Transcript of Module 2 Public Hearing on 27 November 2023

(10.30 am)

Lady Hallett: Mr O’Connor.

Mr O’Connor: Good morning, my Lady.

My Lady, just before we call our first witness, my transcript screen is blank, and I imagine yours is too. We understand that there is a technical problem with the computer system which in fact is a widespread problem going far beyond the bounds of this Inquiry. It’s affecting transcription across at least London, as we gather.

The position is that the transcriber is present, she will be making a transcript of this morning’s proceedings. We won’t sadly be able to see it on our screens as long as the problem lasts, and of course steps are being taken to remedy it, and I understand that as soon as the problem has been resolved, our screens will click into action and we’ll be able to get the usual contemporaneous transcript.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr O’Connor.

Mr O’Connor: My Lady, may we please call our first witness, Mr Khan.

Mr Sadiq Khan

MR SADIQ KHAN (sworn).

Questions From Counsel to the Inquiry

Mr O’Connor: Could you give us your full name, please.

Mr Sadiq Khan: My name is Sadiq Khan.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Khan, you have kindly prepared a witness statement for the Inquiry, which is coming on the screen now. It’s a lengthy statement, and we’re grateful for it. The last page, we don’t need to look at, but it was signed by you on 16 June of this year, and immediately above your signature there’s a statement that you believe the facts stated in the witness statement to be true. Is that right?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Correct, yeah, thank you.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Khan, you are currently, of course, the Mayor of London. Casting our eyes back over your career, it’s right, I think, that you were a Labour MP, in fact the MP for Tooting, between 2005 and 2016?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yep, that’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: And within that period, you undertook various ministerial government roles between 2008 and 2010?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Between 2007 and 2010, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: 2007, thank you. Then after the 2010 election you had various shadow ministerial roles in opposition until you left Parliament in 2016, and that was the year on which you were first elected the Mayor of London, and you’re currently serving your second term in that post.

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: It’s obvious from that chronology that you were the Mayor of London throughout the period of the pandemic, 2020-2022.

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: And that is, of course, going to be the focus of our questions this morning.

Before we move to the events of the pandemic, Mr Khan, I’d like to ask you just a few questions about the role the Mayor of London, the powers, what the job entails and so on.

Of course the Mayor of London is the senior elected politician with territorial responsibility for London, and on our ready reckoner we think that there are something like 9 million people within the area for which you have responsibility. Is that right?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right. So in London there are more than 9 million who live and, during the normal working day, more than 10 million come to London, workers, tourists, visitors and so forth.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. And using another ratio, that 9 million people equates to something like 13% of the UK population?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s look at your statement, please, at paragraph 14, which is on page 3. It’s here that you give us a detailed explanation of the role or powers of the Mayor, and we’re not going to go into all of that detail, but let’s just try to summarise the position.

As you state here, the powers of the Mayor, in fact the mayoralty itself, is established, is it not, by the Greater London Authority Act of 1999?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: And Act creates and then describes the powers of this institution called the Greater London Authority, which itself is formed of the mayor and the Assembly; is that a fair summary?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It is, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: The mayor has, as we will see in a moment, some strategic powers as well as other duties, and the principal role of the Assembly is to hold the mayor to account?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: If we look at paragraph 15, and we’ll go over the page in a moment to paragraph 16, we see that the power under section 30 of the Act allows the mayor, in the words of your statement, to do anything which furthers one of its so-called “principal purposes”, which are then described as promoting economic development, wealth creation, social development or the improvement of the environment in Greater London. So high level powers, high level purposes.

Then as you go on to make the point under section 31, that the Act under that section expressly prevents the Authority, the mayor, from providing any health or social services which could be provided by a London borough council or any other public body.

Just going on to paragraph 16, you make the point that:

“The [Authority] is therefore limited to carrying out the functions expressly conferred on it …”

And that it is:

“… a strategic authority … quite different from, for example, the local authorities in London, which have responsibility for the delivery of services …”

So is it, then, Mr Khan, a fair summary that the role of the Mayor is to perform these sort of high level strategic functions rather than sort of operational decisions which are more – which are the preserve, in London, of borough councils and other bodies?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It is, but it brings with it huge convening powers, so I can work – I do work very closely with those authorities you’re talking about, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. And we’ll come to see, in terms of the sort of role of the mayor in an emergency, that’s a rather good description, it’s about convening other people more than actually performing executive functions yourself?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Exactly.

Counsel Inquiry: If we just think about the pandemic and about the NPIs that were adopted during the pandemic, we think, for example, of ordering people to stay at home, closing schools, closing hospitality venues and so on; these were not executive decisions for you to take during that time, were they?

Mr Sadiq Khan: They weren’t. There’s a separate piece of legislation, which we’ll come to, I’m sure, which is the Civil Contingencies Act which states, basically that Mayor, the GLA, is the voice of London, so in civil emergencies he or she has an important role in being that that voice, particularly when it comes to message carrying –

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Sadiq Khan: – for letting us know what to do.

Counsel Inquiry: Just to be clear, I’m certainly going to come to the Civil Contingencies Act and that sort of facilitative role, and you’re absolutely right, in your statement you use that term, being the “voice of London”, but just to be clear, it’s right, isn’t it, that it wasn’t actually your role to make those –

Mr Sadiq Khan: No.

Counsel Inquiry: – executive decisions, closing schools –

Mr Sadiq Khan: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: – ordering people to stay at home and the like?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: So as you say, with that in mind, the mayor does have responsibilities in an emergency as what’s known as a Category 1 responder under the Civil Contingencies Act. That’s a point you make, if we look at paragraph 19 of your statement, on page 4.

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right, yep.

Counsel Inquiry: Again, your statement then goes on to provide us with some very useful detail about all of the different bodies that were established in order to perform your role and the role of the Authority more generally in that civil contingencies context?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: Again, I’m not going to go into all of that in as much detail as there is in the statement, but shall we try to identify the critical parts of it.

If we go on to paragraph 20, we see there you refer to the GLA being a member of something called the London Resilience Forum and, reading on in that paragraph, this London Resilience Forum you describe as being the “vehicle required by statute to facilitate the cooperation of statutory responders in London”.

So it’s the high-level body performing that sort of bringing together, facilitative role?

Mr Sadiq Khan: As (unclear).

Counsel Inquiry: You say in the next sentence that Fiona Twycross chaired the London Resilience Forum on your behalf. I think it’s right, isn’t it, that you have a sort of power or a duty either to chair that forum yourself or to nominate someone to do that; is that the position?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right. So Fiona Twycross, or Baroness Twycross, is the Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, and I asked her in June 2016, a month after I became mayor, to chair the London Resilience Forum, because obviously they have work to do not just at times of civil emergency but at other times as well.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, so as we’ll see, some of these committees and groups that were operational during the pandemic had existed previously –

Mr Sadiq Khan: Exactly.

Counsel Inquiry: – sometimes known as “in peacetime”, others were brought into being to perform a specific role during the pandemic?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: And the London Resilience Forum was one of those that is always sitting, it’s always considering matters. And so did you consider sort of taking over the chairmanship of the London Resilience Forum during the pandemic or not?

Mr Sadiq Khan: There were meetings I did chair, but as far as the LRF is concerned, we appointed a number of co-chairs to work with Fiona, John Barradell and Eleanor, the chief executive from Southwark, performed different roles.

I should explain, there is different furniture to do with different pieces of work, so there’s a strategic co-ordination committee, there’s a London Resilience protocol – or Partnership, and so a number of different fora. I chaired some of them. For continuity, Fiona, John Barradell and others chaired others.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. So you didn’t become the chair of the London Resilience Forum but you worked very closely with it?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yep.

Counsel Inquiry: And as you have said, there were a number of other organisations, groups running alongside it.

If we can go down to the next paragraph, please, if we look at paragraph 22, there’s a reference there to another of these groups which I think you mentioned a moment ago, the Strategic Coordination Group. Is this one of those groups that didn’t exist or at least wasn’t sort of up and running during so-called peacetime but which became operational during the pandemic?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right. So in early March, on 2 March, I chaired a Mayor’s advisory group, and we decided to do a number of things flowing from our concerns from the media about the pandemic arriving, and the SCG is one of the things that we set up.

Counsel Inquiry: So that’s the Strategic Coordination Group, and we see in paragraph 22 the description of its role is really the implementation of plans. Would that be including the implementation of plans designed by the Resilience Forum?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Exactly.

Counsel Inquiry: So it’s the sort of – it’s the operational arm of that organisation?

Mr Sadiq Khan: And in this case specifically to do with coronavirus rather than other issues that the fora has to deal with.

Counsel Inquiry: Last point on this, we can see in this paragraph that the Strategic Coordination Group measures its work alongside something called the Strategic Coordination Protocol. Again, was that a Covid-specific document or was that a protocol which had been designed before the pandemic?

Mr Sadiq Khan: So the protocol was designed before the statutory guidance in relation to the role of the GLA and pan-London governance, but it was – the SCG was set up because of coronavirus, using the protocol as a basis of who should be on this and so forth.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. So we’re getting a picture of this sort of network, hierarchy of organisations, some of which were there all along, some of which were brought into being for the sake of the pandemic. You are very much involved one way or another in this system.

If we can look at paragraph 25, please, which is over the page on page 6, this is, I think, a summary of this description. And picking it up four lines down, you say, and this is where we come back to your point about the voice, you say:

“My role is to support the operational response to an emergency in London by providing a unified statement of information and guidance – acting as a ‘voice’ for London.”

Can you, with that in mind, expand on your role in all of this, this structure of various committees and forums?

Mr Sadiq Khan: So it’s worth explaining this – explaining that. So there are certainly functional bodies that I’m in charge of, the police, the fire service, the transport system, there are number of others I’m not in charge of. This multi-agency approach means that we can work together in a collegiate way, and that includes working with the councils, we’ve got 32 councils in London, plus the City of London Corporation, a cross-party working incredibly collegiately, and I’m ostensibly the chair, working really closely with colleagues. It means we can pass on messages from the government, and I’m deemed to be, according to statutory guidance and government, generally speaking, the voice of London. But also when we reach decision, I can channel up to the government as well. So it’s a two-way process, being the voice, advocate for London but also downwards from government down to London as well.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. We’ll come to see as we look at some of the documents and some of the notes of meetings and so on, that you were very much sort of advocating, if you like lobbying government during the period of the pandemic for them to take action that you regarded as being in London’s interests. Was that also part of this role?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yes. So a lot of the information we had was from all – open source data, me just reading the newspapers, watching the news, and colleagues doing the same, and so we decided to set up, you know, the SCG in advance of any information from the government.

I was writing to the government, we were contacting the government to ask for information, that wasn’t coming, January, February or March, at the first half of March. But notwithstanding that – that’s unusual, by the way, I can give you examples of other emergencies where it hasn’t happened, there has been co-operation. But in this case we were doing this, getting the furniture set up, the architecture set up because of the legislation, but also our experience from previous years we knew this may be useful.

Counsel Inquiry: Let me just ask you about your experience of other emergencies, and I think it’s obvious that this particular emergency was unlike anything that certainly anyone had come across before in their own career. But of course you had been involved in other emergencies, both during your time as mayor and, before that, in government. I mean, as far as your time as the mayor is concerned, the Grenfell Tower disaster took place while you were mayor, and in the same year there were also the terrorist attacks at Westminster and London Bridge.

We’re going to come to talk about COBR in the context of Covid, but it’s right, isn’t it, that you had experience of COBR in those emergencies as well?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Look, there’s nothing magic about COBR, it’s just the room where we meet, but COBR is really important, both – when I was a minister, when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, on a couple of occasions COBRs were called and I was invited to – incredibly collegiate environment. When Theresa May was Prime Minister in 2017, a number of COBRs I was invited to to do with the terrorist attacks in London, to do with Grenfell – and it’s a really useful fora for colleagues to come together, politicians, experts in their own field, people from different parts of the country, to provide their expertise, to discuss ideas, and then the chair, the Prime Minister, makes a decision.

In fact, post the pandemic, when Liz Truss was Prime Minister, I again attended COBRs to do with Operation London Bridge. they’re incredibly useful –

Counsel Inquiry: Just pause there. That was the operation that followed the death of the Queen?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yeah, the death of Her Late Majesty, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: You were going to say?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Because a lot of these things required co-ordination and working together, at the very least you can provide coalface experience, you can feed into the decision-makers, the Prime Minister in particular, but also you can – you’re read in earlier about why things are happening, so as the voice of London you can with confidence explain to Londoners what they should and shouldn’t be doing.

So COBR in the past, and since, has worked incredibly well as this place to discuss various responses to prepare for civil emergencies.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s turn, then, Mr Khan, to 2020 and initially your sort of developing understanding of the pandemic.

In your witness statement, I think you say that you of course initially gained an understanding in January simply, as with the rest of us, hearing about it on the news and so on, and it was late January, 23 January, you give a description of a Question Time event that you were conducting in London, and you – actually, this was the first time you received a detailed briefing from your staff about Covid. Is that right?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It is, but I should just say, my staff’s knowledge of this was from open source data, from newspapers, from world wide web and so forth, it wasn’t from a briefing from the government. But at People’s Question Time a member of the public had asked me about Covid and my response was to that question asked by members of the public, and so my knowledge was limited but it was being discussed, clearly, because it was raised at People’s Question Time.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. So that was your own personal sort of knowledge and that was an occasion when you were briefed. The London Resilience Forum, which we’ve already mentioned, was right from the start analysing the ongoing position; is that right?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Well, that’s right. Again, the job of the London Resilience Forum is to prepare for any emergency. It could be worried about flash flooding, it could be about this, and so they, again, using open source data, had realised this may be an issue, and to their credit in February they’d started doing work to look into this virus.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s just go, if we may, to paragraph 59 of your witness statement, which is on page 14, and this picks up the point, Mr Khan, you have been making. You say:

“We [and I take it you should have mean you, your office, the Greater London Authority] were heavily reliant on the information coming from Paul Plant and PHE at this time …”

Again, I think “at this time” you mean sort of early February, judging by the sequence of events in your witness statement:

“… as we were not receiving any information directly from Government.”

