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19 October 2020

Regional lockdowns will have sharp consequences for “medium tier” areas

Most of the UK’s engines of economic growth are now under a form of lockdown. That has implications for everyone.

By Stephen Bush

Greater Manchester is set to be put into tier three, whether after an increase in economic support or against the will of its metro mayor Andy Burnham and the leaders of its local councils, depending on which newspaper you believe. 

The cause of the delay? Rishi Sunak, Andy Burnham tells Ailbhe. Burnham – who, don’t forget, was chief secretary to the Treasury in addition to his roles as culture secretary and health secretary – has said publicly what a growing number of Conservative MPs are saying privately: that the combination of Sunak’s orthodox Treasury view on spending, Matt Hancock’s nervousness on public health and Boris Johnson’s inability to choose between the two approaches means the United Kingdom has the worst of all worlds – lockdowns of varying degrees of severity, but without sufficient economic support. The difference is that, on the whole, Conservative MPs tend to favour the easing of restrictions and with it a reduction in economic support, while Burnham is fine with a lockdown, provided it comes hand in hand with economic support. 

That political choice is going to become starker and more painful in the coming months. Most of the UK’s great cities are now in some form of lockdown, and cities are – still – the engines of economic growth. That people in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Cardiff, Swansea and Birmingham are all now either strongly encouraged or actively prohibited from leaving their areas will have sharp consequences for regions that are classed as being “medium” risk: who, as it stands, will have little in the way of meaningful economic support, even though their major markets have largely been shut off to them.

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