Coronavirus: Government accused of only providing extra support once London affected by Tier 2 rules

The leaders of Greater Manchester and Merseyside have accused the government of only providing extra support to coronavirus-hit businesses once restrictions were imposed on parts of southern England.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Thursday broadened support for firms and workers affected by localised COVID-19 measures with billions of pounds of extra help.

The announcement came just two days after the government walked out of talks with Greater Manchester’s leaders on a financial support package to accompany the region being placed into Tier 3 restrictions.

Ministers were accused of failing to grant an extra £5m that would have secured the agreement of local leaders and averted Prime Minister Boris Johnson from having to unilaterally impose fresh measures.

The chancellor’s announcement of further economic support, parts of which firms will be able to make backdated claims for from August, riled politicians in the north of England.

They claimed Mr Sunak had only acted following the imposition of Tier 2 restrictions on London last week, even though other parts of England – including Greater Manchester – had been living under similar measures for months.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester who has recently been engaged in a bitter political row with ministers, posted on Twitter: “Honestly, can barely believe what I’m reading here.

“Why on earth was this not put on the table on Tuesday to reach an agreement with us?

“I said directly to the PM that a deal was there to be done if it took into account the effects on GM businesses of three months in Tier 2.”

Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, tweeted: “Looks like Rishi Sunak is agreeing with Greater Manchester Leaders. Pity he couldn’t have done it two weeks ago.”

And Steve Rotherham, the mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “It’s a shame that it took London coming under further measures for the Chancellor to take action to support jobs and businesses.”

London, most of Essex and Elmbridge in Surrey were last week put into Tier 2 measures, which means people must not socialise with other households indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.

Similar measures had been in place in large parts of the North West since the summer.

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The latest row over the government’s new three-tier approach to localised lockdown rules came as ministers were warned by Dan Jarvis, the Sheffield City Region’s mayor, that coronavirus had put northern England “on course for levelling down, not up” – in contrast to the prime minister’s general election pledge.

Mr Jarvis on Thursday opened the Great Northern Conference, at which Mr Johnson said: “I have to be honest with you, this winter is not going to be easy.

“But I am certain that the people of northern England will confront this crisis with the fortitude and selflessness we have seen throughout.”

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