22 Oct Coronavirus: West Midlands mayor was urged by fellow Tories not to criticise government over lockdown support | Business News
West Midlands mayor Andy Street was urged to stop criticising the government by fellow Conservatives when he lobbied the chancellor to provide more support to struggling businesses.
Mr Street told Sky News members of his party asked him to keep quiet despite his concerns that Tier 2 COVID-19 restrictions would endanger businesses, and said the government was “playing a bit of catch-up”.
“I will be honest with you and say that there were some in the Conservative Party who said you shouldn’t be criticising your own government,” he said.
“But my driving force is really very clear. This is what businesses in this region needed, and I was determined to fight for them and I’ve done that, hopefully with cross-party support from the region, and most importantly the support of the sector in the region, and it’s that unity that I think has seen us through.”
Mr Street was one of several regional mayors to raise concerns about the chilling impact that Tier 2 would have on pubs, bars and restaurants.
Despite being able to remain open, the restriction on households mixing inside hospitality venues has depressed demand to the point that many venues said they would prefer to be closed under Tier 3, where they were eligible for financial support.
The revised Job Support Scheme, which will replace furlough next month, has become more generous, with employees required to work just 20% of hours and receiving two-thirds of their wages, with employers paying just 5%.
The Job Support Scheme remains less generous than furlough but the chancellor will hope it will hold off a predicted wave of unemployment.
Critics say the government has only acted when Tier 2 restrictions reached the West Midlands and London, contrasting the action with the protracted and fractious negotiations with Labour mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham over support for entering Tier 3.
Mr Street said events had forced the government’s hand, and suggested they had not foreseen the dramatic impact of Tier 2 on consumer demand.
“I think this is all about how fast this situation is moving,” he said.
“When the chancellor stood up just a very few weeks ago, and talked about his winter economy plan, no one expected the level of the virus to be as it is, the Tier 2 restrictions to be as they are, so I think what this is about, is in essence playing a bit of catch up, but at least they responded quickly, and they’ve listened to the argument being put forward.
“They were very much focused on, if we have to close then they had an answer there, but they hadn’t thought two weeks ago about this, let’s call it middle tier, some of the hospitality business said it’s the worst of all worlds, and I really understand that.
“That’s why we were quick in arguing the case and to be fair, it’s been a matter of days it’s taken them to respond.
“We have of course also said, if the situation hasn’t improved by after Christmas we’ll need further extensions, we need to think about the VAT extension. We need to still think about business rates, but as a step today, I think it’s very, very significant and certainly welcome.”
Cases continue to rise in the West Midlands but the mayor said it was not “inevitable” that the region comes under Tier 3 if people follow current restrictions.
“I don’t think it’s inevitable. No, that’s too tough, but we’ve got to be honest, it could happen,” he said.
“To be really clear there are no discussions yet about formerly moving any parts of the West Midlands into Tier 3, but the numbers are still rising here steadily, slower than many other parts of the country, but if we don’t turn that rise, then we will end up with a discussion about Tier 3 so it’s in everybody’s interest across the West Midlands to follow the rules and make sure we stick where we are.”