As both schools and Parliament broke for half-term, it is sad to note that the last week, which saw the arguments around Greater Manchester entering Tier Three Covid Restrictions spilled out on the national stage, that the politics reminded me of the playground.
The Government did manage to achieve the seemingly impossible, in uniting, certainly for the first time I can remember, all MPs, all Council Leaders, and the Mayor, of all political colours and persuasions, against the proposals. It’s fair to say that people across Greater Manchester expect their representatives to find solutions and agreement. I earnestly believed this could have be achieved with goodwill, and I for one sought to be part of delivering the best solution for all residents, families and businesses across Greater Manchester. However, I feel a deep sense of disappointment at this collective failure that we have seen and, quite frankly, my constituents deserved better.
I do not support Tier 3 measures because of their wider effects, both on virus transmission itself, businesses and the economy, and our collective social bonds. Greater Manchester and Stockport, have already been in increased restrictions, now renamed ‘Tier 2’. The isolation and loneliness that people are feeling is palpable. Increasingly, I speak with distressed constituents who are not able to enjoy a reasonable quality of life. There are support bubbles, but many vulnerable people are living in fear, terrified of criminalising themselves inadvertently, simply through usual human interactions.Talk of closing pubs, restaurants & cafes is misplaced, given that very limited transmission of covid seems to take place there. Perversely, the closure of covid-secure premises will make it more likely that people will meet in each other’s homes, where we know there is a far higher rate of transmission.
I am sure I also speak for many businesses in Stockport by saying that they would much sooner be open and able to operate in a covid-secure way, given the significant amount of investment that they have made in adapting to the new measures. They want to trade, not be given aid. Too often in the debate so far, it has sounded as if the north is coming with a begging bowl. We are a hard-working people. We want our businesses to operate and provide livelihoods and jobs for others. We do not want to come with a begging bowl.
However, if it is the case that businesses must close by law, however, it is only right that their local representatives strive for every penny of support from the Government who have mandated their closure.
Local councils must now work directly with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to ensure that they have funds to support the businesses and individuals who will be in desperate need. In this regard, at least there are some cracks of light. English, councils have received £6.4bn in additional direct support from Central Government since April, and last week, a further £3.6m was given to Stockport Council. This means since the start if the pandemic Stockport MBC has received £22m extra direct support from the Government, helping to cover its covid-19 related costs and run vital services.
I am also pleased to report the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have awarded significant packages of support for The Plaza Stockport and the NK Theatre Arts group based in Romiley. This grant is round one from the Culture Recovery Fund, as part of the £1.5bn of funding allocated to support the arts, who have seen their income all but destroyed by the Coronavirus pandemic. Of course, I wish that that it could have been done differently — more and amicably. The Government should not underestimate the anger felt by the public at that failure, and I will certainly not allow them to forget it in a hurry. However, I do not support Labour’s suggestion of a national lockdown, which makes little sense at all, to make the whole country suffer again as we all did in the Spring.
Despite the theatrics what concerns me most is the coming hardship, the rising unemployment and some people’s despair. Our best hope now is that people follow the restrictions, that the new measures work as intended to reverse the trend in transmission, so they can then be lifted as soon as possible. Indeed, I cannot help but reflect that otherwise, the point when the medicine risks becoming worse than the disease, cannot be very far away.