First of all, can you tell us, please, who Paul Plant was at the time?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Sure. So one of the statutory duties of the Mayor is to address health inequalities, and I have a statutory health adviser, Professor Paul Plant, at the time, who works for Public Health England. It tends to be the regional director for London PHE, as it was known then, who advises me in relation to health inequalities, and Paul was a person who I’d meet regularly to discuss a variety of issues.

Counsel Inquiry: So just going back to this sentence, Paul Plant was himself I think one of the directors of PHE?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: What’s wrong with receiving information about a developing infectious virus from PHE, which was the very body that was supposed to monitor these things?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Nothing wrong at all. In fact I was asking Paul about this virus we’d heard of, and you will see from – I think we disclosed the agenda where this was discussed – this was one of a variety of issues that we’d discuss at PHE. The point is in relation to “directly from Government”. You talked about the responsibility I have from the Civil Contingencies Act, the Greater London Act, and bearing in mind what was to transpire, you’d have expected the government speaking to me – by “government” I mean – ostensibly Downing Street, because we now know in February there were COBR meetings taking place, we knew nothing about these. And probably Paul Plant didn’t either because it’s above his pay grade. The point being is that we’re the capital city, we know what happened, had we been aware of some of the things that the government were concerned about in February or March we could have taken preventative action.

Counsel Inquiry: So, to summarise, just to make sure we’ve understood, one of PHE’s functions was to inform local authorities like you and no doubt around the country of their developing understanding of the virus. I think what you’re saying is that there would have come a time where, judging by the sort of severity of the virus, the concerns about what may happen, you would have expected, in parallel to your exchanges with PHE, to have started being briefed by central government, you say Downing Street, but that, as we will come to see, didn’t happen at that time or in fact for some time later?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Absolutely.

Counsel Inquiry: Are you saying that on the basis of any experience or on the basis of hindsight, or simply a feeling you had at the time?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Well, without wishing to breach confidences, for example, we were in close contact with the government in advance of Operation London Bridge going live, I don’t want to be indelicate, but – so there’s often conversations with the government about things in advance of them becoming – you know, us having to press “go” on issues. And so that sort of stuff does happen. It can be offline conversations, it can be direct communications with me and my office.

We were chasing the government for information. I’ve shared correspondence with you right into the government saying, “Look, we’ve heard about this thing happening, what do we do?”

Counsel Inquiry: If I can just ask you to try and slow down a little when you’re answering questions.

Mr Khan, were you chasing the government this early in sort of early February? We’ll come to see some of the exchanges a few weeks later in late February and March. Perhaps you didn’t realise how serious the position was becoming at this stage?

Mr Sadiq Khan: No, in February I wasn’t chasing the government. I wasn’t aware how serious it was.

Counsel Inquiry: So to the extent you’re criticising the government for not contacting you earlier, that’s something – an observation you’re making perhaps with hindsight; would that be fair?

Mr Sadiq Khan: The government generally does give us information about a variety of things happening. I’m disappointed the government weren’t giving us information in February about what they knew then.

Counsel Inquiry: Knowing what you know now.

Mr Sadiq Khan: Knowing what we all know now, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Yeah.

Lady Hallett: Of course it depends on what they knew then.

Mr Sadiq Khan: Well, what I’d say, my Lady, is that we were in contact at this stage, in February and March, early in March in particular, with other cities around the globe. So we’ve not got a foreign office in City Hall, but what we were doing is speaking to mayors. So I was speaking to the mayor of Milan, we were speaking to colleagues in Seoul, the mayor of Seoul, and colleagues in China, from early March, in advance of any information from the government. Now, my international relations team is, I think, three people. I’d have hoped that the Foreign Office was speaking to colleagues in China or South Korea or Italy. We were in late February, early March.

Lady Hallett: Yes. I think we’ve moved on to March. I think Mr O’Connor was at the moment dealing with early February.

Mr O’Connor: Yes, well, let’s move on, Mr Khan, because the paragraph we were looking at was, I think, located in early February, but let’s move forward a few weeks to the period around the end of February and the beginning of March.

As you say, there had been a number of COBR meetings during February, to which you hadn’t been invited. We come, then, to Friday 28 February, and a request, we know, was made on that day for you to attend a COBR meeting that was due to take place at the beginning of the next week, on 2 March, the Monday.

We can, for these purposes, just look at an email exchange.

This is INQ000118997.

We see here sort of about – the lower half of this page, an email being sent from someone in your office whose name has been redacted – to I think it’s Clare Brunton in Number 10. It says this:

“The Mayor’s Chief of Staff has asked whether Number 10 intend to invite the Mayor to the Cobra meeting regarding Coronavirus on Monday?”

That’s 2 March.

“Given its large number of airports, hospitals, and international visitors, London is of course potentially one of the most at risk places.”

I’m going to come back to that, but just to finish off with this email, we can see that in fact on the same day, on the Friday, later on in the evening, the reply comes back no:

“… spoken to those leading … the Mayor … will not be invited to the COBRA on Monday.”

But just going back to your email, please, the proposition is London is one of the places most at risk because of its airports, hospitals, international visitors and so on; that, of course, had been true since the beginning of the virus. Did sending this email on this day reflect some sort of developing understanding on your part, or not?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It’s the point I was making to Baroness Hallett, the conversation we were having, but also open source data showed this virus travels, we knew about what’s happening in northern Italy, we also knew it was half term, and we also knew that London has a number of airports that serve our city, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, City, the Eurostar and so on and so forth, so I wouldn’t be surprised if London was the first place this virus came to. So I was cognisant of all that in real time, without the benefit of hindsight. And it just appears to me if we knew this in City Hall, and we’ve not got at our disposal the expertise Her Majesty’s government has, why didn’t they?

Counsel Inquiry: If we just move the chronology on a week, we will see that something very similar happened a week later.

If we could go, please, to INQ000119008.

If we look at the bottom of the page, there is an email dated 8 March, which was a Sunday, again from someone in your office to Clare Brunton. A request to attend COBR, which was going to happen on the next day, the next Monday. Very similar request: can the mayor come to COBR? The reason being the “potential impact on London and Londoners”. This time, if we – well, we can see that the same response is received, if we can go up to the top of that page, please, there’s a response, in fact, on the Monday morning, at 9.50: no the Mayor is not required but the PM has asked for a separate meeting to take place with a Cabinet Minister.”

Let’s just look, if we may, at another set of emails, this time internal at Number 10, to show how that decision to refute – not to invite you on that occasion was reached.

So if we can look at INQ000214135, please.

At the bottom of that page we see the same email from your member of staff, and then if we look, going up the page, first of all Clare Brunton says to – emails saying she assumes “the answer is no again?” Then we see the email from Eddie Lister, who was, was he not, one of the Prime Minister’s chiefs of staff or his chief of staff –

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – we’ve heard oral evidence from him – saying that no, he does think there needs to be a meeting of mayors, perhaps with Matt Hancock.

Then another email from Clare Brunton saying that it had been discussed at the 8.15 meeting and that the general view was that there was in fact an argument for you to be at the meeting.

Then at the very top, the sort of final response from Eddie Lister:

“You can’t have him without Street, Burnham et al …”

Reference to the mayors of Birmingham and Manchester.

“… or is London more important than Manchester.”

We heard from Lord Lister that that reflected his view. In other words, one either invited all the metro mayors, to use that term, or none of them. And that is why, as we saw in the previous document, you were not invited.

What’s your reaction to that analysis and that reasoning behind you not being invited to COBR at that stage?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Well, firstly, I think it may well have been sensible to invite Andy Street, Andy Burnham and other metro mayors to COBR meetings rather than bilaterals, but secondly they knew then, I knew subsequently, that London was different. I knew subsequently London was different because I was subsequently told that the pandemic was having an impact on London ahead of the rest of the country. The government were aware the challenges in ICU, the challenges in our hospital, and the government were aware about community transmission in London. So there is an argument for London to be treated differently at this particular time.

But secondly actually we know, and it was the case then and it was the case in 2009, there is an ability for COBR to have some people joining virtually anyway. So there’s no reason at all why others couldn’t join as well.

Counsel Inquiry: I wanted to pursue that point with you. We’ve already seen that the sort of headline reason, the justification for the request for you to be at the COBR was because London was special in this context, and we’ll come back to that. But the other point you made was: well, why not invite the metro mayors? I mean, we know that the devolved administrations were being invited to COBR at that stage.

Leaving aside what you thought was, and as it turned out was in fact the sort of advanced position of London, imagine it was just a national emergency with no particular region ahead of the other, in that context do you think there’s an argument for inviting a series of metro mayors to a meeting like this?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It depends on the circumstances. So, for example, I had no objection when there was a – you know, a terrorist attack in an arena in Manchester for the metro mayor being present for those COBRs, because obviously it affects Manchester. But we know that London’s population, as you’ve said before, is more than 9 million. It’s more than Scotland and Wales put together. For example, did those COBR know most people in London travel by bus or tube? More than 5 million journeys by bus, more than 4 million by tube. So the transmission is going to happen very, very quickly of this virus. How many of those around COBR knew issues around diversity, comorbidity, intergenerational households, overcrowded accommodation? How many people around COBR knew, for example, in London there are more people who work on zero hours contract, work in the gig economy, you know, work in frontline jobs where they can catch this virus.

So my point being, it’s not – it’s horses for courses. In this particular case I can see no explanation at all why, you know, the GLA, the Mayor of London, we weren’t around that table. I think lives could have been saved if we were earlier.

Counsel Inquiry: That was Monday 9 March, that COBR meeting, the second COBR meeting to which you were not invited took place. I want to move on and now ask you about a meeting that took place a couple of days later, on Wednesday 11 March. That was a day on which you and some of your staff met with Chris Whitty.

Shall we look first of all at a record of that meeting, it’s up on screen now. Before I ask you about the detail of this document, Mr Khan, there are a few documents like this amongst your – the exhibits to your statement. They are transcripts. Most of them, like this one, say that they’re a transcript of David Bellamy. He was your chief of staff, was he not?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Correct. He still is, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: So can we take it that documents like this are typed-up versions of contemporaneous written notes that he took at meetings like this?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Correct, yeah. His handwritten notes are awful to read, so I think the typed version means you can read then what he’s written, but I think the handwritten notes have been disclosed as well.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. Yes, just so everyone knows that’s what these documents are.

I just want to draw your attention to a couple of entries on this document, the notes of the meeting that you had with Chris Whitty on that Wednesday 11 March.

First of all, only two lines down, we see an entry:

“CMO …”

That’s Chris Whitty, saying this is “going to be a global pandemic”. And then some detail.

Did Chris Whitty give you detail there that you hadn’t previously understood?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Well, firstly, it’s just worth explaining, this meeting was at my request. I’d contacted his office and said, “Look, we know about this pandemic I’d like to meet with you to discuss this”. Second, just to clarify, Mr O’Connor, 2 March was the first time I was aware of COBR, but there had been many COBRs in February, as you’re well aware, and in January, and so this was me asking to meet Chris Whitty and, although I’d read the phrase “global pandemic”, Chris Whitty telling me there’s going to be a global pandemic, you know, was shocking to hear from him, but it’s a first time I’d met with him since we knew about this virus and he was telling me this is going to be a global pandemic.

Lady Hallett: Mr Khan, could you go slower, there is a stenographer –

Mr Sadiq Khan: I do apologise.

Lady Hallett: No, it’s easily done, I understand.

Mr O’Connor: Let’s just scroll down a little, please.


Can you see the paragraph there that says:

“Think actual … number 5-10k; London lead as transport hub and density; no more than 2-3 weeks.”

What was the information that Chris Whitty was giving you there?

Mr Sadiq Khan: So what Mr Whitty, Professor Whitty, was telling us was the numbers of people in London he thought had the virus, the reasons why we were, if you like, ahead of the others, why it was worse in London: because we are a transport hub, airports, Eurostar, et cetera, and our density, you know, the disease can be passed far quicker because we’re a dense city.

I think the reference to no more than two to three weeks is in relation to before things get really bad, because if you see later on he mentions priorities next week, two to three weeks. He was worried, you know, about the virus, about its impact on London. That’s how I received it.

Counsel Inquiry: And just picking up on the point about London, the position in London being ahead of the rest of the country, if we could just go down a few more lines, please. Yes.

If you can see just a little bit above the bottom of the screen there, there’s an entry “Get timing right for London; too early for others but regional approach is too confusing”. That, again, seems to be consistent with the idea that London is ahead of the rest of the country and the measures that were being planned were going to be designed to address the position in London even if it meant they might be a bit early for the rest of the country; is that right?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Without a doubt. Look, it’s difficult to articulate the impact this meeting had on me in relation to hearing this from the CMO. It was quite clear it was coming our way, this virus, and we’d be affected badly, but also the response from him was trying to explain to me the reasons why the other parts of the country weren’t yet affected, because us being the transport hub and so forth, it made sense when he explained it the way he did.

Counsel Inquiry: And in summary, what Professor Whitty was telling you at this meeting was confirming, obviously, also adding much more detail, the consideration, the suspicion that you had had before, which is that London, because of its status as a transport hub and proximity of so many people living together, would be ahead of the rest of the country in the development of the virus?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Absolutely. I think at this stage, Mr O’Connor, we may have had an example where a school had pupils who had the virus and that school may have closed down because of a skiing holiday in Italy. So that was also at the fore of my mind, I was aware that the virus was in London because of the school closure. But it’s clear from what Chris Whitty was saying, the impact on London was going to be huge.

An example of how I received it was that week I decided to cancel the Saint Patrick’s Day event on the Sunday just on the basis of what Chris Whitty had told me about the impact of the virus. This was in advance of me going to the first COBR. I think Saint Patrick’s Day was going to take place, the event in Trafalgar Square, that Sunday.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. Let’s pick up the chronology again, then. So that was the Wednesday 11 March. At the end of that – no, sorry, the next day, in fact, on Thursday 12 March, there was another COBR meeting. We can look briefly at another of these email exchanges.

INQ000118843, please.

Quite a familiar exchange by now, at the top half of the page, an email on that day, early – at lunchtime on 12 March, to Clare Brunton asking if you could attend. Presumably the meeting was in the afternoon. Simply repeating the request, really, and saying:

“… we think it important that he is there representing London.”

And the answer comes back:

“… checked with the team and I’m afraid not.”

