The government must work with councils, to protect us from the harsh effect of Brexit

Prime minister Theresa May and mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson. Image: Getty.

The Labour mayor of Liverpool on the government’s lack of planning for Brexit. 

No one should be in any doubt just how big a change to our national political and economic life Brexit will be. But domestic issues matter too – and they are falling off ministers’ agendas.

Just look around. There is a snaking queue of topics that have been abandoned as the government becomes convulsed by Brexit. Our NHS and social care system is buckling under the strain of unfunded demands. We have a housing market that has priced a generation of young people out of home-ownership. A criminal justice system that is struggling to cope. The Universal Credit roll-out – the biggest-ever change in the benefits system – leaving claimants destitute as they wait six weeks for payments. Not to mention that we are a month away from a make or break Budget.

The Chancellor will either signal a change of direction on austerity and usher in a better balance of capital spending between northern and southern parts of this country – or he won’t. At which point, the Northern Powerhouse concept will be stone-cold dead, just when the need to join-up our northern cities in order to realise their economic potential has never been more necessary.

We are in the worst of both worlds. Brexit and the fortunes of the Conservative party have swamped domestic British politics to the point that there is little focus on anything else. It dominates our foreign and domestic agenda, yet we have nothing even close to a national conversation about our economic resilience ahead of leaving the European Union in 2019, despite ministers apparently sitting on dozens of reports into the consequences on different sectors of the economy.


Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, so there will be businesses and parts of Britain that will benefit from leaving the EU. However, my hunch is that there will be far fewer of the former and many more of the latter. This makes the sheer lack of scenario-planning by Whitehall a national scandal.

We are poorly-equipped for the changes to come and Brexit must be seen as an existential threat to cities like mine. Our local economy has made great strides in recent years – despite the relentless headwind of austerity, which has seen us lose two-thirds of our budget, some £420m, since 2010.

However much ministers urge us to rejoice and see the wondrous potential of Brexit, they are doing nothing to prepare us for the hard reality of finding ourselves outside the European Union and single market.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone on Whitehall’s bridge steering the national economy away from the rocks in front of us. Indeed, the creeping prospect of there being no deal with the European Commission – a hard Brexit – adds yet another layer of uncertainty, while our lopsided economy – already tilted towards the interests of London and financial services – will become even more unbalanced, hurting our major cities outside the capital the most.

Amid such uncertainty at the top of government it’s inevitable that investors’ confidence will be damaged, which will affect growth and hurt jobs and living standards.

For Liverpool – where 58 per cent of voters wanted to remain in the EU – the gamble on Brexit comes at too high a price. But if we are going to leave the European Union it’s a dereliction of duty not to plan and prepare for the predictable effects of Brexit and ministers have a duty to use the forthcoming Budget help shield us from its harsh effects.

Over to you Chancellor.

Joe Anderson is mayor of Liverpool.

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.