Mersey business leader slams ‘knee-jerk’ COVID response

CEO of Liverpool-based Downtown in Business, Frank McKenna, says thousands of businesses face extinction due to the Government’s ‘poorly planned’ COVID-19 strategy. Tony McDonough reports

Frank McKenna, chief executive of Downtown in Business. Picture by Tony McDonough


Merseyside business leader Frank McKenna has hit out at what he calls the Government’s  “knee-jerk” strategy for managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Kenna, chief executive of Liverpool-based lobbying and networking group, Downtown in Business (DIB), said the response so far had been “inconsistent and poorly planned” and put economic recovery at risk.

On Thursday it was announced Liverpool city region would remain under Tier-2 COVID restrictions meaning restaurants and non-essential retailers would be able to remain open. However, Manchester, Lancashire, Leeds, and Birmingham, places where DIB also operates, will remain under much the stricter measures of Tier-3.

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“It seems to me that the Government is using data in a very ad-hoc way,” said Mr McKenna. “If you look at the infection rates in Liverpool and Manchester, for example, it is hard to justify why Manchester should be facing stricter restrictions.

“More worryingly perhaps, is that the mood music from Westminster appears to be preparing us for even greater restrictions in the New Year. Surely, we should have been hearing by now about how a smarter way of managing the pandemic will be in place come January.

“Downtown in Business has just hosted a major business event for 250 people by introducing mandatory testing for all guests. Why can’t we introduce this to enable people to access bars, restaurants, and hotels?

“Given a vaccine is now in play, would it not be sensible to shield those most vulnerable until they can be vaccinated, whilst allowing the majority of the country to return to their COVID-secure workplaces and establishments?

“And why, given all the evidence around testing, are much more detailed conversations happening between Whitehall and town halls, to ensure that the vaccine is rolled out as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Mr McKenna acknowledged that Chancellor Rishi Sunak had offered a range of support measures for businesses and individuals. On Thursday Mr Sunak extended the 80% furlough scheme to the end of April 2021. However, the DIB chief warned that many thousands of businesses faced extinction in the coming weeks and months.

He added: “It is not financial support packages that are needed now though. We need businesses to be able to trade again, to earn a living, to contribute not only to the much-needed economic recovery, but also to the health and wellbeing of their teams.

“The explosion of mental health and related issues is another pandemic in the making. We really do need to find a much smarter way of handling the COVID crisis next year – or the hangover from will go on far longer than is necessary.”     

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