Andy Burnham Was Right To Demand Better. And He Speaks For The Rest Of The Country Too

Greater Manchester isn't the only hard working community that has long been neglected by this government, writes Taj Ali.

The government’s recent announcement of a tier-3 lockdown in the Greater Manchester region without adequate financial support has been met with fury from the region’s mayor, Andy Burnham.

And he has every right to be angry. £22 million for the entire Manchester region equates to financial support of a measly £8 per head during a month-long local lockdown.

Boris Johnson has now acquiesced to offer Greater Manchester councils £60m.

But this isn’t the first time that local government has been neglected, nor should these talks have taken such a sour turn.

A decade of austerity has meant local government has been systematically under-funded for years. Working class communities like my own are still reeling from its impact and now we are being faced with another round of potential austerity measures as the government provides inadequate support to local councils.

In my home town of Luton, my local council is on the brink of financial failure and has been forced to make a series of cuts to public services in order to prevent bankruptcy.

This crisis has its roots in the austerity measures imposed by the coalition government a decade earlier. Since 2010, the government has cut grants to local councils from £32.2 billion to £4.5 billion as part of a national austerity programme.

In the absence of adequate government support, many councils such as my own have been forced to turn to unstable commercial sources of income in order to fund public services.

“What happened in Manchester could easily happen in any other part of the country. We must demand better.”

For my local council, this has meant heavy reliance on London Luton Airport to fund services such as childcare. In fact, Luton Borough Council is the second-most reliant upon commercial revenue for its budget.

With the travel industry being severely damaged by the economic consequences of the global pandemic, this has had a knock on effect on our local community as our council budget has been slashed.

Our council is considering making drastic cuts of up to £22 million, comprising 16% of its annual spending. Further cuts to Luton’s social care and mental health services will only harden the blow dealt by the global pandemic to our community.

Like Andy Burnham, our local MPs have pleaded with the government to provide more financial support to no avail. We, like many working-class communities up and down this country, continue to be ignored and neglected by the government.

This issue is not a money problem; it’s a priorities problem. If our government can fork out tens of millions for outsourced companies such as Serco without accountability; why can they not provide adequate support to local communities like mine?

The government seems to struggle to find the money to support the low-paid and most vulnerable but didn’t seem to struggle when awarding a £252 million contract for personal protection equipment to an investment firm, Ayanda Capital Limited, owned through a tax haven in Mauritius.

The masks delivered were faulty and therefore could not be used due to health and safety concerns. Such incompetence has cost the taxpayer over £150 million.

Speaking of tax havens, we lose billions in corporate tax avoidance every year. Clamping down on things like this could be a lifeline for communities like mine.

It’s vital we remember that economic policy is not detached from the daily lived reality of working class people in places like Luton and Manchester.

Growing up in Luton in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, I’ve witnessed the closure of youth centres, libraries and community centres. The effects of austerity are nowhere near over and its impact is apparent across the country.

If the government is serious about helping the most vulnerable in society, there are plenty of measures to be taken to lessen the burden on hard working people.

What happened in Manchester could easily happen in any other part of the country and therefore we must demand better. Andy Burnham is absolutely right; this is no way to run a government during a national crisis.

Taj Ali is a freelance journalist.

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