You’ve already described your frustration at not having been at the earlier meetings, presumably coming the day after your meeting with Professor Whitty. Perhaps you were even more frustrated at that?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Can I just go back to a point you’ve mentioned about the powers or lack of in relation to NPIs. So the only powers I had was to do things like enhanced cleaning on the Underground, which I did that week cancelling St Patrick’s Day on the Sunday, so that’s me not being properly briefed by everybody but just by the CMO. So, yeah, to say I was frustrated is a fair understatement.

Counsel Inquiry: We then go into the weekend. You’ve mentioned you cancelled the St Patrick’s Day event. There was yet another COBR meeting on Monday 16th. Of course, the Inquiry has heard a lot of evidence about meetings and so on that took place at Downing Street and the Cabinet Office on the Friday, the 13th, and over that weekend, in fact. But then there was another COBR meeting on Monday 16 March, and on this occasion you were invited to attend.

Were you given an explanation at that point as to why you were being invited then but hadn’t been invited previously?

Mr Sadiq Khan: No.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s look, if we may, back at your witness statement where you provide an account of that meeting on Monday 16th. It’s paragraphs 82 and 83 on page 19 of your statement.

We can see then at paragraph 82 you refer to attending that meeting on the Monday the 16th. You refer to it being stated at the meeting that:

“… London was ‘a few weeks’ ahead of the rest of the country.”

Then in the paragraph below, you say that this was a moment you’ll never forget.

Can you expand on all of that for us, please.

Mr Sadiq Khan: I mean, I was told for the first time by the Prime Minister and others how bad things were. I’d been briefed by the CMO the week earlier, but not with the colour that the current meeting presented the challenges in London. When I told – which is, the concentrations of the cases in ICUs in London are really serious. The Prime Minister is using words like “This is the biggest challenge we’re going to face since the Second World War. Draconian measures are going to be needed”. And this is not in any way, you know, sort of delusions of grandeur, but I had been kept in the dark as the elected mayor of London, but also realising there are things we could have done in relation to some of these issues, some we did – St Patrick’s Day, enhanced cleaning on the Underground – others we didn’t do. And I was quite clear – not in any way to sound panic driven, but I was alarmed by what I was being told in relation to where we were and where we may go to. And I will never forget that sort of feeling of lack of power, lack of influence, not knowing what’s happening in our city.

Counsel Inquiry: Now –

Lady Hallett: Sorry, could I just ask what you would have done – I mean, you’d been told on 11 March by the CMO that there was going to be a global pandemic, and it was coming to London, and the impact was going to be huge, but you said you had limited powers. Had you – supposing that message had come from government as opposed to Chris Whitty, who obviously is a government employee, what would you have done differently in those five days?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Some of the things that happened subsequently. So it’s me that lobbied the Prime Minister to go to lockdown. It was me that lobbied the Prime Minister in relation to the inability to keep social distancing on public transport, so people shouldn’t be using public transport unless they had to.

Lady Hallett: So we’re talking about lobbying; we’re not talking about specific actions because your powers are limited.

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s the joy of COBR, my Lady, that you can put your views forward to people with the power, and they can take power. So because COBR is chaired by the Prime Minister, he can act, if you like, as a referee between different points of view between the Cabinet, but take some more representations from somebody at the coalface of London and can respond.

So I’ll give you an example, in relation to some of the lobbying in the absence of power to the Prime Minister that led to action. The lockdown was –

Lady Hallett: Well, I think Mr O’Connor is going to come to that. Sorry, my question may have pre-empted.

Mr Sadiq Khan: The point I was making, my Lady, was had I been at any of the COBRs, I could have pointed out some of the reasons why community transmission was going to accelerate in London. Because I wasn’t present there, those views weren’t aired and weren’t responded to.

Lady Hallett: Thank you.

Mr O’Connor: As my Lady says, Mr Khan, let’s come then to the next period. We know there was a week in fact between that COBR meeting we were just discussing on Monday 16th and the following Monday when the national lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister.

You had a number of exchanges with the Prime Minister during that week. And first of all, I want to ask you about a meeting that took place on the Thursday of that week, Thursday 19th, which you give us some detail about in your witness statement.

If we could go on, please, to paragraph 88 of your witness statement. You say here that you requested a meeting with the Prime Minister, and it would appear that request was granted, and it was on that day, Thursday 19th, that you and your chief of staff David Bellamy, actually went in person to Downing Street and had a meeting with the Prime Minister.

Moving on in your statement, at paragraph 89, please, you describe – if we can go to the rest of the paragraph, please, over the page – drawing on your knowledge of what was happening in other countries, you say:

“Many other countries had introduced some form of lockdown by this point …”

You felt strongly that, in summary, hospitality venues should be closed, and this is something that you said to the Prime Minister at that point; is that right?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It is. But can I explain? We had a massive advantage as a country, which was that the pandemic was happening elsewhere weeks in advance of us, so we could see what was working elsewhere and see what wasn’t working, and it seemed to me that advantage wasn’t being used.

And so we knew from the proactive work we’d done from City Hall what was happening elsewhere. I’d spoken to the leaders of other cities around the world to see what actions they had taken, and we were an outlier.

Counsel Inquiry: The Inquiry has heard that the sort of Number 10 machine, if you like – politicians, civil servants, scientists – had spent much of the weekend before this Thursday locked in meetings, trying to understand the data, discussing which NPIs should be imposed. A series of NPIs had been imposed, had they not, a day or two before this Thursday? And certainly the evidence we’ve heard is that what came to be described as lockdown had been considered and was under consideration during this period.

Is that something you understood at the meeting, or did you think you were raising something that the Prime Minister hadn’t already heard?

Mr Sadiq Khan: No, it was clear that some of these things were – had been surfaced, but the Prime Minister wasn’t persuaded. So I’ll give you an example in relation to my surprise.

The Prime Minister wasn’t aware that in other parts of the world they had lockdowns in place and fines could be issued if you breached the lockdown. I was surprised he wasn’t aware of that in relation to what’s happening elsewhere.

Counsel Inquiry: He said that, did he?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yeah, because my chief of staff gave the example of Milan in relation to the imposition of fines. The Prime Minister wasn’t aware, for example, in France there were some tensions because Parisians were going to other parts of the country, and so it was important to keep people confined to where they were. That was the conversation we were having. And I was surprised at the lack of awareness of some of these things.

Counsel Inquiry: You go on in your statement, Mr Khan, to describe the exchanges at this meeting, and in summary, tell me if I’ve got this right, you and Mr Johnson agreed that there would be a press conference that day, later on, on the Thursday, where you would both appear together and ask hospitality venues to close. And subsequently, you got a message to say that that wasn’t – I mean – sorry, I’ve leapt ahead.

You then left Downing Street to go back to City Hall to prepare for the press conference, but you then got a message to say that there had been second thoughts and that the press conference wasn’t going to go ahead after all. Is that a – I’m going to come – take you to that particular part of your witness statement in a moment, but is that a summary of what was discussed at the meeting?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It is, but it’s just worth explaining. It was quite clear during the meeting that the Prime Minister was hesitant to bring in measures. I made the point to him: “Look, you’re a libertarian. I’m somebody who’s passionate about human rights. If we’re both saying to London we’ve got to have restrictions, that is really powerful. You’re Conservative, I’m Labour, that’s a really powerful thing for both of us to be addressing London.” And that point landed with Dom Cummings and with the Prime Minister, I thought. And he said, “You’re right. Let’s have a press conference together”. And so I left Downing Street to return to City Hall because it was going to be some hours left, the press conference, so I could get my words together and so forth.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s just look, if we may, at paragraph 92 and towards the end of that paragraph, because it’s here that you describe, after you had gone back to City Hall, receiving a call from Dominic Cummings to say that the decision had been made not to go ahead with the press conference.

His explanation for that, partly, was that the matter would be discussed further at COBR the next day, but also this: he was concerned about the impact on the financial markets and thought an announcement on the Friday, as the markets were about to close for the weekend, would be better.

Now, one of the broad themes the Inquiry is addressing is this question of balancing economic considerations against the health benefits of imposing NPIs. That would seem to be a perfectly logical way of balancing those competing considerations, on one view, Mr Khan.

Mr Sadiq Khan: In isolation, yes, but what it does, it avoids the link between lives and livelihoods. The link between the health of individuals and the health of the economy. We know and they knew at the time that community transmission – community transmission means people catch this virus very, very quickly, which inhibits their ability to be good workers, productive workers, and so forth. So I couldn’t disagree with him saying the impact on the markets and so forth. My frustration: a further 24 hours of this virus spreading, what impact would that have on the financial markets, on our productivity and so forth?

Counsel Inquiry: It’s an example of, in this case, the Prime Minister trying to balance the health impacts against the economic impacts of taking these decisions.

Mr Sadiq Khan: We didn’t get a chance to discuss it.

Counsel Inquiry: Well, you’re right. He’d already taken that decision and told you of his decision.

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: We see there a reference to the COBR for the next day. That was Friday 20 March. You attended that COBR meeting as well, did you not?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yes, I did. Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: And it was this COBR meeting, if we look at paragraph 94 of your statement, please, about four lines down you say:

“The PM was not at this COBR meeting, which I found extraordinary given the circumstances.”

Were you – did you ask, were you told, why the Prime Minister was not at that COBR meeting?

Mr Sadiq Khan: I can’t – I can’t remember. It must have been raised but I can’t remember the explanation why he wasn’t there.

Counsel Inquiry: Do you remember having any reaction to whatever explanation you were given?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It surprised me, because one of the huge advantages of the Prime Minister chairing COBR is often, not unreasonably, there will be different points of view, and the Prime Minister, as the boss, can arbitrate on the different points of view. To paraphrase you, he can balance those points of view. And with respect to Michael Gove as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, if there was a difference, it’s quite difficult for him to arbitrate and decide, although, to give Michael Gove credit, he did.

Counsel Inquiry: In any event, you can’t – we may well hear from Mr Johnson, but you can’t remember why it was that –

Mr Sadiq Khan: No.

Counsel Inquiry: – he wasn’t at that meeting.

Later on in this paragraph, you describe a sort of shifting. Initially, a – the meeting being in favour of pushing off the closure of hospitality venues into the weekend but a counterargument being made that it should be that day, at the end of the day, on that Friday.

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: And in the end, that other argument, the Friday argument, prevailing.

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right. And this was to Michael Gove’s credit. He decided to agree with those of us lobbying for Friday night rather than Saturday.

Counsel Inquiry: There’s one more sequence of exchanges between you and the Prime Minister that I want to ask you about in this part of the chronology, and that is a letter you wrote and then a call you had with him on Sunday 22 March.

Let’s look, please, at the letter first.

So that is INQ000118939.

So let’s remind ourselves. As I say, Mr Khan, this was the Sunday just before the lockdown was announced, in fact, the next day.

One gets the impression from your statement you were at home on that day, but you wrote this letter –

Mr Sadiq Khan: Sure.

Counsel Inquiry: – from home.

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: And sent it to him by email, one assumes?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: If we can go down to about the fourth paragraph, please. Yes, sorry, one more paragraph, thank you.

So we can see in the paragraph that starts “I am hearing time and again” your concerns about the measures that had been imposed to date. And at the end of that paragraph, you refer to the fact that – we’ve talked about at some length – that London being a few weeks ahead of the rest of the country and so on.

And it’s in the next paragraph that you make your sort of request or you advocate a particular step for the – that you think the Prime Minister ought to take. You say:

“There needs to be an immediate strengthening of the public health messaging to London. Advice is being seen as something that can be ignored. I do not use the phrase lockdown lightly, but I believe Londoners must be told to stay home unless they are an essentially worker, are buying food, or collecting medication from pharmacists. Alongside this, there must be clear reassurances …”

And so on.

So you are at that point advocating for what became known as a mandatory lockdown.

If we could just go over the page, please, one more paragraph, you say this, at the end of the letter:

“… alternatively, if you insist on continuing with the same course [by inference that means not adopting a mandatory lockdown], I will be left with no choice but to speak directly to Londoners with a tougher message if it means thousands of people’s lives could be saved.”

What do you mean by you are – you’re not threatening him, but you are indicating that if he doesn’t do what you’re to asking him, you will take a different course. What exactly were you proposing there?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Well, in a crisis, it’s really important there’s one message being given to citizens, otherwise that can lead to confusion. My frustration at the lack of clarity from the government’s messaging, “Don’t use public transport but go to work”, “These shops are closed down but you can go out and about and keep town centres busy”, and so forth, was leading to confusion. And the point I was trying to get across is, if it’s the case – and I knew this from the conversation I had with him and Dom Cummings on the Thursday – if it’s the case you yourself for a variety of reasons don’t want to have a stricter message, I will say to Londoners, you know, do certain things to save your lives, which will save livelihoods.

Counsel Inquiry: So as we’ve explored, it wouldn’t have been open to you to order a mandatory lockdown yourself, what you’re describing there is, as it were, departing from the government’s messaging. You would be saying something different to the government, you would be encouraging Londoners to do more, by way of staying at home and so on, than the national government was telling them?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yeah, I have very limited statutory powers in relation to the NPIs, for the reasons you’ve said. It’s about the messaging.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. So that was a letter that was sent by email to the Prime Minister on that Sunday, and it’s right, isn’t it, that you spoke to the Prime Minister on the telephone later that day?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: If we could have on screen, please, INQ000118944.

Now, this is a similar transcript, are you able to help us with who wrote this? It doesn’t say that it was Mr Bellamy that wrote it.

Mr Sadiq Khan: No, this was written by, I think, Ali Picton, who is the director of operations in my office.

Counsel Inquiry: Was he listening in to the call –

Mr Sadiq Khan: She was, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Sorry, she.

Mr Sadiq Khan: I mean, when it goes through a switch you can have more than two people on a call. Number 10 Downing Street has a switch and they connect more than two people on a call.

Counsel Inquiry: So this was a note taken by your official of the call between you and Mr Johnson –

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: – on that day.

We can see then there was a discussion which, as it were, continued the debate from your letter, because we can see in the first line Mr Johnson saying he had seen that letter. One of the things that’s notable about this conversation is Mr Johnson repeatedly stresses his concern about the economic costs of the lockdown, Mr Khan.

If we scroll down a little we see the entry saying – starting:

“BJ: Will talk to team overnight.”

We can see at the end of that entry he is saying:

“But this comes at great economic cost.”

Just scroll down a little further, please.

