Chris Matheson MP has asked the Government for additional financial support for Chester businesses in recognition of the unique circumstances the city now finds itself in.
The new Covid-19 restrictions have left Chester trapped between tier 3 devolved areas like Manchester and Liverpool, and Wales – a country in a national lockdown. This is leading to declining visitor numbers and a loss of trade for city businesses.
Chris has raised Chester’s unique situation in a recent letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and with the Health Minister during an urgent statement in the House of Commons, joining proceedings virtually as he is still isolating at home following a positive Covid-19 test.
Chris explained that due to the neighbouring restrictions, with Wales going into tighter lockdown on Friday and the Liverpool regions currently in the highest tier 3 restriction, Chester was being ‘crushed’ from both sides.
When addressing the Health Minister, he said: “The specific geography of Chester means many of our businesses, which were viable only up and to a couple of weeks ago, are now being damaged by restrictions on one side of the Welsh border which runs through Chester of course and the lockdown there. And on the other side due to the imposition of Tier 3 in Merseyside.”
As Chester is currently in tier 2 of the coronavirus restrictions many businesses are not able to receive the support provided for those in tier 3. Chris called for Chester’s position to be recognised and for the Government to provide the desperately needed financial support.
He added: “Chester is being crushed by both sides, but both of these areas are getting supported financially, whereas that support is not available for businesses in the middle in Chester.
“Will the Minister consider these effects and will he offer financial support so we don’t get crushed between these lockdowns?”
Matt Hancock said that he recognised the importance of Chester’s businesses and that support is under constant review.
Subsequently, Chris has called for support from the Treasury in a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, highlighting the dire situation Chester’s businesses are facing and asking for an urgent support package.
In the letter the MP said: “As I highlighted to Matt Hancock on Monday, Chester faces a unique problem in the country. Chester is a border city and although it is in England (just), it is a significant economic centre for North Wales as well as a primary shopping, heritage and hospitality destination in the North West of England. With Liverpool City Region to the north and Greater Manchester to our north east, both in tier 3 lockdowns, we now find ourselves in the unique position of having a national lockdown in Wales and tier 3 lockdowns all around us with ourselves being in tier 2 and no financial support for the businesses that rely on our closest neighbours being able to come and visit.
“You may be aware that Chester attracts 14 million tourists a year, which supports around 10,000 local jobs. Since the restrictions all around us have come into force, footfall has dropped, hotel operators are receiving cancellations, and there are genuine concerns that cafes, pubs and restaurants are becoming unviable. Many of these businesses are independent and do not have the safety net that being part of a larger company or group can bring. For these businesses, the government should be their safety net.
“As Matt identified in his response to me in Parliament on Monday, Chester has more pubs per head than anywhere in the country. I was heartened by this as his comments recognise the dire situation our city now finds itself in.”
Chris followed by making two specific requests to the Government: “On behalf of Cheshire West and Chester Council, Cheshire & Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership, and Chester Business Improvement District, we are asking for urgent support measures to stop Chester being crushed by supported lockdowns in our neighbouring areas. Specifically, we are asking for a package of support to the City of Chester’s hospitality sector in recognising the unique pressures these businesses face as a result of Covid restrictions in our surrounding geography that are beyond their control.
“If a specific package for Chester is not possible, would you consider a fund for historic cities where local authorities can use trusted sources to evidence comparative falls in footfall, vacancy rates in hotels and attendance at visitor attractions. If thresholds are met, then local authorities would be able to apply for a support package to distribute to businesses within the city district in the same manner as the original business support grant scheme.”