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Covid has deepened the inequalities between the north and south, study finds

‘This is an urgent wake up call’

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David Dixon/Geograph & Number 10/Flickr

A thinktank has warned, in an ‘urgent wake-up call’ to Boris Johnson that there are deepening inequalities between the north and south of England with little sign of the governments ‘levelling up’ agenda becoming a reality.

The government’s ‘levelling up’ policy lacks any plans a year after the election and following months of further widening between the north and south.

The ‘State of the North’ report, which is released annually, has pointed out gaps in wages, productivity and health between the region.

Covid has also had an ‘uneven impact across England’ says the research was done by thinktank IPPR. Extra restrictions have hit places such as Greater Manchester since the first lockdown, ‘creating new regional inequalities and deepening old ones’.

The pandemic ‘has powerfully demonstrated the weaknesses and cost’ of dictating too much from London and underlined the ‘reluctance of the centre to cede control’.

The research claims that a year after the general election, the ‘levelling up’ agenda is still ‘most striking for its lack of detail’. However, the Treasury has denied such claims.

The annual assessment says, many people in the North ‘already live in a low-wage economy, which is not delivering good outcomes in income, health, or routes out of poverty’.

People in the north west are paid 80p less an hour than the English average but there are also few job opportunities per person across north England when compared to the country as a hole.

Number 10/Flickr

Before Covid hit, most northern areas had healthy life expectancies below the English average with 60% of them seeing a decline in that measure for women in the past decade.

By October, unemployment in the north has hit its highest point since 1994, particularly impacted places such as Blackpool, Hull and Middlesborough. 

The report points out the fundamental connection between health and wealth explaining that ‘if the northern economy is to work for people, it needs to support good health in the northern population’.

It goes onto explain that long-term inequalities within England have been thrown ‘into a stark spotlight’ following Covid-19. Adding that any recovery that ‘simply restores the old order’ would be ‘unsustainable and – for many – unacceptable’.

Covid-19 has also created new regional divides and deepened old ones. 

The report states: “Parts of the north of England have seen especially high rates of infection and have been subject to more severe ‘local lockdown’ measures than many other parts of the country.”

Speaking on the ‘levelling up’, something it describes as one of the ‘latest in a long history of initiatives’ that is ‘most striking for its lack of detail on how rebalancing is to be achieved’.

It continues: “Some attempts to deal with England’s regional divides can seem highly politicised, designed with an eye to electoral outcomes, particularly in marginal seats,

“Successive governments have been keen to be seen to take action and to claim credit for any change.

“This has created an unhealthy situation where efforts to tackle regional inequalities and implement devolution have been constrained by an overly controlling hand in Westminster. Covid-19 has powerfully demonstrated the weaknesses and cost of this approach and the reluctance of the centre to cede control to elected leaders in combined and local authorities.”

The report goes onto explain the deep inadequacies in the UK’s centralised system of government, in particular for dealing with a crisis like Covid-19.

“The establishment of a highly centralised and outsourced system of ‘track and trace’, which has repeatedly failed to deliver, has been a prime example of where Whitehall has overlooked local expertise and capacity,” it says. It also criticises the loss of a minister devoted to the Northern Powerhouse.

Sarah Longlands, director of IPPR North, said the government ‘was elected on a promise to level up places like the North’.

Number 10/Flickr

“But one year on, they don’t have a plan to reduce inequalities between and within regions in England, and the inadequate, centrally controlled, competitive ‘levelling up fund’ announced in the spending review simply won’t cut it.

“Our regional divides are severe and growing, we face a climate emergency, and Brexit is just around the corner, so a recovery from Covid-19 that simply restores the status-quo – which has failed so many Northerners – would be unacceptable.

“We need to challenge old, reductive assumptions about our economy because they’ve failed to create the conditions for a good life for everyone in the North.

“In particular, we have to stop assuming that the centre knows best and commit once and for all to a clear programme of regional devolution in England. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.

“If we are to build a better future, we need to focus on people, asking ‘who benefits?’ from policy decisions. From our research we can see that many people, particularly those in work and children, are not benefitting from them. Here in the North we can and will power up, level up, rise up together- but every moment that we don’t have the power and resources we need to do this, peoples’ lives are affected.

“This is a wake-up call. Is the Government listening?”

David Dixon/Geograph

A spokesperson for the Treasury explains that the government had spent ‘record sums’ (£280bn) supporting families and jobs throughout the crisis.

The pointed to an increase in the national living wage, as well as a £2bn ‘restart’ scheme to help people avoid long-term unemployment. 

“We are totally committed to levelling up opportunities across the whole of the UK as we build back better,” they said.

“We already taken significant steps including announcing new investment in new green technologies, like carbon capture, which will create thousands of high quality jobs in the North, setting out plans for Freeports to boost growth across the UK, and investing £100 billion in infrastructure to boost growth next year.

“Our new £4 billion Levelling Up fund to support the fabric of everyday life, like highstreets, or train stations, is just one part of a whole of Government commitment.

“In the Treasury that includes reforming the Green Book, which appraises the funding of projects, to focus on regional impact, as well as plans to open a new Treasury office and our new UK infrastructure bank in the North in the coming year.

“The Civil Service as a whole has committed to relocating 22,000 civil service roles outside of London and the South East, as well as a step change in investment in skills to boost people’s chances of success wherever they live.”

