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The fury over plans to shut down much of the hospitality sector and other businesses could see the Government facing legal action for failing to properly protect jobs and businesses. The row has broken out as Mr Johnson prepares to make a major announcement tomorrow on how to tackle the rapid rise in coronavirus infections in the north and midlands. It is thought this will see restaurants and pubs order to close in the areas with highest infections.
The Government measures have already provoked anger among his own blue collar MPs who stormed Labour’s red wall seats in December.
But yesterday saw the Labour Metropolitan mayors join the fight and warn Mr Johnson that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s compensation package for people in their regions risked him breaking his “leveling up” pledge to the north and would lead to him “leveling down” instead.
Under the new scheme, furloughed workers would receive two thirds of their wages, as opposed to the 80 per cent under the national lockdown.
Manchester mayor Andy Burnham questioned closing down pubs and bars and said he is considering legal action over the compensation.
Mr Burnham said accepting Mr Sunak’s financial package would be to “surrender” people to hardship in the run up to Christmas.
The measures risked “severe redundancies” and business closures, the mayor added.
He said: “It will level down the north of England and widen the North-South divide.”
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 is signed by Mr Burnham, Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram, Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis, Mayor of North of Tyne Jamie Driscoll, and Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council.
Mr Driscoll said: “If we take away somebody’s right to earn a living we have to fully compensate them.”
He pointed out that even people on the minimum wage would only get two thirds of that money.
Mr Rotherham said that despite asking seven days ago for the scientific evidence backing up the proposals they are still waiting for a response from ministers.
A spokesman for the Government said that decisions would be kept under review.
In response to criticism of the Job Support Scheme, a Government spokesman said: “Throughout the pandemic, we have worked hard to protect jobs and support the economy, whilst trying to limit the spread of coronavirus.
“Ministers are continuing to work closely with local leaders on how we can combat coronavirus together.
“We will keep all financial support under review to support businesses who need it most and protect jobs over the coming weeks and months.”
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A senior Government source said that “extensive” talks are taking place in the background and help has been offered to councils and the police to make sure they can enforce regulations as well as an offer for more localised test and trace systems to track the disease.
But it was clear that criticism was not confined to senior Labour politicians last night.
Chris Oglesby, chief executive of Bruntwood & board member of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said: “What they can’t do is keep much of the North of England as a permanent open prison, if it is both ineffective as well as a considerable sacrifice of many livelihoods, businesses and freedoms.”
Martin Greenhow, who owns the five MOJO bars in the UK based in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham and Harrogate, described local lockdowns as the “metaphorical final nail” – saying the 10pm curfew is “killing us already”.
He said his Nottingham bar had been a “rockstar” for him until the pandemic hit.
He went on: “To see the decimation of the performance and the effect on their mental health – these guys are really stressed about the future.
“We are down 80 per cent on our turnover – even taking into account Rishi Sunak’s latest round of proposed support.
“Let’s just say he’s not understood the problem. We have just seen two weeks of absolute slaughter.”
The open letter was directed to all MPs for the northern regions including the Blue Collar Tories who stormed the red wall seats.
Writing for the Sunday Express today, Blue Collar Conservatism founder Esther McVey pointed out that it was the Blue Collar MPs who had been leading questioning of the Government strategy, including in a meeting with chief medical officer Chris Whitty earlier this week.
They also led the fight to help bail out the “Forgotten Ltd” self employed business owners.
But other Blue Collar Conservative MPs saw the Labour mayors’ intervention as a naked attempt to win back the red wall just months ahead of their own elections in May.
Ashfield Conservative MP Lee Anderson said: “I think it’s a cynical attempt by Labour and the Left to exploit this whole situation… It is no wonder that people suspect that Labour mayors and other Labour politicians are trying to take advantage of this terrible situation we are in.
“It is disgusting. Voters see through it. It is absolutely awful. It is the politics of the gutter.”
Rother Valley Conservative MP Alexander Stafford said: “They are trying to cause division. Let’s be honest. This is a global disaster and national crisis and they are too willing to score political points rather than actually engaging.
“I think it’s a disgrace… I think it’s a naked attempt to boost support for Labour.”
But the Government was facing a warning from Britain’s leading Brexiteer economist Professor Patrick Minford that its covid strategy “definitely” risks bankrupting the economy.
He said the idea of closing down the country again was “absolutely crazy”.
“You can’t indefinitely support people through Government hand-outs,” he said. “It’s not possible.”
In a further sign of the chilling impact the pandemic has had on the economy, research by digital search specialists Sinequa found 75 percent of workers plan to stay in their roles for at least another year with nearly seven out of 10 people (67 percent) concerned about not being able to find the information they need to do the job.
Annabel Denham of the Institute of Economic Affairs said: “At the start of 2020 we had record levels of employment, low unemployment and an economy that created new jobs all the time. Now, even a V-shaped bounce back won’t guarantee a speedy recovery in the labour market: previous recessions tell us that the latter lags far behind the former.”
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