FURIOUS local leaders in Lancashire have written to the Government over unpaid money promised to the county when an agreement was reached over tier three coronavirus restrictions.
All 15 of the county's council leaders have set out their concerns in a long letter to the Prime Minister's chief strategic adviser, Sir Ed Lister, about the Government’s ‘apparent disregard’ to the agreement that was made with them back in October, when £30million was promised to help local authorities support people and business in the area.
At the time leaders announced they were content for Lancashire to be placed under the harshest tier of restrictions, forcing the closure of many local businesses, given the financial reassurance they had been offered by the Government.
However they now say not a single penny in support was handed over until three weeks later, with Lancashire County Council leaders saying a large sum was still unpaid – with the Government seemingly unwilling to hand any more over.
They said it leaves them short-changed compared to areas such as London.
Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver, a Conservative, has expressed his disappointment in the situation, urging Boris Johnson to rethink his position.
He said: "Before national lockdown we had long, detailed and constructive negotiations with government to agree a financial package for businesses affected as a result of Lancashire going into what was then tier three. This set the framework for the financial support being offered to other tier three areas and now the whole of England for going into national lockdown.
"However, we did not receive the support for the three-week period before the national lockdown when we were in tier three. I cannot stress enough how vital this funding is for business across the county which is why all of Lancashire's 15 leaders have set aside political differences to make the case to government to provide us with this support.
"It is really disappointing that we haven't had this, not least because Lancashire has been ready, willing and able to work with central government to support our people and businesses throughout this pandemic – and we remain so. I would urge government to pay us the money we are due.
"Looking forward, we don't know yet what tier or tiers Lancashire will be in, but it is clear that some if not all of the county will be facing significant restrictions and our businesses will continue to require support.
"So we are not only asking the government to act in good faith in terms of the commitments given in the past, but also for the future as we work together to emerge from this crisis."
The letter, which is also signed by Blackburn with Darwen leader Mohammed Khan, reads: “In October, we entered into an agreement with government to move to local alert level three (LAL3), which imposed a range of restrictions on the people and businesses of Lancashire. Part of that deal was the nature of those restrictions and funding of £30m, to be used to support businesses and the economy over the 28-day surge period.
“We had significant reservations about the overall effectiveness of the measures in securing a sustainable position in Lancashire. We were also clear that the compensations were nowhere near sufficient. However in the circumstances we accepted that LAL3 was inevitable and secured the best outcome for Lancashire that we could to balance the ongoing harms to lives and livelihoods.
“As you will be aware, that agreement started on 17 October with the closure of pubs and bars, followed by further business sector closures from 19 October.
"Neither the monies nor the guidance supporting the details of the agreement were received in Lancashire in a timely fashion and our ability to support businesses was hampered by that and the lack of the promised funding.
“On 5 November, the English national four-week national lockdown commenced and all Local Authority areas were provided a payment of £20 per head of population, a sum equivalent to that offered to Lancashire under the individual deal we had agreed for LAL3.
“We have been advised that Lancashire will receive no additional funds despite the fact that we are now essentially subject to seven weeks of restrictions. This is inherently unfair and divisive; it is likely that London and other areas, predominantly in the south, will receive the same compensation for four weeks of restrictions.
“Furthermore, the funding that was originally intended to be used for business support over a six-month period – now known as the Additional Restrictions Grant - is both expected to provide business support for the period up to March 2022 (and not March 2021 as originally set out) and, arguably, is available to a wider scope of business sectors beyond what was considered under LAL3.
“This is an unacceptable position for us and the people of Lancashire and a breach of the agreement we made with the Government through the negotiations. This breach is compounded by the fact that none of the promised government support was delivered to us ahead of the national lockdown and indeed some, such as the agreement to give us support and flexibility on powers and enforcement, remain outstanding today.
“We delivered what we said we would and in a cohesive and effective manner we implemented the local closures and restrictions, including effectively closing down our important hospitality sector. We urge you to deliver your part of the agreement, and provide us with the appropriate funding for those additional 3 weeks.
“We consider £20m to be the reasonable additional sum to cover that 19 day period. In considering this, we ask you to note that parts of Lancashire have faced restrictions of one kind or another for longer than any other part of the country.
“For a county that already experiences significant structural inequalities and which will require considerable long term support to help us level up, this has been economically devastating; we are losing £328m every 28 days from our economy and we expect this to increase to £1bn in the run up to the Christmas period.”