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Government to review Omicron Covid rules on December 21st

The rules are expected to stay in place until the new year

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Number 10 / Flickr & Gov.uk

The rules and regulations brought in to tackle the Omicron variant of Covid-19 will reportedly be reviewed on December 21st.

According to new reports today, while the rules will be reviewed four days before Christmas Day, they are unlikely to be lifted and will instead be kept in force until the new year.

It has also been suggested that the government’s Plan B – which will enforce mandatory masks in pubs and restaurants and advice to work from home – is not yet needed. 

Nickolay Romensky/Flickr

A Government source told the MailOnline: “In terms of Plan B, we are not there yet. The ambition is that people can have a much more normal Christmas than last year.

“That depends on what the data shows about the new variant. But certainly the hope is that things stay as they are in the next couple of weeks.”

The current rules mean face masks in shops, hairdressers, banks and post offices are now mandatory, as well as on public transport.

The rules also require anyone who comes into contact with someone who tests positive for Omicron to quarantine for ten days – even those who are fully vaccinated.

arturo-rey/Unsplash

However, a Sage scientist recently said the new variant is ‘not a disaster’, and that ‘some people may be ‘hugely overstating the situation’.

Microbiologist Prof Calum Semple says vaccines are ‘still likely to protect you from severe disease’, telling BBC Breakfast: “This is not a disaster, and the headlines from some of my colleagues saying ‘this is horrendous’ I think are hugely overstating the situation.

“Immunity from the vaccination is still likely to protect you from severe disease. You might get a snuffle or a headache or a filthy cold but your chance of coming into hospital or intensive care or sadly dying are greatly diminished by the vaccine and still will be going into the future.”

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Stevenson Square set to be fully pedestrianised and turned into a proper public square under new plans

Local residents have been encouraged to come forward and contribute towards the planning of the new space

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@williamkan__ & @barneyibbotson / Instagram

Plans to permanently pedestrianise the Northern Quarter’s Stevenson Square have been released to the public.

A large proportion of the popular square has been closed off from traffic since last summer, when the council closed several roads to encourage pedestrians back into the city centre. 

It was also hoped that the closure of roads would help bars, restaurants and cafes to expand out into the streets to enable social distancing throughout the pandemic

Yet while some city centre road closures were reversed in October when the emergency Covid legislation came to an end, many roads remained closed around the Northern Quarter after the council were put under pressure deliver improved walking and cycling routes.

@adventurepostcards / Instagram

And Stevenson Square was one of them, with new plans for the area released detailing proposals for at least twenty new trees, seating, bike racks, a ‘rain garden’ and sustainable draining systems.

Further trees could potentially be planted subject to future surveys to find optimum space, and make allowances for underground utilities.

Traffic will still be able to pass through Lever Street but, where it would usually meet the square, the road will instead become a raised carriageway with a controlled pedestrian crossing.

Jon-Connor Lyons, Labour councillor for the Piccadilly ward, said on the plans: “We really welcome this final consultation on the proposals to permanently pedestrianise Stevenson Square.

“The Northern Quarter is a tightly-packed neighbourhood with buildings of various heights, history and architectural merits, though it is lacking public space for people to relax.

“What I’d like to see is more non-commercial seating in the square that is also age-friendly, as well as a friendly environment for artists and creatives to help further the space. I encourage residents to come forward and contribute towards the planning of this space.”

Councillor Tracey Rawlins, Manchester City Council’s Executive Member for Environment, added: “I’m incredibly pleased that we’re able to take the next step towards creating a more accessible and thriving Northern Quarter.

“Making more space available for people to walk and cycle as well as introducing more green space were just two of the many priorities highlighted to us by residents and businesses throughout the consultations we’ve run.”

For more information and to have your say on the pedestrianisation, visit the Manchester City Council website here.

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Yellow weather warning for heavy snow and wind issued in Greater Manchester

As the country continues to recover from Storm Arwen, another spate of bad weather is on its way…

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@navsie30 & @jonbits / Instagram

The Met Office has issued a yellow weather warning in various areas across Greater Manchester ahead of the arrival of Storm Barra.

The second named storm of the season is expected to hit tomorrow (Tuesday December 7th) with forecasters saying plummeting temperatures and heavy snow are to be expected across a vast proportion of Northern England and Scotland, including parts of Oldham and Tameside in our region. 

The warning is in place from 11am tomorrow until midnight.

@manc_wanderer / Instagram

Another yellow weather warning for wind has also been issued for most of the UK, which is in place from 9am tomorrow until midnight.

Forecasters say travel disruption is ‘likely’, especially over higher routes, as is delays to rail and air travel. There is also the ‘slight chance some rural communities may become cut off’. 

The Met Office said: “A deep area of low pressure moving in across the UK from the Atlantic is likely to bring high winds to many parts of the UK.

“Strong winds arriving into the west through the morning, spreading inland and reaching eastern areas through the afternoon and early evening. Gusts of 45-50 mph are expected widely, with 60-70 mph in exposed coastal locations.

@adventurecat__ / Instagram

“Strongest winds will ease across inland areas into the overnight period.”

This comes as many parts of the country continue to recover from the effects of Storm Arwen, which has left thousands of people in the North without power heating and hot water. 

The Energy Networks Association (ENA) said, as per The Independent, that 3,190 homes were still waiting to be reconnected as of 2pm on Sunday. This was down from 4,025 homes on Sunday morning.

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