So the entry starting “It’s better if we can co-ordinate as much as possible”. Again, he goes on to say:

“There is a trade off, we can’t just completely screw up the economy.”

Then still further, down to the next page, please, that first entry at the top of the next page.

Again Mr Johnson is saying:

“We don’t want to cripple the economy.”

I’ll ask you about that in a minute, but more generally, was it your understanding at this stage, on the Sunday, that Mr Johnson still hadn’t decided in his own mind whether to take that step of imposing a mandatory lockdown?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: Then, help us, these repeated references to the economy –

Mr Sadiq Khan: Sure.

Counsel Inquiry: – does that give us a clue as to what Mr Johnson was thinking on that day?

Mr Sadiq Khan: I mean, you’ll see from the contemporaneous records of our meetings that I’d raised the issue of the economy as well. The first time I met with him I raised the issue of my concern about those on a zero hours contract, those in the gig economy. I’d in fact after the first COBR written to the Prime Minister and suggested a sub-COBR dealing with the economy. I was also cognisant of the impact on the economy.

I was also aware by this stage a lot of Londoners had already lost their lives. I think 148 Londoners had lost their lives by this Sunday. And the point I was trying to get across to the Prime Minister was the link, as I’ve said, between lives and livelihoods. And actually had we got a grip of the virus earlier, had an earlier lockdown, in my view, it would have been shorter and have had less of an impact on the economy.

Counsel Inquiry: We’ll come back to this point in the context of the debates later in the year, Mr Khan, but tell us what your understanding was of how the discussion was left at the end of this call. Had Mr Johnson made his mind up, or was he saying that he would reflect further and let you know?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Oh, no, it’s quite clear from – you’ll see the last four interactions that he was considering what – he was considering what I’d said, but he hadn’t been persuaded to the points I was making. But you will see it ends by saying let’s speak again tomorrow.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. Did you in fact speak again the next morning? We know that the next day, at the end of the day, Mr Johnson made his announcement. But did you, the two of you, speak again, or can you not remember?

Mr Sadiq Khan: I suspect by the next morning we’d have known there was a COBR taking place that day, which may be the reason why we didn’t speak.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. In any event, it’s right, isn’t it, that it was the next day, after the COBR, that the announcement was made that the mandatory lockdown was to come into force?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: Let me move on. I’ve got a couple of shortish series of questions to ask you perhaps before we have a break.

Following the imposition of the lockdown, there were concerns, were there not, about the availability and the way in which – the availability of PPE within London and the way in which it was being passed out, allocated to the workers who needed it.

If we look at paragraph 292 of your statement, you address this issue there. It’s on page 64.

Now, as you observed, Mr Khan, this issue will be the subject of another module within the Inquiry, so I’m not going to take you into great detail about PPE, but, as we can see, this was a matter that concerned you in the early months of the first lockdown. Perhaps you can just explain in general terms what you understood to be the problem?

Mr Sadiq Khan: So if I can explain, one of the things I was doing was chairing a London leaders meeting. That was the leaders of councils, who are responsible for a lot of social care. And they were telling me the challenges they had in getting personal protective equipment to their social care workers who were in the frontline looking after people in social care. There was a separate conversation from those in the police service, those in transport, those elsewhere, about what kit they should have, and there was a separate lobbying taking place from those in the healthcare profession about a lack of proper PPE for their members as well.

Your point earlier on about the role of the Mayor, what it means is you get lots of different people coming to me raising concerns, from health workers to council leaders responsible for social care, to those bodies that I’m responsible for, and others. And I was articulating to the Secretary of State the concerns that were being raised to me and asking for a proper response.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

One of the themes that appeared to have been raised and which you referred to there, was a logistical issue, so not so much whether the PPE was available but how it was passed out to those who needed it, and we can see this referred to in fact not in the letter you refer to in that paragraph, but in a slightly later one.

If we can go to, please, INQ000118830.

So this is a letter of 13 April, Mr Khan, though you refer in it to two earlier letters, of 31 March and 8 April.

It’s the first paragraph underneath the heading “PPE”, where you refer to what you describe, it’s a phrase that comes up twice in this paragraph, “inconsistent supply” of PPE. Was that an issue that you were concerned about, it would seem, both in March and as late as 13 April?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Absolutely. Just to be clear, I was hearing stories about care workers, you know, doing DIY PPE because there was no PPE in some of these care homes.

Counsel Inquiry: So is this then an example of you raising these problems that you had heard through that sort of web of –

Mr Sadiq Khan: Absolutely.

Counsel Inquiry: – contacts that you had?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Absolutely.

Counsel Inquiry: Without going into detail, were these problems resolved in your experience or did they carry on?

Mr Sadiq Khan: They carried on for some time. At some stage later on we offered the London Fire Brigade to take responsibility for logistics, so they would be sent a lot of the PPE, be told where it needs to go and the LFB would organise, in Croydon, from where the PPE should go. But that happened some time later though.

Counsel Inquiry: One more topic, it’s related, which is the question of face coverings. Can we look, please, at paragraph 170 of your statement on page 38.

Just to be clear, Mr Khan, in broad terms, when we speak of PPE, we are talking about specialist kit provided to emergency services, healthcare staff and so on. In contrast, this debate that you engage with about face coverings was really focused on people, ordinary people not necessarily at all associated with the emergency services or health staff, whether they should wear, as we will see, in some – many cases, home-made or simple fabric face coverings.

Mr Sadiq Khan: Your question raises a really important point, which is there was an understandable concern about finite PPE. It was being rationed as a consequence. So I deliberately didn’t use the word “face mask” where I could avoid it, because that would conflate a finite rationed resource with something that’s available infinite, which is face coverings which you can make at home and all the rest of it, which in itself, we’ll come to later on I hope, can be really helpful in stopping the virus spreading.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, so there is that distinction and we’re on the right ground. As you say, this is something that you advocated for over some time, was it not, during the pan?

Mr Sadiq Khan: I think the first time I wrote to the government about this was in early April.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, I’m going to take you to that letter in just a moment.

Just the starting point, Mr Khan, you say here at paragraph 170 that:

“In the very early stages of the pandemic, particularly before the first national lockdown … the effectiveness of wearing a face covering as a general public health measure was unclear.”

I just want to ask you whether it was at that stage particularly unclear, because in fact in this paragraph and, in fact, the paragraph that follows, you then recite a series of views or judgements made by individual scientists, scientific bodies, the World Health Organisation, who were all in fact unanimous in the early stages that face masks were not going to be a helpful tool – face coverings were not going to be helpful or useful in the context of this pandemic. That’s right, isn’t it?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s very fair. And this is the point about, as the scientific knowledge evolves, as we discover more, because we’re – because, thankfully, we got the various after others, we can see what’s working elsewhere and then learn from it. And this is a really good example of initially the view being face coverings don’t really make much of a difference, very soon though, across the globe and including in our own very SAGE on 21 April, the evidence of the conclusions changed, yet the decisions taken by our government didn’t.

Counsel Inquiry: Surrounding ourselves on this very early stage, as you recite, there was really, certainly within the UK scientific community, a consensus that they weren’t helpful.

Mr Sadiq Khan: Up until April 20th, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Including – we haven’t touched on STAC, that stands for the London Science and Technical Advice Cell; in summary, is this right, it was your own London sort of version of SAGE?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s a very fair summarily.

Counsel Inquiry: So you in fact asked them about face coverings, having seen what SAGE had said. And they agreed, we can see here, they provided a briefing note suggesting that the disadvantages would outweigh the benefits?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s fair.

Counsel Inquiry: So that at least was the context for the letter that you’ve just mentioned. And let’s look at that, please.

It’s INQ000118829.

I think you said this was the first letter you wrote on this issue, Mr Khan?

Mr Sadiq Khan: I should explain, the Prime Minister was unwell in hospital so Dominic had taken over, and so that’s why I was writing to Dominic Raab rather than the Prime Minister.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. So we will – this is something we’ve already heard evidence about, that by 8 April Dominic Raab was taking the place of the Prime Minister because of his illness.

Now, in the first line of this letter you refer there to the use of non-medical face coverings, and does this pick up on the point you’ve already made, which is that you were wanting to distinguish what we have been describing as face coverings from the sort of PPE-style specialist equipment?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Spot on. The other key word in that first line is “reviews”. To your point, I appreciate the initial view may have been not a sensible use but I’m saying to the government: review that in light of – what I go on to say.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. In fact just to finish off this point, if we could briefly look at the end of this letter on the next page, you – yes, so the paragraph starting “I recognise”, you are there explicitly recognising that there is an issue about reserving specialist equipment for those in the NHS and other services who need it and that you are expressly not talking about competing with them –

Mr Sadiq Khan: Exactly, exactly.

Counsel Inquiry: – for these face coverings.

But then if we can just go back to the first page, please, most of this letter is taken up with you referring to other countries where the practice is different and countries where, in one way or another, face coverings among the general population have been encouraged, some in different settings than others?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right. Our own research had shown, from the Centers for Disease Control in the USA, to the chief medical officer in Canada, to these other mayors from cities we were speaking to, that they were using face coverings to – if you’ve got the virus, it could be asymptomatic, it prevents the droplets spreading to somebody else who may catch it. And also in April read articles in the BMJ and Lancet which were also talking about how useful face coverings can be.

Counsel Inquiry: So if we just scroll down, we can see you refer to the Austrian government, then there are a series of examples taken from the United States, a little bit further down, I think for the last one, Canada?

Lady Hallett: Have I misrecorded, I thought you said that your expert advisory body said on 6 April that the disadvantages outweighed the benefits?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right. So there’s two things happening: one is the evidence given by Professor Paul Plant to the London health assembly; two is the work of STAC, which is the London – call it SAGE for shorthand. In addition you had all this stuff taking place across the globe, so I’m asking the government to review – because they’ve got the advantage of SAGE – STAC is not quite SAGE – so I’m asking the government to review the advice from SAGE based upon all these things that I point to.

Lady Hallett: So is the answer: did I misrecall? I thought you had said the 6 April advice you received from your expert body was the disadvantages –

Mr Sadiq Khan: Outweighed, correct.

Lady Hallett: Have I got it right or wrong?

Mr Sadiq Khan: You’ve got it correct.

Lady Hallett: Right. So had anything changed between 6 April and you’re writing this letter of 8 April, so you had had expert advice, disadvantages outweigh advantages, and then on 8 April you reference what’s happening abroad. Had anything changed in those two days?

Mr Sadiq Khan: The evidence from abroad, which I had managed to get together from our own desktop research, which I’m not sure – I’m not sure STAC had. So I’m saying, “Look, I’ve done this research, can you review your expert advice based upon this research that I’ve gathered?”

Lady Hallett: Thank you.

Mr O’Connor: I’m close to the time. Just a couple of final points to finish off this point, Mr Khan, if I may.

Your witness statement addressing this issue then takes us through the following months where, bit by bit, as you’ve, said the scientific advice changed and, stage by stage, the UK Government changed its advice and then its mandatory – it imposed various mandatory conditions about where face coverings had to be worn, different places, transport networks, and so on.

Just with that in mind, I’d like to take you to look at paragraphs 184 and 185 of your witness statement. On page 41.

184 refers to a letter from Matt Hancock, in fact replying – not replying to the letter we’ve just looked at but one which had been written a few days later, but stating that government expert groups had considered that face masks – rather, had considered the use of face masks, decided there was not sufficient evidence to recommend their use but that they are “currently re-reviewing” the position in the light of the “latest available evidence”.

Then you say this:

“I was disappointed by this response, which I felt gave short shrift to the legitimate concerns I had repeatedly raised on face coverings. Notwithstanding the science” –

Lady Hallett: I think this is going too political, the second part.

Mr O’Connor: Well, can I just ask you a general question, Mr Khan.

We’ve heard a lot in this Inquiry about following the science. Is it fair to say that on this issue of face coverings, the UK government did in fact follow the science, in the sense of repeatedly asking expert bodies to review the position and, when the scientific understanding changed, more or less, changing the guidance, in some cases making mandatory requirements? So in that context, at a high level, were they not, in fact, on one view, acting appropriately?

Mr Sadiq Khan: No, because the SAGE group of experts who met – who concluded face coverings would make a difference concluded that on April 21st. The use of face coverings only on public transport became mandatory some months later, in June. The use of face coverings in shops only became mandatory in late July. The use of face coverings in museums, galleries and so forth only became mandatory in August. Had the government been following this scientific evidence after that SAGE meeting on April 21st, they would have advised people, in fact made it mandatory, to wear face coverings on public transport, shops, museums and galleries from the end of April rather than, eventually, August.

Mr O’Connor: Right, Mr Khan, I’m not going to ask you any more about that issue. My Lady, I wonder if that’s a convenient moment.

Lady Hallett: Certainly. I shall return at 12.05.

(11.50 am)

(A short break)

(12.05 pm)

Lady Hallett: Mr O’Connor.

Mr O’Connor: Mr Khan, I want to move on and ask you some questions about your engagement with, first of all, other mayors within England, and, secondly, with the leaders of the devolved administrations during the pandemic.

So addressing the mayors first, of course we have had a discussion about the sense in which London was a special case in those early weeks and months of the pandemic, the virus being ahead in London compared to other parts of the country. But it’s right, isn’t it, you describe in your witness statement, following the first lockdown, a degree of engagement and discussion between you and the other elected mayors in the country?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It’s true. At the time, there were nine metro mayors across the country, and we meet regularly – we met more regularly during the pandemic – and it’s cross-party. I think there were two Conservative, seven Labour, and it’s a very collegiate fora for us to discuss what’s happening in our respective regions.

Counsel Inquiry: Just let me interrupt you, and let’s look, if we may, at paragraph 48 of your witness statement where you address this issue.

The M9/M10 group of mayors, as you say, the number increased by one during the pandemic. Do we take it, from what you just said, that this was an arrangement that pre-dated the pandemic?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yeah. We used to meet less frequently before the pandemic, and it has become less frequent since the pandemic ended, but during the course of the pandemic, lots of regular meetings, and our staff were on first-name terms because of the good collabs of working.

Counsel Inquiry: And then if we scroll down to the next paragraph of the statement, you then talk about calls with leaders of the devolved administrations.

Was this something that took place between you and individual leaders of the devolved administrations, or was it linked in some way to the M9/M10 meetings?

