This last month has been so frustrating watching the numbers of Covid-19 infections rise alarmingly and unable to do anything about it.
These last few days with even more stricter restrictions has been a worrying time for us all, especially for those whose businesses and livelihoods are bleeding before their very eyes.
I’ve had business owners on to me in tears over the last couple of days. On the Radio Merseyside phone in on Friday, caller after caller told me in stark terms how difficult life is, dealing with COVID and the impact on their income. A lot of people are just trying to make ends meet, while the virus grows and grows.
Right now, too many people are, rightly, terrified and looking for answers from a government that is disconnected from their lives and that of ordinary people.
Liverpool is one of the best places in the world to visit. You have heard me say on many occasions that the total arts, cultural, visitor and hospitality sector is the rocket fuel of our local economy. Bars, restaurants, hotels and attractions are worth billions of pounds and thousands of jobs. They pay half of the City’s Business Rates and employ 38,000 people. Covid has been devastating for them and the people working in them.
Over the last four months, 200 hospitality businesses have closed. Closed businesses impacts on people. Their owners, their employees, and as a Council we lose their business rates which we spend on services, often to keep people alive.
Most people agree with the new restrictions being introduced in Liverpool – Covid is in danger of spinning out of control and we must shut the virus down. As I write this, over 3000 people are infected and this is growing by about 900 per week, while there are 600 infections per 100,000 – a frightening set of figures.
Doing nothing is not an option, we must take action but we need many more things than just the blanket approach offered by Government.
We need an intelligent, transparent and targeted approach working with us, not dictating what we should do. A blanket approach, ignoring our voice, will alienate them and the people they represent, a dangerous and stupid approach that could cause long term social and economic damage worse than the period of the 80s.
So the message is clear. Stricter measures shouldn’t come at the cost of shutting down businesses and jobs. If businesses are forced to close, then they should be fully compensated for their losses so they can pay staff and survive. This is where Government just isn’t doing enough.
When we had a National Lockdown there was a national furlough scheme. Now we’re responding to Covid locally there’s almost nothing coming from Government to keep doors open and people in jobs.
Believe me, if we were talking about these restrictions in London, the response would be at least as good or better than the last National Furlough scheme. The North despite the levelling up rhetoric, is simply seen as second best by the Tories. Always has and always will be.
The cost of furloughing a low paid Hospitality worker is roughly the same as paying them Universal Credit – never mind the obvious administrative cost savings and the benefit of keeping them in a job it’s a no brainer to keep people in employment. But they don’t want to listen to economic common sense they want to enforce things on us on the cheap.
In discussions with Downing Street this weekend, including Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick MP and Boris Johnson’s advisor Sir Ed Lister, I made it absolutely clear that the proposed new Furlough scheme is inadequate and an insult to businesses and the working people of our City who have played no part at all in creating the situation they are in and who are being punished and instructed to close their businesses.
Steve Rotheram and other local leaders of the City Region were on the same call. We had another call on Saturday and today Sunday. They are simply not listening to our demands to improve the Furlough scheme. However, discussions are still taking place and we may get some funding towards our losses. I will keep you informed.
At the time of writing this I have been told clearly Liverpool will be placed in Tier Three of COVID-19 Alert Levels. This will mean closure of Pubs with restaurants allowed to stay open till 10.00pm. There will be more action but as yet we have not been told exactly what those measure are.
I hope you have heard that I am using repurposed stalled capital funding, together with similar from the City Region, to put a financial package together to help those businesses in the hospitality hardest hit.
This local StopGap Fund will help hospitality businesses urgently. It is a lifeline, but it is using much-needed funds from other areas. In my view and I hope you agree, it is better to try and stop losing jobs, so we will do all we can to help. We will do this because we’re focussed on protecting livelihoods as well as lives.
If we don’t, there will be no economy to come back to when we emerge from this – and then we will see the devastating human cost as we spiral back to the bleak days of the ‘80s and mass unemployment.
We must protect our NHS has been the mantra. Rightly so. Now we must protect our economy as well. We can’t afford to fail. It’s as simple as that.
Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, OBE