insufficient to protect our communities as we go into the rest of the autumn and the winter.”

In an open letter published alongside the press conference the leaders added: “We believe the Government should bring forward a separate vote on the financial package to provide an opportunity to reject the current financial package and requiring the Government to return with an improved package taking account of the important points we have raised.

“We would ask that you use whatever routes might be open to you to bring about a vote in the House.”

The letter has been signed by the four leaders, and Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council.

Speaking to reporters on Friday afternoon, Mr Sunak said: "This is a very different scheme to what we've had before. This is not a universal approach, this is an expansion of the Jobs Support Scheme specifically for those people who are in businesses that will be formally or legally asked to close so in that sense it's very different.

"I've always said that we will adapt and evolve our response as the situation on the health side adapts and evolves. That's what's happening. I think that's the pragmatic and right thing to do."

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James Mitchinson