Mr Sadiq Khan: No, these were separate meetings between me and the respective First Ministers that took place after my invitation to the first COBR. And when Michael Gove took over some of the work when Boris Johnson was in hospital, we’d meet, the First Ministers and myself, with Michael Gove and others.

Counsel Inquiry: What were the themes of the discussions, both between you and the other mayors, and separately with your discussions with the leaders of the devolved administrations?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It was sharing our experiences in our respective areas. What was working, what wasn’t working, some of the papers that have been presented at COBR, our responses to those, those sort of conversations. Sometimes with the CDL, Michael Gove present; other times, us meeting separately.

Counsel Inquiry: There is one example that you give later on in your witness statement. It’s paragraph 236 on page 51. So this is an example of a call with First Ministers of the devolved nations in May, and you record there everyone apparently expressing concern that the government wasn’t engaging sufficiently, a feeling there had been a co-ordinated and a deliberate shift in the government’s approach.

Can you just expand on that. What sort of shift, and shift in what direction?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yeah, I think the last COBR had happened on 10 May, and there was a concern about the mixed messages on the one hand, ostensibly return to work on the other hand, don’t use public transport. And there was a concern that there were these mixed messages about speaking to us and our experiences on the coalface. I’d argue Nicola Sturgeon or Mark Drakeford or Arlene Foster knows a lot more what’s happening in their respective regions than a civil servant in Whitehall or DFT, and that was the frustration that they were sharing with me. That was my frustration in London as well.

Counsel Inquiry: We have seen evidence that at around this time, and then as 2020 progressed, Mark Drakeford and others, he in particular, was writing letters asking for more COBR meetings. Is this part of that same dialogue?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Correct. I mean, from memory, the last COBR I attended was 10 May. I’m not aware if there were other COBRs with the First Ministers and without me. But it goes to my point earlier on, Mr O’Connor, about the usefulness of COBR in relation to that place where you can all come together, discuss these things. And there’s a huge strength, by the way, of being cross-party because you take away the single message, and you’ve agreed it after discussion. Those weren’t happening.

Counsel Inquiry: We’ve heard evidence from others, Mr Khan, that notwithstanding those benefits of COBR, the view was taken that it was just a – it was a – COBR is best utilised as a short-term measure and that it wasn’t an appropriate sort of forum to co-ordinate long-term pandemic management. What’s your view about that?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Whether it’s held in COBR or elsewhere, you can’t beat colleagues working together collegiately. It needs to be one where the Prime Minister is there because there’s the gravitas of being the Prime Minister – he can pull a lever and things will happen – but have everyone around the table. And there was an absence of these meetings between 10 May until September, by which stage things had got really bad. I was then invited to the September ones. In my view, had there been better processes, that would have led to better decision-making. In my view, poor process leads to poor judgement leads to poor decision-making, and that’s what we saw here.

Counsel Inquiry: I’m going to move on, Mr Khan, and just ask you a few questions on the subject of inequalities. There will be others who will ask you more detailed questions about – on that issue shortly.

You have already mentioned, in the course of your oral evidence, that one of the sort of – one of the group of duties, responsibilities, that you have as mayor is a duty to consider structural health inequalities and to prepare a strategy to address those inequalities; is that right?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: We know that, from a very early stage of the pandemic, it became apparent that the virus was having an unequal effect, and in particular on ethnic groups within London, that they had a more severe, pronounced effect on them.

Is that something that you became aware of at an early stage?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It was, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: How did you become aware of it?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It was clear from a number of metrics. One is, if you see the photographs of the first ten doctors who lost their lives, I think what strikes you is they’re all people of colour. We – for example, in relation to transport workers, I’m afraid in London we lost 105 transport workers. They lost their lives. I would write to every transport worker whose details I had, their bereaved families, and I noticed the names I was writing were all ethnic minority names. We knew from the conversations with health workers, social care workers, from transport workers, the issue of disproportionality. The phrase I used at the time is: we all might be facing the same storm, but people are in different sized boats.

Counsel Inquiry: Can I just ask you to look at a particular document in this respect, Mr Khan, and that is INQ000118888.

Now, we mentioned the group – did you call it STAC, or S-T-A-C – your version of SAGE in any event. And this is a report that appears to have been prepared by that body dealing with health inequalities. And it’s a relatively early document, in terms of the pandemic. It’s 22 April.

Did you commission this document, or did someone else ask them to do this work?

Mr Sadiq Khan: No, I’d have asked them to look into this.

Counsel Inquiry: It’s drafted, I think we see at the end of the document, by Professor Kevin Fenton. Yes, if we look, perhaps, at page 6.

He was the chair of STAC, was he?

Mr Sadiq Khan: If I explain, Kevin took over from Paul Plant. So if you remember the name you gave to me before, Professor Paul Plant, Professor Kevin Fenton took over from Professor Paul Plant, so Kevin became my statutory health adviser.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. I’m not going to take you all through this report; it’s relatively detailed, Mr Khan. But would it be a fair summary to say that at this early stage it was flagging up the obvious signs of unequal impact and advocating more research, more data, more understanding of the problem?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Absolutely.

Counsel Inquiry: We know that it was Professor Fenton who went on to prepare sort of PHE inequality reports later in the year. Did you have any involvement in those?

Mr Sadiq Khan: I spoke to Kevin almost daily, so I can’t say what direct involvement I had in the paper, but yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Let me move on, Mr Khan, and ask you questions about events later in 2020. For these purposes, if we can start with paragraph 123 of your statement, on page 28. You’ve described there attending in September of 2020 a summit meeting. It’s described as a London Covid-19 summit meeting, with representatives of the UK Government. We see Matt Hancock; I think he was at that stage Sir Edward Lister, who was the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, and, on your side, London’s political leadership.

As you say, a meeting that had been requested by the government to agree the escalation process for London in response to any further outbreaks.

I’m going to take you to a slide in a moment, just so we can see in a bit more detail what was being discussed, but can you just introduce it for us and tell us what this meeting was all about.

Mr Sadiq Khan: This was an example of an excellent initiative from the government. The government saying, let’s work together in relation to a process where central government, regional government, local government, can work towards how we decide to escalate the process, and I’d hope de-escalate it as well, and that builds confidence and engenders confidence, but also, very importantly, it means the centre knows what’s happening at the coalface, so, you know, that’s describing what this meeting was, and I think it was an excellent initiative.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s look, then, if we can, at INQ000118968.

We start off on the first page. If we go over to page 3, please, we can see the date.

These were a series of slides that were used at that meeting, Mr Khan; is that right?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yes, it’s basically agreeing the metrics by which we decide to, you know, go up or down.

Counsel Inquiry: Then if we go over to page 4, I absolutely am not going it invite us to go into all the detail of this, Mr Khan, but perhaps the diagram tells a fairly simple story. The phrase that was used was “escalation”, and does this demonstrate that the detailed thinking that was being done about how a process should take place from a consideration of enhanced measures in a particular area, how the debate would take place, starting at the bottom and ending with a decision made by the Prime Minister?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yeah, that’s right.

Counsel Inquiry: I wanted to come to your views on this process, which you’ve described in your witness statement as being very good, but this was a meeting requested by the government, and as you’ve said, you regarded it as being a very helpful initiative.

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yeah, we did a lot of this work in advance of the meeting, but it really was a good example of them recognising London is different to other parts of the country maybe, but also you need to have partnership between the centre, regional and local.

Counsel Inquiry: Just to be clear, this was something that was agreed prior to the introduction of the so-called tiers system –

Mr Sadiq Khan: Right.

Counsel Inquiry: – which came in October?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Was there discussion of a possible tier system at that stage, or was this taking place, as it were, completely independently of that plan that was to follow?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It was – it was independent. The tiering came later on, I think in October-ish, from memory.

Counsel Inquiry: Do you know – we can obviously ask others; we have other witnesses today – but do you know whether similar discussions were being held around the country or not?

Mr Sadiq Khan: I’m not sure if they were, but I would have shared this with the metro mayors when it came to our meetings because we did tend to share best practice, so I’ve just said it’s (unclear) initiative, so I’d have said – I’m sure I’d have shared with the metro mayors this initiative.

Counsel Inquiry: So that was the plan for escalation, and, as we’ve said, the meeting was on 11 September. In fact, as you also describe in your statement and as we will come to see, really quite shortly after that, I think we’ll look at a letter dated 18 September, you were writing to Boris Johnson advocating in fact just what this plan anticipated, which is increased measures in London, were you not?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right. This is in advance of any tiering system, but yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s look at the letter of 18 September.

It’s INQ000118973.

A letter from you to the Prime Minister, Mr Khan. Picking it up about four paragraphs down, please, you say:

“It is increasingly likely that additional measures will soon be required to slow the spread of the virus …”

You were of the firm view:

“… we should not wait for this virus to again spiral out of control before taking action and the best thing for both public health and the economy is new restrictions imposed early, rather than a full lockdown when it’s too late.

“London was too late into lockdown in March.”

You say:

“This decision cost lives … We simply cannot afford to be slow to respond again.”

Before I ask you to expand on those views, Mr Khan, the Inquiry has heard a lot of evidence from government officials and also from scientists on SAGE and SPI-M and so on who were analysing the position at that stage and reaching their own views on, as it became known, a circuit breaker at around this time.

Did you have access to your own independent scientific views which led to this advocacy of a lockdown or not?

Mr Sadiq Khan: No. Our information is from – the information we had from the partners we’ve got across London, they could be because we’re seeing more admissions in hospital, more use of ICUs in the hospitals. It could be in relation to prevalence. There was problem with a lack of testing, so we were using other metrics to assess how good or bad things were. We were also aware of the some of the measures used in other parts of the country because of concerns they had.

Counsel Inquiry: All of those things would have been available to the Prime Minister, to SAGE, to the Cabinet?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yeah, yeah. All of it is all open source data. At most the advice from Professor Kevin Fenton, which again was accessible to the government as well.

Counsel Inquiry: There was, as we can probably recall and we can certainly see in the evidence, a debate that was raging at this time as to whether a circuit breaker should be imposed. You were expressing your view but not putting before the Prime Minister any new evidence –

Mr Sadiq Khan: No.

Counsel Inquiry: – on the subject.

Mr Sadiq Khan: No. No.

Counsel Inquiry: We mentioned the tiers a moment ago, and it was in October that the tiering system was introduced.

As I imagine we’ll hear later on today, that was the subject of some controversy amongst other mayoral regions, particularly in the northwest. It’s apparent from your statement that, in fact, there wasn’t the same degree of dispute about the tiering system in London; is that right?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Because colleagues in the northwest went into a higher tier, so hospitality was seriously affected and there was a lack of financial support, there wasn’t that tension in London because we’d not got to there.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, exactly, so when the tiers were introduced, you were initially in Tier 1.

Mr Sadiq Khan: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: And you actually asked to go up to Tier 2. Was that by means of the escalation process that we were just looking at?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Correct, because the metrics we had, the data we had, was showing us things were getting worse. We were saying, look, let’s go into Tier 2 to avoid a leapfrog from Tier 1 to lockdown because that will hopefully address some of the concerns we have. That’s a good example of partnership working.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, and as you say, that debate was taking place, as we now know, in the run-up to what became the second lockdown.

Mr Sadiq Khan: Yeah. Just to complete the story, in advance of the second lockdown in November, I had lobbied the Prime Minister for a circuit breaker. I’d seen the SAGE advice but also half term at the end of October was an opportunity for that circuit breaker. The government didn’t listen to my lobbying. Subsequently, in November, went into lockdown.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, and you describe in your statement your reaction when that lockdown was finally announced – frustration – but also you make the point about the degree of warning that you received about that decision.

Mr Sadiq Khan: Here’s the point, Mr O’Connor. Before lockdown 1, we knew what was happening around the world. We delayed and we dithered. Lockdown 2 may not have even been needed had the government taken the advice from SAGE, for example, for a circuit breaker, the lobbying from people like me. So another example of delay necessitating a second lockdown. And that’s relevant to your point about crippling our economy. Had action been taken sooner, I argued there would not need to be a lockdown maybe and means less damage to the economy.

Mr O’Connor: Mr Khan, thank you very much. Those are all my questions. There will now be some questions from others.

The Witness: Sure.

Lady Hallett: Ms Campbell.

Questions From Ms Campbell KC

Ms Campbell: Mr Khan, the questions I ask are on behalf of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Northern Ireland and, in fact, the UK families as well.

I have been granted permission to ask you questions on two topics. The first is the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on certain sectors of our society, and as was alluded earlier, there are additional questions on that.

You said in your witness statement, in fact on a number of occasions, that it became clear as the pandemic progressed that the crisis had not only exposed but really increased deep-seated inequalities in London and across the country and that it became clear also that it had disproportionately impacted on our black and minority ethnic communities, those on the lowest incomes, Londoners in particular living in the most deprived areas for whom perhaps overcrowding and poverty may be an issue.

And you called this evidence of structural racism at a relatively early stage. Would you agree?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s what I said, yeah.

Ms Campbell KC: Now, you also called for a new social contract that advances the twin causes where we see racial and economic inequality, and you’ve told us something about that today. But one of the issues that you identified early on was that ethnicity was not being recorded on death certificates, particularly in – obviously in hospitals and that the disproportionate impact of Covid on our black and minority ethnic communities therefore was not being properly understood and properly recorded.

I wonder if we can look at a document, please.

It’s INQ000118895.

This is a letter that you wrote to Matt Hancock on 7 May 2020, urging him to take action to introduce routine ethnic data collection within death registrations in England.

Could we focus in, please, on the top two paragraphs, or perhaps top three paragraphs. We can see the date being 7 May 2020. You write to seek the government’s urgent action to introduce routine ethnic data collection within death registrations in England, and you set out why that is, that evidence is emerging of how black, Asian and minority ethnic communities may be disproportionately affected by Covid-19, including sadly by deaths complicated by this deadly virus. And in the third paragraph, your concerns were that:

“… lack of ethnic data recording in death registrations is holding us back from getting a full picture …”

It would seem, and correct me if I’m wrong, that you received no immediate reply to that letter; is that right?

