Joe Anderson: Government's wait-and-see policy means life-or-death in Liverpool
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A week is a long time in politics. In this Covid crisis – it’s a lifetime. Or more accurately, it’s the difference between life and death.
Tragically, this government’s inability to act swiftly has led to untold thousands of deaths.
They dithered in March. And now we know if Boris Johnson had instructed the full lockdown a week earlier, the impact of the pandemic would have been halved.
A lesson learnt? You would hope. Except, fast forward to mid-September and this cataclysmic mistake was made again.
We began to see the beginning of a second wave in Liverpool just after schools returned and in response I called for a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown. The call was openly slapped down.
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But this week we discover I was not alone. SAGE was calling for it too. And so now is Keir Starmer.
Unfortunately, in those three long weeks of Whitehall and Westminster telling us they know best, Covid spread so much that in my city the rate is now on the brink of eclipsing the peak we saw in April. Right now, 270 people are currently in hospital in this city due to this deadly dithering.
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As a result of this disastrous wait and see policy I got a call on Friday from the Cabinet Office inviting me to a meeting where me and other leaders in the city region were told we’d be put in the top tier of new restrictions. To come into effect this week.
There was no room for debate. No negotiation. That was lockdown by diktat. A pure fait accompli. Which was then presented to the nation as an agreement.
This is no way to govern. Especially in the grip of a pandemic.
Local lockdowns need to be led by local government. We know our communities, and we know how to supress Covid. As we proved in Toxteth in late August.
Equally, as much as we need to protect lives, we also need to protect livelihoods.
This new Tier Three set of restrictions is going to disproportionately hit our hospitality sector at precisely the wrong time, with the run up to Christmas.
The chancellor believes 66% of wages is sufficient. Business in Liverpool will tell you otherwise. They are going to go bust.
More than 300 have already and we’re expecting a tsunami of job losses now. The hospitality sector here has already seen a 3,800% increase in redundancies compared to 2019. Imagine what is to follow.
The first thing the government need to do is maintain the 80% furlough level from the first lockdown.
Many in the hospitality sector are already on a low wage. To ask them to take 66% is an insult to those who can least afford it. And to hear that from a government which is about to rubber stamp a £3,000-a-year pay rise for MPs is a just complete kick in the gut.
The economics stack up too, as to place these people on Universal Credit will actually cost more as people won’t be paying income tax or national insurance.
Equally, we can’t afford businesses to fold because the loss of income from business rates will push council finances over a cliff. In Liverpool, 48% of our business rates come from the hospitality sector.
We’ve already lost almost half a billion pounds due to austerity. The double whammy of Covid will simply cripple us.
That’s why I have made it absolutely clear to government until I’m blue in the face: Lockdown, yes. On the cheap, no.
We cannot work with an economic package that condemns this city to a return to an 1980s-style level of unemployment.
This city has spent the past two decades reinventing itself to the point that is now one of the fastest growing economies in the UK and the most popular visitor destination outside our three capitals.
The government say they are listening. But the truth is, they are sleep-walking the nation to an economic meltdown.
Boris needs to wake up.
The next week or two will determine the destiny of Britain – particularly the north of England – for the coming decade.
I just hope the government accepts the argument that people’s lives and livelihoods cannot be decided by a formula, cooked up by some unelected mandarins in Whitehall.
I will fight with every fibre of my being to convince them otherwise.
At a time of crisis, people need hope.
It is the best medicine those in power can supply.
Joe Anderson has been the directly-elected Labour mayor of Liverpool since 2012