What Merseyside needs in the next 100 days and beyond

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This weekend we are looking back on the period of 100 days since coronavirus landed in our region – 100 days that have changed all of our lives.

It seems an age ago the first evacuees from the Chinese city of Wuhan arrived at Arrowe Park on January 31.

So much has changed since then, so many lives have been lost and so many more have been turned upside down.

As well as looking back at this difficult period, it is vital we continue to look forward at what may happen next for our region.

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The ECHO explored what our region needs and how we want to emerge from this crisis in the long term.

The next 100 days

The next 100 days of this crisis will take us into mid August, and it could not be a more pivotal period for this region and the country in terms of the coronavirus crisis.

Merseyside has experienced enormous tragedy with around 1,000 people dying in our hospitals with the virus and the situation in our care homes is harrowing.

With the Prime Minister due to set out a road map on Sunday evening for how the lockdown may start to be lifted, the absolute priority has to be avoiding a second spike of the virus that could once again rip through regions like Merseyside.

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A lack of testing and Personal Protective Equipment for on the frontline has been a major feature of the epidemic – and the people of Merseyside will demand that over the next 100 days, key workers will be given proper access to the protections and support they need.

Speaking about the next 100 days, Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram spelt out his demands to government.

Protection

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He said as well as ensuring key workers are protected, the next 100 days could be vital in starting to change people's behaviours so we can emerge from the crisis in a better society.

Mayor Rotheram said: "The Prime Minister’s speech on Sunday will be vital in shaping what post-pandemic Britain looks like.

"He must have three key priorities for the next 100 days: protecting people’s health, getting our transport network moving, and starting to Build Back Better.

"We’ll need to continue social distancing to prevent a second spike in infections, so space on public transport will be limited, but we can all help by asking ourselves: Is it essential that I travel? When do I have to travel? And, by what means do I travel?

"Let’s not all simply jump back into our cars, and instead keep cycling or walking – which could even become your new commute to work."

He added: "Employers can help here too, by continuing to support home working, with flexible hours and things like staggered shifts."

The next 100 days will also be absolutely vital for the survival of our region's local councils.

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All Merseyside authorities have given stark warnings about their ability to continue to exist if the government doesn't keep its promises to reimburse them for the millions of pounds they have spent fighting this crisis.

Liverpool Council is planning an emergency budget meeting in June where a notice could be given that would ban all spending immediately as it stares down the barrel of a £44 million black hole.

Mayor Rotheram said the government must ensure local authorities do not go to the wall in the next 100 days.

He added: "Our region will need financial support from Government to get through this. Our local councils already face a £137m shortfall from what they were promised, with some warning they face bankruptcy. I’ll be doing all I can to support them and to get them the funding they need."

Jobs and support

100 days from now, if reports are correct, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak will be starting to wind down his Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Despite its faults, the scheme has been very important in ensuring a large number of people have not lost their jobs and have instead been furloughed.

Liverpool and Merseyside have been hit hard by the closing down of the tourism and hospitality economy that this area relies on so much, sadly many businesses have closed altogether.

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram

It will be vital for this region that any winding down of the scheme is done in a phased way, which continues to offer protection and support for the many people in our region who otherwise could face serious hardship.

It is also vital that the Treasury continues to support those businesses that are unlikely to be back up and operating by mid August such as bars, theatres, clubs and other gathering venues for which Merseyside is renowned.

The country's most deprived areas have suffered considerably more tragedy and pain from coronavirus than more affluent areas.

Merseyside has some of the most deprived communities in the country and we have been hit disproportionately by the virus.

We will want to see much more direct support for the most vulnerable people from government over the next 100 days.

Local councils are at the frontline of protecting those most in need at this time and it is absolutely vital town halls are given the cash and support they were promised by government to be able to continue to do this without fear of running out of money altogether.

Beyond 100 days

While the next 100 days are absolutely crucial for the immediate protection of people in our region and elsewhere, it is also important to think beyond that.

While coronavirus has brought untold tragedy into our lives, it has also provided an opportunity for us to improve society for the better when we eventually emerge from the crisis.

It has also shone a light on major inequalities and issues that existed in society.

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Mayor Rotheram and his friend and Greater Manchester counterpart Andy Burnham have together been leading the charge for what they are calling a Build Back Better campaign.

The two Mayors firmly believe it would be a mistake to simply return to the way things were and that improvements must be made for the good of both people and the planet.

Explaining his thinking for life beyond 100 days, Mayor Rotheram said: "Coronavirus has exposed the shaky foundations our economy and society are built on.

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"This moment, however, provides us with the unique opportunity to change how our country works for the better.

"This crisis has shown that the value of people’s work simply isn’t reflected in their pay packets. That has to change. Our Minimum Wage Heroes need a pay rise and better terms and conditions.

"As well as righting wrongs, we can build on the more positive things we have experienced during lockdown.

"That could include greater flexibility in work with better digital infrastructure; more home working and fewer crowded offices, greener cities with cleaner air, fewer cars on the road and more bikes.

"That will mean investing in the skills and sectors of the future, such as; the Mersey Tidal Power project, ultrafast broadband and smart technologies."

He added: "As Metro Mayor I stand ready and willing to help drive that forward. But to do so, we need Government to back us by giving us the powers and resource we need to make it happen.

"They promised us ‘Whatever it takes’. The choice is: more of the same, or a fairer, greener and more socially just future. I choose to Build Back Better."

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