Mr Sadiq Khan: I didn’t. A couple of weeks later, I then wrote to the Home Secretary because of my concerns about the lack of response, but it appeared to me the government didn’t really understand the issues that I was talking about. You mentioned the phrase “structural inequalities”, “structural racism”. They can be for direct reasons or indirect reasons. It goes to the point I made to Mr O’Connor about the advantage of the politicians, the decision-makers and COBR having their own experiences. It’s not a criticism; it’s an observation. Very few Cabinet members around there probably represent a diverse community, understand overcrowded accommodation can lead to the virus spreading, more so in London, inter-generational households, often people living with grandad, grandfather, parents. But also, to get around London, you’ve got to use the buses and Tubes. And also, you know that people of black, Asian and minority ethnic background have other illnesses which means if they get the virus, the consequences are more serious.

I didn’t realise, if I’m honest, until the pandemic that we didn’t record ethnicity when it came to death certificates. So we’re asking a basic question: what percentage of those who have died who had Covid are black Caribbean or black African or Pakistani heritage or Bangladeshi heritage? I couldn’t be told because it wasn’t recorded.

Ms Campbell KC: It’s right, in fact, you did write to the Home Secretary on 26 May, and we have that letter disclosed to us. It wasn’t, in fact, until 22 October 2020, so five months after you raised this in correspondence, that the government eventually announced that it would be mandating the recording of ethnicity on death certificates. Did you consider in general terms that the government were proactive in trying to understand or to identify and address the disproportionate impact of Covid on our BAME communities?

Mr Sadiq Khan: No. If you read the letter from the junior minister to me, I was given short shrift. There was no understanding of why it’s important but also no action. And, by the way, still to this date, the ethnicity of people is not recorded on the death certificate. It is in Scotland, by the way. Not in England or Wales –

Ms Campbell KC: Thank you.

Mr Sadiq Khan: – or Northern Ireland.

Ms Campbell KC: Yes. And moving then to Northern Ireland, I want to ask you, please, about the issue of communication and what you have identified as an absence of engagement by central government with regional and local leaders on decision-making.

You raise this as a concern in your statement, and you give an example in your witness statement that on 10 May 2020, you attended a COBR meeting and that one of the First Ministers there present urged the government to engage in meaningful conversation, saying that leaders should not be reading each other’s position in newspapers.

Was that a concern that you shared in May 2020?

Mr Sadiq Khan: It was. It was a concern I shared in March as well. If you recall, one of the reasons why after my first COBR I asked to meet Boris Johnson was because of things I was seeing in the newspaper about what the governmental was considering. It was a common theme in relation to – at various stages through the pandemic, us discovering stuff in the media. And the conversations I had with, you know, Nicola, Mark, and Arlene, and Michelle was us sharing our frustration sometimes about stuff being said in the newspapers that we either hadn’t agreed upon or hadn’t said.

Ms Campbell KC: How did that realising what was happening from newspaper reports impact on your ability to deliver important public health messages and to co-ordinate the pandemic response in London?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Well, by and large, I think the First Ministers, the metro mayors, work really closely together with government. We can be trusted allies. And this is the frustrating thing. If the government under different Prime Ministers can trust me on issues to do with terrorism, counterterrorism and other issues, you’d think they’d be able to trust us when it comes to issues to do with a civil emergency, a crisis like the pandemic.

I think there was bad faith on the part of some members of the government, without getting party political, and they projected that on us, whether it’s First Ministers or Mayors, which I think is unfair.

Ms Campbell KC: Perhaps we could look a little bit more closely at one example of something that you learned from a newspaper report, and it’s in the summer of 2020 when you learned of a major – of a government exercise to deal with what may be a major resurgence in cases within London and the suggestion that the M25 would be used as a quarantine ring. There we are. Thank you. The date of this letter is 3 August 2020, which, as it happens, is a Monday. You say:

“Dear Prime Minister

“It is with great surprise that we read in the Sunday papers that [the] Government held a critical exercise last week in which a major resurgence in Covid-19 infections in London was a central scenario. According to media reports, the plans included using the M25 as a quarantine ring …”

You go on that your:

“… surprise is that such far-reaching contingency plans have been discussed and tested without the involvement or awareness of London’s government. This is clearly totally unacceptable and an affront to London and Londoners.”

Can we scroll down the page, please.

You observe just in the second paragraph from the bottom of the screen it is 12 weeks since you as mayor were:

“… last invited to COBR on behalf of London and its nine million citizens. [And the] decisions continue to be taken without consultation with those who run and understand the country’s biggest city.”

Can we go, please, to the next page to see, I hope, that this is a letter that is co-signed by you, if we can just scroll down, but also by Councillor Peter John OBE, who is the chair of London Councils, of which you have told us there were or there are 32; is that right?

Now, you learned about this in a newspaper on, presumably, Sunday 12 or 2 August 2020; is that right?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That’s right. Can I just explain? It goes back to your previous question about being the voice of London, which is these are 32 boroughs of three different political parties plus the City of London Corporation, which is apolitical. One of my jobs is to hold us all together. Some are outer London, some are inner London, some are central London, and you do that by engendering confidence because we’re a trusted ally of the government. And it makes working relationships really difficult when we’re discovering stuff as trusted allies in newspapers.

Ms Campbell KC: Well, this was a little bit more than even just stuff. This was a plan to deal with a major resurgence in London without incorporating your view, or indeed those of the 32 London Councils.

In practical terms, what was the impact of your exclusion from contingency planning such as this?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Well, in my view, us not being trusted meant that we couldn’t give the advice from the coalface that may have made a difference. We now know that the entire country went into lockdown in November. I think that could have been averted, had we been involved earlier, but more importantly, more important than that, I think lives may not have been lost. It upsets me when I think that more than 20,000 Londoners lost their lives because of this pandemic. It breaks my heart 105 transport workers lost their lives because of this pandemic. I genuinely think fewer lives may have been lost had there been a more collegiate response from the government. Poor process, poor judgement, poor decision-making.

Ms Campbell KC: It may well be that that answers my final question, because it wasn’t until 1 October, some two months later, that you received a response to this letter. A response came from Mr Hancock in which he acknowledged that effective local management of any outbreak was critical.

Did you – having received that response on 1 October, and of course we know that’s before the second lockdown, did you consider that the response adequately engaged with or addressed the concerns that you had raised?

Mr Sadiq Khan: No. I think if I answer by saying this: the last COBR the directly elected Mayor of London attended was in May. I think that says it all.

Ms Campbell: Thank you.

Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Ms Campbell.

Mr Thomas.

Questions From Professor Thomas KC

Professor Thomas: Good afternoon, Mayor Khan. Just so you know who I am, I’m representing FEMHO, the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations.

I’ve got two questions for you. My first is this: mayor Khan, recognising the challenges posed by the evolving nature of this pandemic, FEMHO is keen to understand the timeline of responses, okay? But they acknowledge the complexity of the situation and the circumstances, so let me put my first question to you.

Firstly, in your evidence, in your statement, you refer to a thematic lack of communication between yourself and government during the essential early stages, and you state that you have no doubt that lives were lost as a result.

So, question: what impact do you think this had on, in the context of black, Asian, minority ethnic health inequalities, and what could have been done differently from your end in the context of black, Asian, minority ethnic health inequalities? Had there been clearer and earlier communications?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Well, firstly, because we still don’t record ethnicity on death certificates, I would argue we’re not fully seized of the impact on black, Asian, minority ethnic people across the country.

Directly in relation to health workers, I heard stories about Londoners who are Filipinos who thought they had to work in the wards without PPE because their visa may be taken away if they didn’t do so. These are Londoners, by the way, who happen to be Filipinos on work permits. Query, is that properly recorded when it comes to a death certificate and other metrics as well?

In relation to Transport for London, for which I am responsible, I asked UCL to do some work straightaway in March/April about the impact on our workers and they reached a number of conclusions which we acted upon. Our buses were made much more safe because we were cognisant of the impacts on our workers, particularly because a big proportion of our transport workers are black, Asian, minority ethnic, by the way. So are social care workers, so are health workers. So a perspex screen, people using the middle door rather than the front door, ventilation on our buses and so forth. That’s what I had responsibility for. I can’t answer for social care, healthcare, retail, where others had responsibility.

I do know this, though: I was reminded over the weekend in preparation for today. Mr O’Connor referred to my meeting with Boris Johnson in between 16 March and 20 March. And the minutes of that meeting show I refer to ZHC, zero hours contract, gig economy. Both those have higher than normal representation from black, Asian and minority ethnics. An example of indirectly not seeing the consequences of a lack of financial support for those people. If you can only put food on the table and a roof over your head by working, by going to work, what are you going to choose to do? No financial support given to you because no support for zero hours contract, no support for the gig economy. Those self-employed, by the way, for the first few months only got statutory sick pay. Disproportionately, those people tend to be black, Asian, minority ethnics.

Professor Thomas KC: Let me move on to my final question, and again I just want to put this in context. Given your prior knowledge in relation to the health inequalities, including your statutory responsibility to publish the health inequality strategy, the fact you say in your statement that you were aware of and drawn attention to negative health outcomes because of the pandemic, as well as increasing information that was coming through at the early stages of the pandemic, such as by late January there was concern about the virus building and a considerable amount of work being done looking at the emergency risk. We can also agree that in your statement you say between February and March 2020 members of your team were meeting the London Resilience Forum and Public Health England representatives almost on a daily basis. By 2 March 2020, the strategic co-ordination group was established. We know that. And by 11 March 2020, you were told by the Chief Medical Officer that there was going to be a global pandemic. The first proactive step you took in addressing the issue of minority Asian health inequalities was in May. I think that was 7 May.

My question is: difficult situation. There’s not good communication between the government and your office. Can you just help because my members would like to know: what more could and should have been done?

Mr Sadiq Khan: Well, first to paint the picture, it’s worth just stating what did happen to give you the picture in advance of that.

So in advance of the meeting with Chris Whitty, we’d organised for enhanced cleaning on public transport. Important for commuters but also workers as well.

Professor Thomas KC: Yes.

Mr Sadiq Khan: As I said, disproportionate number of black, Asian and minority ethnic. In advance of me going to the first COBR, we cancelled St Patrick’s Day. Big, big, big Londoners – big London community with Irish descent, and as they go to St Patrick’s Day as was really important.

One of the things I raised with the Prime Minister when I met him in between first COBR and second COBR that I went to was the importance of financial support. In fact, after my first COBR on 16 March, I wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting certain things he could do which would address the issue, the core of what it’s saying, and that’s financial support.

I’m not sure – I’m not sure if the decision-makers understood the indirect impact of lack of financial support, of a city like London which is 40% black, Asian and minority ethnic, how we get around. Issues around housing. I’m not sure if the government understood. If you catch the virus because you go to work in a shop, that’s bad enough, but you will go home and – you will go home and give it to mum and dad who live with you and a child who may have asthma. I’m not sure if the government understood that early doors. Issues about overcrowding, they didn’t – really understood. Issues around: actually, you may not be articulate to advocate for PPE, as somebody who is working class, black, who is a porter, somebody who is a Filipino nurse working in the NHS, a bus driver. And so it’s really, really challenging. I’m not sure if the government got that.

We worked really closely, though, to reassure with trade unions who were fantastic from Unite doing bus drivers, RMT, ASLEF, TSSA on the Underground and others that I was responsible for. Other trade unions were being proactive in relation to their members, hospitals, social care. You have been – it’s been pointed out by Mr O’Connor, me lobbying for personal protective equipment. That was the lobbying coming from council leaders as well. It goes back to the point that Mr O’Connor and I began with, which is that as imperfect as it is, the advantage of COBR is those experiences people have around the table with the politicians which adds to the conclusion the Prime Minister makes when it comes to making decisions.

I saw the value I added in Grenfell. I saw the value I added as Mayor of London with the terror attacks in 2017. I saw the value I added as Mayor of London when it came to making sure Her Majesty’s funeral was successful. I wasn’t there. I was absent in February and half of March. One of the things I reflect upon is the difference we could have made had we been trusted earlier to be part of that process.

Professor Thomas KC: Well, it comes to this, does it not: lives – more lives could have been saved, surely?

Mr Sadiq Khan: That was the conclusion of the UCL report when it came to our bus drivers. And it upsets me as the chair of TfL. It upsets me bearing in mind who my dad was, that the conclusion of UCL was that, actually, had we gone into lockdown sooner, there would have been less social transmission, less community transmission. Had we brought in the changes we brought in in our bus garages, in our depots, in our buses, in our Tube stations, fewer people would have lost their lives. Had we brought in the lockdown sooner, there could have been social distancing, less transmission of the disease. Had face coverings been brought in sooner, those with the illness asymptomatic may not have been passing it on. Without a doubt, the premise of your question is right: had action been taken sooner, less lives would have been lost.

Professor Thomas KC: And forgive me for putting this, on behalf of those who I represent, it would have had – it would have been less impact on healthcare and hospitals.

Mr Sadiq Khan: But also our economy. And also our economy. I mean, so this point about the impact on our economy, there seemed to have been a lack of understanding about the inextricable link between lives and livelihoods –

Lady Hallett: I think you’ve made that point, with respect, Mr Khan.

Professor Thomas: My Lady, that’s all I ask.

Thank you very much.

The Witness: Thank you.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much indeed for your help, Mr Khan.

The Witness: Thank you.

Lady Hallett: You’re now free to go, thank you.

The Witness: Thank you.

(The witness withdrew)

Mr O’Connor: My Lady, we’re going to move straight to our next witness, who is Mr Burnham.

Lady Hallett: Thank you.

Mr Keating: Yes, thank you.

Mr Andrew Burnham


Questions From Counsel to the Inquiry

Lady Hallett: Sorry if we’ve kept you waiting, Mr Burnham.

The Witness: No problem.

Mr Keating: Thank you. For the record, could you give us your full name, please.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Andrew Murray Burnham.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Burnham, thank you very much for attending today. Thank you for assisting the Inquiry by providing your statement which we have seen and which is before us. And you’ve had the opportunity to read that statement today, haven’t you?

Mr Andrew Burnham: I have.

Counsel Inquiry: And you can confirm that that statement is true to the best of your knowledge and belief?

Mr Andrew Burnham: I can.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

I’m just going to briefly turn to your professional background, if I may. You have a long political career. You were a Member of Parliament for Leigh for under 16 years between 2001 and 2017; is that correct?

Mr Andrew Burnham: It is.

