'A packet of Polos': Andy Burnham rips into Rishi Sunak's Budget 3 months ago

'A packet of Polos': Andy Burnham rips into Rishi Sunak's Budget

Greater Manchester’s mayor, who was dubbed 'the King in the North' last year, has weighed in on what the Budget means for Manchester

A “packet of Polos Budget - refreshing in someways, but full of holes” is how Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham described the Rishi Sunak’s Budget.

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The government are likely to be monitoring Burnham's reaction to the Budget following the almighty row that broke out between them last year, when the government tried to push the North into tougher coronavirus restrictions without the economic support to match.

The saga was a headache for Downing Street, who came out worse for wear while Andy Burnham was dubbed "the King in the North."

Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham at a press conference in Manchester, 2020 Andy Burnham, not wearing a North Face (Credit: Christopher Furlong)

So, what did he have to say about the Chancellor's speech?

Speaking at a (virtual) press conference yesterday Burnham praised many of the chancellor’s ideas - but criticised them for not going far enough.

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He welcomed aspects of the Budget like the extension of the furlough scheme, which has been a lifeline for millions of workers up and down the country, as well as the business rates holiday.

He also supported other ambitions outlined, like pledges on tackling climate change, and praised the introduction of extended support for self-employed people.

But, as mentioned, he had issues with it - the holes.

Burnham expressed his disappointment support for the self-employed did not go further to cover the rest of the over 2 million people excluded from it.

Other problems, he said, include a lack of support for the NHS and investment in social care - echoing Labour leader Keir Starmer’s grievances with the budget when he responded to Rishi Sunak in Parliament yesterday.

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When JOE asked Burnham if he believed the chancellor should have announced more support for the North, given it has been under harsher restrictions for longer than most of the country, he agreed.

He said there has been a “greater and disproportionate” effect on the North West during the pandemic, citing the sobering six-fold increase in households in destitution in the North West versus a two-fold national average over the last 12 months. 

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“Levelling up needs to be a North-of-England-wide endeavour, and it is the case that parts of the North West have been longer under restrictions than anywhere else, and some of the need that we have here is greater.”

However, Burnham warned he did not want this to become a competitive situation, and urged the government to have a broader strategy. 

“Looking at a strategic plan to level up the North of England that starts with that major infrastructure investment but also brings investment in innovation” and a “skills system that will support the whole of the North of England.”

Burnham expressed concern that the government's commitment to "levelling up" was levelling off, and that it was a piecemeal Budget for the North.

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Manchester City Centre at sunset Manchester City Centre (Credit: Anthony Devlin)

“I worry that the government, slowly but surely, is pulling away from that - we saw the recent cuts to the transport to the North budget, which give us cause for concern.

“You can’t level up the country top-down from Whitehall by just picking places almost at random, you need a strategic plan for the North of England," he said.

“You need devolution of power, to give more places the ability to do more for themselves - and I think the things we were promised by George Osborne all those years ago are things that we are still waiting for.

“I think the government needs to put real substance behind that phrase “levelling-up” and we didn’t see that today.” 

When JOE asked him about the government’s poaching of ideas from Labour 2019 manifesto, Burnham met it with chagrin. 

“Well, I’m sure John McDonnell will have been watching today’s proceedings with a wry smile on his face,” he said. 

“I’m pretty certain that he was the first person ever to float the idea of “Treasury North”, adding “they’re borrowing quite a lot from the manifesto they derided at the time.”

The Budget is due to be debated for the second day by MPs in Parliament today.