Andy Burnham has encouraged people in Greater Manchester to begin carefully returning to work this month after “an August like no other”.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester made the announcement in a blog post via the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) website yesterday evening and stated that, whilst the past month in particular has been particularly “difficult” for the people of Greater Manchester, we cannot “live in fear of this virus and hide away”.
He has called for a “voluntary” return to work and school in the region, but one that is done “safely and with support, not threats”, which he believes will require the public to become “more disciplined in the way we live alongside COVID”.
“With a new term comes the need for a new mindset.” he said.
He also aimed criticism at the government after ministers were accused this week of “threatening” people to go back to the office with the economy continuing to experience the fallout from the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown.
Mr Burnham said he had his “head in [his] hands last Friday when [he] saw the headline: “Go back to work or risk losing your job.” and stated that Greater Manchester “will be taking a different approach”.
His statement reads: “I agree with the Government that it’s important for people to begin to return to the office to support our city and town centres. But ordering people back and stoking up the fear factor is the wrong way to go about it.
“Apart from the extra anxiety it may cause to those already worried about redundancy, it risks an unplanned rush back to work for which we don’t have capacity on public transport. If our trams and buses end up overcrowded and unsafe, it won’t build the confidence on which any recovery will have to be based”.
He continued: “Starting this week, I will be leading the call for a safety-led, voluntary return to the office for those ready to do so.
“Having spent the last five months working from home, I will return to the office myself for the first time in five months and, in so doing, hopefully set a lead others might follow.
“It’s important because we all need to play our part in helping our city recover.”
“Where I agree with the Government is with their concern for city centres. They are right to challenge organisations abandoning offices for the foreseeable future. Cities are the engines of our economy. It is crucial that we bring them back to life and support businesses based there, but we are more likely to succeed if we do it in a gradual, careful, positive way.
“There will be some who’ll no doubt say this is irresponsible given the challenges that Greater Manchester is still experiencing with the virus. Others will claim it is contradictory, given the restrictions on home gatherings still in place. I don’t believe it is.
“The office is a more regulated environment than the home and it is our hope that the measures will be lifted everywhere soon.
“That said, it’s true that we will need to continue to be vigilant and cautious about social gatherings, particularly at home. We can’t rule out more local restrictions at some point, but nor can we let this virus rule our lives.
“The only answer, then, is to get better at living with it.”
Mr Burnham confirmed in the blog post that he will be returning to work in his Manchester office this month and said he will also be joined by about 30% of staff who work for Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
He closed out his statement encouraging the people of Greater Manchester to “embrace the moment”.
He said: “That end-of-summer-back-to-school feeling is never a good one but is probably more daunting this year than ever. So there is only one thing for it – let’s embrace the moment we are in and use it to make positive changes to our lives. The old normal isn’t coming back any time soon, and, let’s be honest, it wasn’t that great any way.
“A difficult few months lie ahead, no doubt, but if we approach the challenge head on, we’ll get through it and soon find ourselves in the better times that await us on the other side.”
You can read Andy Burnham’s full blog post on the GMCA website here.