Counsel Inquiry: And you held a number of ministerial roles in government during that period, including but not limited to: you were Minister of State for Health in 2006 to 2007. You were Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 2007 to 2008, and you held two Cabinet roles between 2008 and 2010, first as Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, and then perhaps more relevant for our purposes, you were Secretary of State for Health from 5 June 2009 to 11 May 2010.

We will come back to it in due course, but it’s relevant because during that time you were Secretary of State during the swine flu pandemic.

Mr Andrew Burnham: I walked into the Department of Health in early June 2009, and three days later a global pandemic was declared. And I’ve always said to the former Secretary of State, Alan Johnson, who walked out of the door in the other direction, that he was a master of political timing always, and I think that demonstrates it.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s see if we can master timings today in relation to your evidence, and we will touch upon perhaps after lunch and adjournment the position and your observations between the pandemic swine flu and more recently in relation to the Covid pandemic.

After you left government, as your party was out of government, you held a number of positions in opposition as the Shadow Secretary of State in relation to education, health, and in fact you were Shadow Home Secretary as well.

Mr Andrew Burnham: I was.

Counsel Inquiry: And it’s, of course, a matter of public record, you were elected as Mayor of Greater Manchester in 2017.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And you’re currently in your second term of that –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – position.

I want to briefly just set out how the Mayor of Greater Manchester fits in, in terms of structure-wise, and perhaps try and do it simply if I can.

Is this a fair summary: there’s the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. That’s the upper tier of local government where there’s – sitting above but alongside the ten metropolitan borough councils within Greater Manchester.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority, or the GMCA, is the ten councils, unlike the GLA, which is a separate body above local government.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Andrew Burnham: The ten councils come together to create the GMCA, so we very much sit alongside them. I’m one of 11, you could say, but maybe the captain of that 11.

Counsel Inquiry: And it covers a population of Greater Manchester which is 2.8 million approximately.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And as in your – you chair the GMCA, as you describe, and your role is to steer the work of the Authority leading on issues such as the economy, transport in particular, and police and fire services.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes. I am the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester.

Counsel Inquiry: And you don’t have, or the Mayor does not have a public health function?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Not directly, no, although we have a very extensive devolution agreement, and the things that I am responsible for, like housing and other things, do impact directly on health and public health.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. When one compares your role as Mayor of Greater Manchester and the Authority with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority which we just heard about, there is a difference, isn’t there?

Mr Andrew Burnham: There is.

Counsel Inquiry: A difference in perhaps just –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: A difference in relation to the Civil Contingencies Act.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes. The GLA and the Mayor, I understand, are designated as a Category 1 responder in the Civil Contingencies Act. That’s not the case for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority or indeed any of the other combined authorities across England.

Counsel Inquiry: And pausing there. A Category 1 responder is someone who has a duty under the Civil Contingencies Act to plan, prepare, train and respond to an emergency.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes. We played that role in the Covid pandemic at a Greater Manchester level, so I convened a Covid emergency committee to sit above, if you like, the local resilience forum so that we were working in a highly joined-up way across the whole of our city region. But formally, we do not have that designation in the Civil Contingencies Act, and it would be helpful if we did.

Counsel Inquiry: That’s something which we’ll return to at the end, in terms of a lessons learned or things to improve going forward.

You touched upon the London – forgive me – the local resilience forum or fora. That’s a forum in a region or an area where a number of Category 1 responders come together to respond to an emergency or plan for emergency.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes, and the Greater Manchester Resilience Forum played a huge role in steering us through our response to Covid.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Let’s move on to the next topic, which is the early days and awareness of Covid leading up to the first lockdown. And in relation to that, I can perhaps summarise your evidence, if I may. You can tell me if I’m on the right or wrong track.

You say in your statement that you first became aware of Covid through media reports, and your first real engagement was through the local Chinese community in Manchester, and there is a strong Chinese community in Manchester; is that correct?

Mr Andrew Burnham: That is correct. Manchester, as a city, had a long-standing twinning arrangement with Wuhan, so some of the familial connections that our Chinese community had were with that area. So I attended two community meetings in January, and I think one going into early February, when, you know, the community was in a very high state of alarm and was asking for my help to get PPE through Manchester airport, donations sent over. So I really became very aware of just how serious the situation was in China in that period of time.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. And it was an outward looking view, concern for those people in China through that Wuhan lens. You did mention in your statement, again summarising if I may, that there was a first roundtable meeting on 18 February regarding Covid in Manchester, but really was only until 1 March that the strategic co-ordinating group, the SCG, we’ve heard about those already this morning, was set up by the resilience forum, the local resilience forum; is that correct?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yeah. Yes, that’s right, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: That was in response to the first Covid case in Greater Manchester.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Thereafter, you describe that in – it was really only around 13 March that your perception of the seriousness of the threat of Covid changed. Was that the position?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Well, it was changing all the way through that period. As I said earlier, as someone who had experienced a pandemic in 2009 as Secretary of State, I obviously had an understanding of how the situation might develop, so I was watching it carefully. I was following statements from the World Health Organisation. So I could see the picture changing, and so our understanding was building. And Greater Manchester in that period was starting to develop the arrangements that we would need or we felt we needed. The degree of co-ordination that we would need to pull together was building –

Counsel Inquiry: In relation to that, if I may, just to assist, is in setting up those arrangements, you mention that it was around 18 March that you, together with the leader of the local councils, established the Greater Manchester Covid-19 committee –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – on 18th. You mentioned that a few moments ago.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: On 20 March, the SCG declared a major incident.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: The position really was that it was in March where Manchester started to really move into a response phase; is that correct?

Mr Andrew Burnham: I think that would be fair. I mean, clearly, we’d taken some steps in February to co-ordinate, and we were building our response, but you’re right, the response phase began more formally in March. And obviously, the establishment of a Covid emergency committee, which was myself, the ten leaders, the ten directors of public health, senior players in the Greater Manchester system, the chief constable, chief fire officer, you know, that wasn’t something we were required to do, but as a mature administration across the city region, it’s something we decided to do ourselves, to make sure we were as highly co-ordinated as we could be. So –

Counsel Inquiry: Could I just ask you a question in relation to that?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: We described how Manchester was responding and putting in those structures in March. Was that something which was brought about regionally, self-created, or was that something under direction from central government?

Mr Andrew Burnham: No, there were some things obviously that are required in statute, but the Greater Manchester Covid emergency committee was a voluntary initiative on our part to make sure, as I said, that the political leadership of the city region was very much knitted in to the administrative leadership of the city region and, as I said, that we were as connected and joined up as possible.

Counsel Inquiry: Looking back now with the benefit of hindsight, do you think Manchester perhaps should have done more and done more earlier?

Mr Andrew Burnham: It’s hard to say because we weren’t getting any guidance from a national – a national level. It wasn’t being made clear to us, you know, what we should be doing. So we were – as I say, we were putting together the picture ourselves and beginning to develop the structures that we thought we were going to need to get us through what lay ahead.

So it’s always with hindsight, you would say, well, we would have been better had we done it earlier, but actually, we had started to pull together these collaborative arrangements in February. We had a meeting, for instance, with all of our big, voluntary sector partners in that month as well.

So, you know, always you might say, well, in an ideal world it could have been sooner, but in the absence of very clear instructions from central government, I think, you know, we did – we were quite unique, actually, in establishing our own full committee, that, as I say, united political leadership with more administrative leadership in the city region.

Counsel Inquiry: Was the seriousness of the pandemic in late February and early March clear to you as the Mayor of Manchester, Greater Manchester?

Mr Andrew Burnham: It was clear, and in that period, as is referenced in my statement, I started to make more public comment on pandemic policy nationally. Having been Secretary of State in a global pandemic, I felt I had something to contribute that was meant to be helpful.

I remember the day when I saw an article from a health minister appear behind a paywall, and I just thought to myself: this isn’t right. The country isn’t – we’re not getting this right. You know, people need information at this moment in time. You can’t have articles under – behind paywalls. And I kind of went public that day with a long thread of tweets, kind of being honest about my experience as Secretary of State in the swine flu pandemic. And we made many mistakes on communications. It’s hard communicating in a pandemic. And I tried to share that honestly and openly, and I called actually for a daily briefing. I said that there should be – and I said there should be a briefing that’s not led by politicians, because a mistake I had made in swine flu was giving out information which almost then was seen politically, and then it goes into the fray and all the rest of it. At that time, we agreed that the Chief Medical Officer of the time, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, would lead our briefings, without politicians present, and I advocated that that would have been a better – a better approach.

Counsel Inquiry: So your view would be: a scientist alone giving a scientific briefing, and politicians giving a briefing separately?

Mr Andrew Burnham: I think so, and I think some of what’s come out though this Inquiry is how sometimes those different views were there, and they weren’t clear to the public because people wouldn’t be invited to the press briefing at Number 10. I mean, it needs to be better than that. If there’s a disagreement between the scientists and the experts and the ministers, I think people need to know that, and therefore that separation is helpful.

I’m not saying that every briefing should be done in that way, and it would be appropriate for the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet to stand with experts from time to time, but every day? The problem with that is it just makes communications too political.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you. And that’s your reflection from your time as Secretary of State.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes, it is.

Lady Hallett: There are two questions on that, Mr Burnham .

Firstly, don’t you then have a problem potentially of inconsistent messaging?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Well, hopefully not, Chair. So you would try as a government not to allow that. You would hope, would you not, that ministers would be following – following the advice. I think the experts’ briefings should relate more to the epidemiological information, the profile of the virus, the advice to the public. I always felt uncomfortable saying: oh, you know, wash your hands, sneeze and this – you know. You know, don’t do this; do that. That’s not really for politicians to do. That is for – I would say, for experts to do. I think the public receive it differently from an expert than they do from a politician, and I think there is – there is a role for people standing together, as I said, but at the same time just giving more factual information to the public, in my view, is better done without politicians in the room.

Lady Hallett: But then you have the second risk I’m going to put to you, which is that some members of the public associate the expert with the decision-making. In other words, they attribute responsibility for the decision-making to the expert if you put them up front.

Mr Andrew Burnham: I think what I would say, Chair, is better separate the roles of different people so that the public can see those different roles. It was all merged together, I would say, in the communications through the Covid pandemic, particularly in 2020.

I think if the expert said, “This is our view and this is what we see in the evidence and these are the options for ministers,” and the next day the minister said, “Well, we – and now we’re doing this”, I think that – I’m not going to sort of put a huge emphasis on this because it’s hard to communicate in a pandemic, as I said, and I made mistakes as Secretary of State in that area, which I tried to share in the spirit of getting it right. But I think mistakes were also made in the Covid pandemic. There should have been a more – the drum beat of briefings should have been more officials and experts, but occasionally then ministers would come in together where, “We’re now taking a decision based on the evidence you’ve been hearing for the last few days, and our decision is this”. I just think that would have helped everybody. Certainly, as I’m sure we will come to over tier 3.

I don’t think it was understood at the time that SAGE had given very different advice to ministers. It looked like everyone was joined up.

Mr Keating: Mr Burnham, I think we’re going to come back to that. I don’t want us to get too much out of order.

My Lady, there’s one small topic which is linked to this, perhaps I could deal with that, which is linked to communication.

So, Mr Burnham, I want to stick with communication –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yep.

Counsel Inquiry: – and how difficult it is but also in terms of chronology, we’re around just before the first lockdown and the announcement around that time from Mr Jenrick in – around 22 March or a little bit earlier, about the need for shielding and shielding those people. And in particular I have been asked to explore with you in relation to domestic abuse those who were at risk of domestic abuse, your concerns at that time in relation to those announcements and the impact for those who were at risk of domestic abuse.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Well, we were immediately on that issue, principally because the Right Honourable Beverley Hughes, who was my Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime at the time, was very concerned about those issues. And I think this is where you have politicians in the room with officers, those issues perhaps get brought out more quickly.

We were always conscious of the social impact of lockdowns. You know, what would be the effect of shielding, of lockdowns of different forms, and we were concerned, given, sadly, the high rate of domestic abuse in parts of Greater Manchester that that could exacerbate those concerns and who would be there to help people in situations when they were trapped in a very abusive situation.

Counsel Inquiry: And did you raise those concerns with central government?

Mr Andrew Burnham: We did. We discussed this issue a number of times. As I said, we always had the chief constable or his deputy at our Covid emergency committee. And, you know – and they took very seriously what we were saying, and we did relay those concerns to central government.

Mr Keating: Thank you.

My Lady, is that a convenient time?

Lady Hallett: Certainly.

We will complete your evidence this afternoon, Mr Burnham.

2.05, please.

(1.07 pm)

(The short adjournment)

(2.05 pm)

Mr Keating: Thank you, my Lady.

Mr Burnham, welcome back. Before we continue evidence, can I invite you just to slow down a little bit, because there’s a record being kept of what you’re saying. And also answers, if you could try to make them a little bit shorter, I think paradoxically we will cover more, if that’s all right. Let’s see how we get on.

In terms of the timeline, we were just coming up to the first lockdown in March 2020 and I just wanted to deal with the initial contact with central government in the lead-up to the first lockdown. You touch upon this in your evidence. There was three meetings. The first on 11 March, which I’ll summarise. You met Baroness Vere, who was a junior minister in the Department of Transport at that time, and that was in relation to funding as to public transport.

The second meeting was on 12 March, and this was one of more relevance perhaps, it was a meeting with Robert Jenrick, who was the then Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, MHCLG as it was then known as, now the Department of Levelling Up.

In relation to that meeting on 12 March, can you assist us, what did that relate to?

Mr Andrew Burnham: That meeting was to inform us about the commencement of the delay phase, and in effect I think it was the introduction of the shielding arrangements, but there were also some strange announcements about people not taking cruises or school holidays not happening, it was not an announcement that was in the sort of – you know, getting close to the heart – the enormity of what lay ahead a few days later. I think we talked about PPE, how were we getting on with local arrangements. It was quite a relaxed meeting, if I remember rightly.

Counsel Inquiry: But an opportunity for you to speak with the Secretary of State for MHCLG which was the liaison department between central government and local government?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes. And if I remember, I think we were beginning to say to him, you know, “We’re becoming more worried, it feels like it’s changing”. And it was a good opportunity. And although relations would get more difficult later in the year, at that point the fact that he was convening the mayors to have that type of discussion was a good thing.

