The mayor of Greater Manchester has vowed to consider legal action if the region is put into the strictest tier of coronavirus restrictions without further economic support.
Andy Burnham, the former Labour MP, used an online news conference on Wednesday to confirm he would oppose any move to put Greater Manchester into Tier 3 of the government’s new three-tier system for localised lockdown measures.
He said, if such action was taken, it would be “by imposition, not consent” and that he would “not cave into the pressure” by agreeing to the restrictions.
Mr Burnham said he feared “a winter where large parts of the North are trapped in Tier 3”, with the Liverpool City Region having been the first part of England to enter the severest restrictions on Wednesday.
Under the government’s new rules, people living in Tier 3 areas would see people banned from socialising with other households both indoors and in private gardens, while bars and pubs would be closed unless they can operate as restaurants only.
In Liverpool, gyms, leisure centres, bookmakers and casinos have also been shut and wedding receptions banned.
“We are law abiding people, we would respect the law of the land,” Mr Burnham said about the prospect of Greater Manchester reclassified from Tier 2 to Tier 3.
“But we would consider other routes, legal routes, where we could protect our many thousands of residents who are going to be left in severe hardship in the run up to Christmas.
“We would not just leave them in the lurch, we would try and support them and that would include any legal action we could take on their behalf.”
Mr Burnham backed a nationwide “circuit breaker” lockdown, as called for by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, as a “better and fairer way” of attempting to reduce infection rates.
The Greater Manchester mayor was joined at the news conference by Steve Rotherham, the mayor of the Liverpool City Region, who also raised the prospect of a legal challenge against the government.
Mr Rotherham, also a former Labour MP, described the government’s replacement of the furlough scheme, which will finish at the end of this month, with a new system of support for businesses told to shut due to coronavirus restrictions as potentially “discriminatory”.
He said: “The hospitality sector has some of the lowest-paid jobs in the country and we have some communities that disproportionately rely on the likes of hospitality jobs.
“So, for me, it appears to be discriminatory that the government are saying ‘well, we gave people 80% in March, but because it’s happening to somewhere in the Liverpool City Region, you’re only going to be able to get two-thirds of your wage’.”
He added: “The thing that we might well be talking about, collectively, is getting together and challenging this presumption that people can live on two-thirds of their wages.”
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Mr Rotherham branded the Job Support Scheme, which will open from 1 November and see the government pay two-thirds of employees wages from firms forced to shut due to COVID-19 rules, as “furlough-lite”.
He promised a “local furlough” in the Liverpool City Region to “do what the government has failed to do” and “fill the gap left by the national furlough scheme”.
Details of the local scheme would be published on Thursday, Mr Rotherham said.
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