image captionGreater Manchester was placed into tier three of coronavirus restrictions last month
Business owners in Greater Manchester have said they feel treated with “complete disrespect” amid the changing picture of Covid-19 restrictions.
The region was placed into tier three – at the time England’s highest level of coronavirus restrictions – last month following days of disagreement over a deal between government and local politicians.
This weekend the region’s mayor Andy Burnham questioned why “low-paid workers in the North” had only been offered 67% of their wages if firms they worked for were forced to close, calling it “sheer injustice” when under national restrictions announced on Saturday an extension of the furlough scheme paying 80% was made available.
It comes as a poll for the BBC suggests people in Greater Manchester think the government has treated the South better than the North.
The government said it had “provided targeted local support on top of UK-wide measures”.
Mr Burnham, along with the area’s 10 council leaders, had requested £90m to support businesses affected by the tier three measures but lowered their demand to £65m.
The government later announced a £60m support package would be distributed across the region.
Following the decision to move all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester into tier three, YouGov polled 1,028 Greater Manchester residents online between 23-28 October.
According to 67% of those polled, the UK government has treated the South better than the North while only 1% thought the opposite was true.
Only 26% of respondents said the government had handled the pandemic “well” or “very well”, with 70% thinking the opposite.
The majority of Greater Manchester residents polled also suggested they were unimpressed by the government’s actions to:
- protect people’s jobs in the region (22% said the government had done “very well” or “fairly well” versus 66% who said it had done “very badly” or “fairly badly”)
- protect the Greater Manchester’s businesses (22% well versus 67% badly)
- provide financial support for those unable to work in the region (24% well versus 62% badly)
- reduce the spread of Covid-19 in Greater Manchester (21% well versus 64% badly).
Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said the results were “perhaps unsurprising, given the disproportionate effect of Covid on the North compared with the rest of the UK in this second wave”.
“With no end in sight for the restrictions – and no clear route on when and how areas can move down the tiering system – it’s unlikely this sense of dissatisfaction will go away anytime soon,” he said.
A Treasury spokesman said: “The furlough scheme is UK-wide, and has been available throughout the period that Greater Manchester has been under their three restrictions.
“As part of the local and regional approach to tackling the virus, we provided targeted local support on top of UK-wide measures. In Greater Manchester this includes £60m of business support.”
By Kevin Fitzpatrick, BBC Manchester political reporter
While the tier three row highlighted the strength of voice that a high-profile metro mayor can now have, it also showed that, ultimately, it’s still the government which has the final say.
It’s clear the residents of northern towns and cities feel browbeaten and exhausted by the virus, alongside a sense of injustice that it never really left us.
As the second wave takes hold, there’s still a long way to go in this crisis.
Already though, Conservative MPs quietly voice their fears that this last month has done lasting damage to their brand in constituencies where voters were persuaded to lend their support to Boris Johnson and go Tory for the first time.
‘We’re on our last legs’
image captionJason Bailey owns a street food business and said he has not paid himself a wage since the pandemic started
It has been a “terrible time” for Manchester-based street food business Grub, said its owner Jason Bailey, who has not paid himself a wage since the pandemic started.
“Our entire team are having to work twice as hard… There is a continuous stream of stress and people are starting to break under that stress,” the 39-year-old said.
“Trading in tier two for months with no support was incredibly draining and it’s unfair especially now, when other areas are affected in the same way, the government is happy to help.
“There’s an obvious bias and we’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget how dismissive they have been of the people in the north and meeting their basic needs.”
‘It’s a slap in the face’
image captionTheatre worker Jak Foster said those with careers in the arts had been “completely abandoned”
Jak Foster, a 25-year-old theatre worker from Salford, said he “fully believes” the reason for a second lockdown was because of cases rising in the South.
“I do understand the anger and the pain people have felt here up north, and the entire debacle with Andy Burnham, it’s definitely showed us what the government think of people up north,” he said.
“While I’m very glad the furlough scheme has been extended, it’s also a small slap in the face as the government could have extended it at any point.
“All of my actor friends and artist friends have really struggled to make ends meet, a lot of them losing their jobs… It seems that if you have any kind of career in the arts, you’ve been completely abandoned.”
‘Within four months it nearly ended up as nothing’
image captionSalon owner Gemma Bott spent years building up her beauty business
The founder of a hair and beauty salon in Shevington, Wigan, said it had been a “worrying time” because of the uncertainty over changing Covid-19 measures in Greater Manchester.
“The salon took so many years to build up and within four months it nearly ended up as nothing,” said Gemma Bott, who opened Petite Soleil almost four years ago.
“That was the hardest thing. And each time new restrictions come in you feel like you are starting from square one again.”
The 29-year-old, who worked as a delivery driver during the first lockdown, said she had been fortunate to keep her staff on the books – even though footfall had dropped significantly.
“The furlough scheme was more generous to staff than it was to business owners. So I couldn’t pay my bills without topping up my money.
“When we reopened, business was still not where it should have been.
“Coronavirus is still around and people are frightened of coming out. A lot of our older customers never came back so we were finding that we were down by about 60%. It’s worrying.”
‘It’s been a confusing situation’
image captionHarry Williams said the guidance on Covid-19 measures has been “confusing”
The owner of Form Lifestyle Store in Manchester’s Northern Quarter shared his frustration over what he said was unclear guidance.
Harry Williams, who runs the shop with his partner Elly, said that since he had been allowed to reopen, he had noticed a drop in footfall.
“It was a pretty confusing situation to be told that as a shop we could, and should, be open because there’s not really going to be any support for you and so you need to make your money work and show you’re a viable company.
“But the government is also advising people not to go into your shop and not to go into town and to stay away. It made the city centre really quiet.”
‘It’s rich versus poor’
image captionChan-Yang Kim said he was “sad, but not surprised” over the government’s treatment of the north during the pandemic
“The north has always seen economic hardship, but it’s not just the north,” said Chan-Yang Kim, who works as a chef in Manchester.
“I feel like anywhere outside London is seen as second class… it’s rich versus poor.”
The 30-year-old will be put back on the furlough scheme during November.
“How could the government only offer 67% furlough when they were more than capable to fund the 80%?
“And now that the rest of the nation must go into lockdown it’s back at 80%? We’ve been treated with complete disrespect.”
‘We have been hit on every level’
image captionBusiness owner Nicola Payne said she was concerned about how the business would cope in the new year
The owner of a gift and homeware store in Manchester city centre said it felt like the “life of the city has been sucked out”.
Nicola Payne, who launched Oklahoma 27 years ago, said the first week of tier three restrictions was “awful”.
“[It was] some of the worst days we have had in a really long time,” she said.
“We have been hit on every level – no tourism, no students, no-one working in town.”
While the shop’s website has become a lifeline for the business, Ms Payne said it had been upsetting to see how quiet the city centre had become.
“There’s this sense that the life of the city has been sucked out – like there’s a hole there.”