Now that we have secured a delay in the introduction of the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone (CAZ), there is an opportunity to reset the debate and find a much fairer solution.
As part of that, I wanted to take this opportunity to make a personal statement, clarifying issues that have been raised both in relation to my wife and my involvement in the development of the CAZ to date.
First, a number of serious allegations have been made in relation to my wife’s financial affairs.
So, for the avoidance of any doubt, here are the facts.
Marie-France is employed by Heavenly, a small marketing and brand agency. She works with a number of their clients, including Iduna Infrastructure Limited. Iduna owns Amey MAP Services Limited, which has a contract with TfGM to operate the public EV network under the brand name Be.EV. Marie-France has no direct financial relationship with Iduna. She does not own any shares in them and does not receive any bonus nor incentive payments from them.
Even though this is a minor private interest in relation to EV charging – and not directly related to the CAZ – I still chose to declare it, and remove myself from any decision-making, so that there could be no perception of a conflict of interest nor any suggestion of privileged information being misused. More broadly, we do not own any shares in any company and receive no income other than our salaries.
Given this, some of the claims that have been made about my wife are frankly disgraceful. An example of one of the worst can be seen below. I have set out the facts and ask that this now stops.
Second, there have been many claims that I am the main architect of the CAZ; that this is “Andy Burnham’s plan” or the “Burnham Tax”. This narrative has been mainly promoted by the Conservative Party, its MPs and councillors, because it suits their political purposes to distract people from their Government’s primary role in this policy.
Again, I will set out the facts.
When I was first elected in 2017, there was already an on-going process between the Government and our councils in relation to the action needed to clean up our air by the 2024 deadline imposed by the Government. While I was regularly kept updated, I have never had any formal decision-making role in relation to the CAZ. As an example, I am not a member of the Charging Committee, which sets the charging policy and decides how any proceeds will be used.
It is the Government which holds the primary decision-making role. Ministers set the precise terms of the directives placed on each of our 10 councils – and have final sign-off on any local plan developed by the councils. At local level, the formal decision-makers are the individual councillors in the 10 local authorities who vote on the local response to the Government directive.
That said, I have worked to support our councils and try to make the best of a difficult policy situation.
I supported the proposal to exclude cars and limit the CAZ mainly to commercial vehicles. I also believe our councils had little choice over the size of the scheme given the number of locations in exceedance and the unworkable alternative of having multiple, smaller zones. By opting for a larger zone, the thinking was that financial support could be opened up to more individuals and businesses.
My main role to date has been to liaise with the Government and support efforts to secure the maximum possible funding to support the fair introduction of the CAZ. It was with that in mind that I became worried, in late 2021, that the £120M we had secured would not be sufficient given the rampant inflation in the vehicle market. As a result, the Government’s refusal to fund a hardship scheme for owners of the oldest vans had become a major problem. So, in December 2021, the Labour Leaders and I agreed that the CAZ scheme should be referred back to the Government early in the New Year on the back of evidence gathered.
However, I do not want to appear as if I believe there is nothing we could have done better. With hindsight, it is obvious that a scheme designed in pre-pandemic times was not going to work in the post-pandemic era. Whilst I was distracted by the need to respond to the pandemic, I accept that I should have woken up earlier to the coming problems. I also believe the communications about the CAZ have not been good enough throughout and I take responsibility for that. As a result of this, people only became aware of it when the cameras and signs began to appear and that has created an understandable shock and loss of trust. I know there are many people who are genuinely anxious about the CAZ given the pressures businesses have faced through the pandemic and the rising cost of living we are seeing in 2022.
These were the reasons why we went back to the Government and, from here, I will do whatever I can to get the best solution we can.
I want to confirm in writing something that I said to the campaign group RethinkGM following my recent Q&A in Trafford: that, as part of the new discussions with the Government, I will be pressing for a new scheme which minimises any resort to charges and, if possible, removes them altogether. I will also argue strongly for the exclusion, in any scenario, of private leisure vehicles such as motorhomes, campervans and horseboxes. But I need to make clear again that I cannot guarantee these things as the final decision rests with the Government, not me.
I appreciate that, for some people, there is nothing I can say or do that will change the facts as they see them – or as they want to see them.
Some have said that the only result they will be happy with is the complete scrapping of the CAZ. I don’t support that. I cannot accept a situation where we leave some of our residents exposed to illegal air pollution. I support the principle of a Clean Air Zone – as long as it is fair and does not threaten people’s health in other ways by damaging jobs and livelihoods.
I have chosen to make this statement as I live in hope that most reasonable people will understand that I can’t continue to take political responsibility for a policy over which I do not have the final say. That said, going forward, I will not shy away from the role I have played to date of mediating between the Government and the councils in trying to secure the best possible solution for Greater Manchester.
RT HON ANDY BURNHAM
Mayor of Greater Manchester
18 February 2022