Despite his flaws, Andy Burnham has stepped in where the government has failedJack Taylor

Greater Manchester is a unique place. It’s a proud place - proud of its role within the development of this country at the heart of the Industrial Revolution; proud of its contribution to our culture, and proud of its people, who have been among the greatest champions of social change. When Andy Burnham walked out last week, looking like a long-lost member of Oasis, in front of national media to give a speech about how the Government had stepped away from negotiations, I was proud that our leaders were taking a stand. However, this enthusiasm swiftly changed to anger.

But first, a bit of background. Greater Manchester is composed of ten metropolitan boroughs, one of which is mine, Bolton. It is a metropolitan county, composed mainly of former areas of Lancashire and was created under the Local Government Act 1972, which took effect in April 1974. Whilst each borough has its own council, responsible for local decision making, there is also the overarching Greater Manchester Combined Authority, consisting of the leaders of the councils. In 2014, it was announced the region would get a metro-mayor, which came to pass in 2017 when Andy Burnham, the former Leigh MP, was elected, signifying the major beginning of devolution in the region.

At the start of the pandemic, I believe that the sense of national unity carried us through. Thursdays would see weekly claps, and in our house, every Monday would see the delivery of a national food parcel for those shielding. Though nutritionally questionable, the government certainly helped my family receive supplies we were unable to receive elsewhere. Similarly, the support given to local councils to support vulnerable residents does not bring any complaints from me. At home, in my little bubble, all was well.

“Breaking the news in this way made me feel like my region was an afterthought.”

But then we left the lockdown. Well, most places left the lockdown. Those of us who were lucky enough to be living in Greater Manchester and the surrounding areas were kept in. At 21:17 on 30th July, we were informed through Matt Hancock’s Twitter account that as of midnight, we would not be allowed to meet each other indoors. Not only was this incredibly distressing to hear, it also broke public policy 101: communicate, and communicate clearly and concisely. Breaking the news in this way made me feel like my region was an afterthought.

The level of contempt shown towards the North as the pandemic progressed has been beyond belief. We have been expected to sit back and take every additional measure in the name of the public good with little regard for the economic and social welfare of our people. It was only when London entered Tier 2 that vast economic support was announced for those under local restrictions, when much of Greater Manchester has been under similar, or stricter, rules for the past several months. This support has been backdated, but it nonetheless sends a clear message: London comes first.

Is it any wonder then that away from Westminster’s oversight, a storm slowly started to brew? The local authority became the group that was being turned to. In the absence of functional national track-and-trace, ad-hoc systems were being set up by councils. They began public health advertisements, with Bolton Council taking inspiration from popular culture. They became the go-to for information, the advocates at a national level regarding lockdowns. Far from just managing local services, the council became an integral part of our lives.

“My home is not a political pawn for games of financial chess.”

Burnham, a well-established figure within Greater Manchester politics, had long had favour locally. Despite his flaws, Burnham has done a fairly good job within Greater Manchester at tackling some of the major issues - especially homelessness. Most importantly, he understands how Westminster and Whitehall work, making him a powerful force. He’s been prolific throughout the pandemic, providing information where national government has been lacking.

The past couple of weeks have truly been the straw that broke the camel’s back. The willingness of the government to create their own narrative about GM MPs being split about Tier 3 restrictions. The refusal to negotiate with local leaders about financial support. As I watched Burnham receive the news, once again from a tweet, about the region’s entry into Tier 3 without additional business support, I felt the contempt I experienced all summer from afar.


Mountain View

A tribute to Manchester

My home is not a political pawn for games of financial chess. My home is full of real people, with real lives who need a strong program of economic support to ensure at the other end of this pandemic, there are employment opportunities waiting for them. My home is proud enough to ask for help when it needs it and is looking to the community to provide it, for it has not been forthcoming from elsewhere.

We are standing on the precipice of a new Northern renaissance. As a political power, the region had never been as strong or had as much influence. Ironically, this is a result of George Osborne, the former Conservative Chancellor’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and devolution agenda coming back to haunt the government. In his victory speech, PM Johnson said “you may have lent us your vote… I will never take your support for granted”. I am afraid, Mr Johnson, several of those votes have been recalled.