Covid-19 increases England’s north-south divide

Manchester, October 19.

William Lees-Jones made an appointment in one of his pubs, Dutton’s, in Albert Square, Manchester Town Hall Square. Refurbished with Plexiglas windows, spaced benches and hydroalcoholic gel at the entrance due to the Covid-19 epidemic, the establishment is however almost empty at the beginning of the afternoon. Just like a city center transformed into a ghost town: we mostly meet workers wearing helmets and fluorescent vests in the streets of the capital of the north-west of England, where only the construction sites still seem active.

In mid-October, the elected representatives of Greater Manchester (Manchester and nine surrounding municipalities, in all 2.8 million inhabitants) are still resisting the Johnson government’s desire to partially reconfigure them, with bars, pubs and casinos shutting down (they will eventually give in on October 20, after ten days of arm wrestling).

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Director of JW Lees, a family-run pub chain founded in 1828 with more than 140 establishments in the north of the country, Mr. Lees-Jones is one of the many Mancunian bosses who consider themselves unfairly treated by Downing Street and who support their local elected officials , notably Andy Burnham, the Labor mayor of Greater Manchester, who took the lead in the sling.

“I have 1,400 employees, but I can not assure everyone that they will still have a job in two weeks,” said William Lees-Jones.

They are demanding decent compensation for employees threatened with partial unemployment – at least 80% of their salary, as during the national confinement in the spring. And not the 66% that London now offers them.

“We only reopened here at the beginning of September, because the city center was empty”, Mr. Lees-Jones said, pointing to Dutton’s where he sat down. “Since the end of July, Greater Manchester has already been subject to restrictions greater than those in the south of the country [des personnes de différents foyers n’ont pas le droit de se rencontrer en intérieur]. However, I did not receive any help with the rent. Since the government wants to place the region on high alert, attendance has fallen further “, regrets the boss, who is worried about the mental health of his employees. “I have 1,400 employees, but I cannot assure everyone that they will still have a job in two weeks”, he slips, sorry.

Growth retardation

“Now that London has just gone on high Covid alert [le 15 octobre], we hear people panicking. But we have been experiencing this situation for months! “, underlines Dave Moutrey, director of Home, a brand new cultural complex, with cinema, theater and art gallery installed on First Street, a renovated district of the city center, bristling with contemporary buildings. Home did not reopen until the beginning of September, the cinemas and theaters can only accommodate 150 spectators against 500 usually and Mr. Moutrey, who also supports the front of elected officials against London, is worried about a switch in the maximum alert zone. This would force him to close the bar, which contributes to the financial balance of the place.

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