Counsel Inquiry: The last meeting before lockdown, in fact, was on 23 March, which was the day lockdown was formally announced by the then Prime Minister, and you had a meeting that evening at 6.30 with the Secretary of State for Transport, who was Grant Shapps at that time, and that was with other metro mayors and that was in relation to transport as well.

Was there any indication at that stage that lockdown was about to be announced?

Mr Andrew Burnham: I see – from my memory of that period it wasn’t so much what was happening in those meetings, it was what was happening outside of them. From the meeting with Robert Jenrick up until 23 March, I can remember things becoming increasingly fraught, to the point where on the Monday of 23 March I think I appeared on Good Morning Britain and called for lockdown, you know, a national lockdown. And I remember debating with my team, you know, it felt strange to say it when the government weren’t saying it at that time, and we decided it was right to say it because of what was coming through our directors of public health.

So it felt like the whole world was kind of saying, “This – we can’t carry on like this”, and yet, from memory, I think Grant Shapps possibly alluded to, “There might be an announcement coming later, you can probably guess what it is” type approach in that meeting, but I – no, we were not sat down and briefed on the implications of national lockdown.

Counsel Inquiry: And as a matter of record, two hours later the Prime Minister made the national announcements –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – on national television.

Another feature in terms of communication co-ordination, which is the focus of these questions –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yep.

Counsel Inquiry: – relates to COBR and whether you were invited to attend any COBR meetings. You’ve heard questions being asked of Mr Khan in relation to that. So in the lead-up to lockdown number 1, were you invited to any COBR meetings?

Mr Andrew Burnham: No.

Counsel Inquiry: Did you ask to attend any COBR meetings?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Repeatedly.

Counsel Inquiry: In what way? Was this via officials, back channels, requests with secretaries of state?

Mr Andrew Burnham: I referred to a thread that I put out on Twitter in the session before lunch. Pretty sure that I said there that the mayors should be invited to if not all but certainly some COBR meetings. And the reason I said that was because I chaired it during swine flu. And it was a very open environment, it wasn’t a small number of people just meeting in total secrecy and, you know, keeping it all to themselves. Using the facility of the Cabinet Office we would often have a meeting with ministers in the room but then people able to dial in from around the country.

Counsel Inquiry: So in your view there was a way in which metro mayors could have been participants in COBR which was practical?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Certainly. I mean, it should have happened. I have a memory of chairing a weekly meeting during swine flu where, in the Cabinet Office, with all of the technology, you know, you could bring in voices from around the country. And I remember a council leader here or, you know, an official in the Welsh or the Scottish Government would intervene in those meetings. It was, I would say, the way it should have been done.

Counsel Inquiry: Just in relation to that, we’ve heard other evidence regarding the actual utility of the COBR meetings, whether there were much benefit to them, but at that time, from your perspective, what benefit did you think there would have been as an attendee at a COBR meeting?

Mr Andrew Burnham: A structured environment where serious issues could have been properly raised, for instance one that myself and the mayor of the Liverpool City Region raised right through the whole thing, and never got a response, which was financial support for people on the lowest incomes, insecure work, to self-isolate if asked to do so. So people who had no access to sick pay. We repeatedly raised that issue.

Counsel Inquiry: We’ll come back to that as a topic, if I may.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Sure. But also people excluded from public support, the self-employed, freelancers. You know, we were raising these issues but in some ways they had nowhere to go. You know, we raised them in the media because we had no alternative.

If COBR had been properly structured we would have been able to put these issues on the agenda, have proper response to them, but we were never afforded that opportunity.

Counsel Inquiry: And in relation to that, you touched upon your colleague, fellow mayor, metro mayor, the Mayor of Liverpool, and both of you in May and June 2020 made a number of public announcements seeking that you would have the opportunity to attend COBR. And in essence, is this a fair summary, that you wished to have the voice of the English regions represented?

Mr Andrew Burnham: 100%. Our worry was that there was a London-centricity in decision-making, and we properly wanted to create the balance in people’s thinking by saying, “Look, this is how it seems from here”. And genuinely, it was in the spirit of national emergency. We weren’t there to use it as a platform for politics or anything like that. It was simply to say, you know, “We are worried, this is a challenging situation, we want to be heard and just, you know, taken as seriously as anywhere else”.

I mean, a classic example would be the lifting of the first national lockdown –

Lady Hallett: Sorry, before we get to that, Mr Burnham, just forgive me for interrupting, rewinding a couple of stages, you said that you had asked to attend and then you mention a Twitter feed. Did you contact Number 10 and ask to attend COBR?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes. In many ways, Chair, the request was made. Did I write formally? I would have to check. I don’t recall ever saying, “Please invite me to COBR”, but the point was made to ministers in conversations. In some of the meetings, you know, that have been described, we would often make this point that it would be better if we were invited so we could discuss these things in a structured environment rather than in ad hoc meetings with ministers.

Lady Hallett: Second question: I have heard from others that COBR is effective for a shorter term emergency but not for the longer term emergency. What do you say to that?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Well, there needs to be a central co-ordinating body that brings together political decision-makers in any emergency, whether it’s short or long, I would say to that, be it COBR or a Cabinet committee.

I did not attend one meeting of COBR right through the pandemic, and people need to ask whether a city region with 2.8 million people in it should never have the opportunity to say: well, this is how it looks from here.

The only UK government body that I attended was the one of the nations, chaired by Michael Gove, when we had an issue with Scotland and a travel ban. That was the only formal central government committee that I was asked to attend.

Mr Keating: Which we’ll come back to.

We’re going to stick to a structured approach, following on from your desire to have a structured approach.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Can I come back to national lockdown?

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, please, we want to go back to national lockdown, yes. We’re going back to March 2020.

Mr Andrew Burnham: I mean, it’s just this is the critical thing – well, that was May 2020, of course, by that –

Counsel Inquiry: This is coming – I am going to move on to that. You’re now talking about leaving national lockdown, which I’m going to move on to in a moment.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Okay.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s stick to communication and then we’ll move to the next part in the chronology.

You described, used the words “ad hoc” in your statement and indeed a few moments ago your communications with central government. You also mentioned that there was reasonable official level communications between officials, civil servants.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: So there was that reasonable communication.

Mr Andrew Burnham: There was.

Counsel Inquiry: There was political communication, we’ve touched upon some of it, but that was sporadic; is that correct?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And you mentioned this, we don’t need to turn to it, at paragraph 76, is that in your experience, ministers actively encouraged informal and private communications about significant decisions And often initiate them. And you use an example: several ministers, including the Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Was this a productive line of communication WhatsApps, texts, with ministers of state and secretaries of state?

Mr Andrew Burnham: It could be. And I often found it helpful that they would reach out in that way, but it wasn’t adequate because, actually, there needed to be a place where a mayor might raise something and everybody in the system heard it, and there wasn’t such a facility. So it was better than nothing, but it wasn’t sufficient.

Counsel Inquiry: In terms of the impact regarding – we’ve been talking about communication and coordination between local and central government from your perspective. And you touch upon this in your statement at paragraph 23, and you describe the approach to the pandemic as:

“… overly top-down and overly centralised … there was a lack of adequate consultation and poor communications. It frequently felt chaotic.”

Is that the view you formed?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Very much so. It was massively centralised. You had a mature system like Greater Manchester that was simply bypassed. And the kind of thing that sticks in my mind from the period we’re talking about is genuine astonishment when word came through from officials who were in good contact with civil servants in the department saying that local testing would be stood down. And to me that was like, you know, I could not even begin to get my head around why local testing teams in our what were CCGs at the time would be stood down.

Counsel Inquiry: So in relation to that, CCGs, to help everybody else stands for?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Clinical commissioning group.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. And this was on 18 March 2010 is when you were – you’ve described it as a significant, a key moment that you informed that the local testing was stood down without consultation.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes. Mm-hm.

Counsel Inquiry: And then there was – you express a concern that the new location for testing from a central perspective was going to be at Manchester airport. And that was –

Mr Andrew Burnham: That location was chosen without any consultation with us. So the airport might make sense if you’re sitting in an office in Downing Street or in the Cabinet Office or the airport. Well, everyone can get – well, no, they can’t, actually. But there was a huge testing facility that opened that, in the end, people just couldn’t get to. If you live in Oldham or Rochdale, you can’t easily get to Manchester airport, but that was not understood, it would seem, but they didn’t ask us.

I mean, fancy opening a testing station in Greater Manchester without consulting us on the location.

Counsel Inquiry: Oldham, Bolton, north of the city; airport, south of the city.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: And, of course, if one has to travel, costs involved.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: I want to move on to the metro mayors group and a meeting on 1 May 2020 which you and your fellow members of that group had with the Prime Minister. And there was a document, which is at INQ000202008 – which we have right in front of us, thank you so much.

And we see at paragraph 2 just what the metro mayors are. Covers a number of different regional areas, represents over 40 percent of the population of England, and has a combined GVA.

This is where you’re going to be tested as a former chief secretary to the Treasury, GVA stands for?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Gross value added.

Counsel Inquiry: We probably don’t need to go into the economics too much, but it really just shows that there is significant economic output from those areas.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: 45% of the overall England GVA, 750 billion. And there’s a request there:

“Empowering mayors to lead recovery planning for their regions will help put robust plans in place …”

So this is where we’re still in restrictions. We’re looking forward to a period where restrictions may be eased.

I want to move on, please, to paragraph 5, if I may, and this document which was prepared by the metro mayors and provided to the Prime Minister; is that correct?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And in relation to that it says:

“Recovery will be a national effort. We must work together to ensure alignment and planning and to give confidence to the country and our regions. To coordinate our efforts, we would welcome regular discussions with government – a monthly call between mayors, Prime Minister and Chancellor will help align our efforts.”

And what was the response at that meeting or thereafter in relation to this request for more regular communication?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Well, it didn’t happen. I think we had one meeting with the then chancellor, now Prime Minister, during the pandemic. One meeting, I think possibly two with the Prime Minister. But this call did not meet with approval.

And the thing I would just say, you know, the M9, for people who don’t know, this is a cross-party group of mayors.

Counsel Inquiry: We’ve heard this morning that there’s – I think there was at that time two Conservative mayors –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and the bulk were Labour elected Mayors.

Mr Andrew Burnham: In fact, more. There was a Conservative mayor in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, in the West of England, Tees Valley, and in West Midlands, Andy Street.

The thing is, we take seriously our responsibility as mayors to work on a place first rather than a party first basis. And that’s the strength that we can bring to UK governance that we can – and we do, so we were prepared, you know. You could see this in what we were saying to the government.

Counsel Inquiry: Well, a joint document from mayors from different political fields.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes. And this moment in time, there was still very much a spirit of: we’re all here to help. What can we do? Work with us. But then that changed through the year as we – as the – we just weren’t listened to, and that’s how 2020 proceeded. You know, the goodwill, the offers, we’re here, how can we help, work with us, use us –

Counsel Inquiry: Just pause there because we’re going to –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Just one more part of this document, and then we’ll move on to the deterioration.

So paragraph 9, please, which is on page 2, the bottom of page 2. Thank you.


“Summary. Next steps.

“… we would welcome:

“A statement from government empowering mayors to lead regional recovery plans.”

And overleaf, please:

“Discussion with Chancellor on flexibilities and resources …”

Reference to financial fundings and:

“Regular meetings to align planning and agree action.”

So that was the position on 1 May.

And then on 10 May, there was an announcement regarding the easing of lockdowns – easing of lockdown, forgive me, as the path moving out of restrictions. And you describe that as a really significant occasion in your experience from the perspective of Mayor of Greater Manchester. Why was that?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Similar to the standing down of local testing. I was astonished when word filtered through – it was a Wednesday morning, I think – to our Covid emergency committee that there may be an announcement coming. Someone said at our meeting about: stay at home is ending tonight or tomorrow, and it’s going to become stay alert. And I was, what? How? You know, here we had such a high case rate. Here – I should say Greater Manchester, we had a high case rate. And bear in mind that Covid had spread from south to north. It had moved up through the country, through the Midlands –

Counsel Inquiry: So there’s a lag – a lag between London’s progress. In other words, Manchester was further behind in the recovery than London.

Mr Andrew Burnham: I think experts would say a two to three-week lag in terms of the way the peaks were experienced. But we were still very much closer to our peak than, I say, the southern half of the country.

Counsel Inquiry: So you had that surprise shock as to the announcement. Does it follow that there wasn’t any consultation prior to that?

Mr Andrew Burnham: There was zero consultation, and this is the point about COBR involving – this is a new infrastructure that we built in this country of combined authorities and mayors. And in the situation like this, it can add huge value to the national response to a pandemic. It was largely bypassed.

Counsel Inquiry: And if you were consulted, what would you have said?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Don’t lift it because it’s too early for Greater Manchester because we had a higher case rate than other parts of the country, and it’s why I say in my evidence statement that there was a London centricity in decision-making. I think were looking more at the picture in London, and they were more concerned with that than they were with the picture where we were. There was pressure to lift it from kind of voices here, and I think the decision was more influenced by that than what we were saying.

We didn’t – you know, we – if we’d have been asked, we would have told them that they shouldn’t do it. And I think because of that, Greater Manchester was left stuck with a high case rate throughout the rest of 2020.

Counsel Inquiry: Which we’re going to touch upon in a moment and how that caused reality difficulties.

Last point regarding the message in May about easing of lockdowns and return to work, which was one aspect as well which emerged.

How was the return to work message received by you and your fellow metro mayors, group members?

Mr Andrew Burnham: I mean, of course, everybody wanted to support the economy, but it was just more difficult for us. And I recall something from this period that needs to be remembered which was: a lot of people never left work. And in the less well-off parts of the country, people weren’t, by and large, sitting in their gardens doing whatever on Zoom. They were in work. And in boroughs in Greater Manchester, a high percentage of people were working in warehousing or in manufacturing or in other things. The worry we had, and, again, it was one that I shared with the Mayor of the Liverpool city region was, the workplace guidance wasn’t strong enough. The regulation said people should keep a 2 metre distance where possible. Where possible. And we were inundated, actually, with complaints from distribution centres, warehouses across the northwest, both of us, people saying that their workplace wasn’t safe.

Counsel Inquiry: If you had more notice or any notice, would that have helped being able to respond to these queries on a local level?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Always the case. If we had been involved earlier in the discussion and we could see how the thinking was building towards regulations or new messages to the public, we are would have been at least ready for those messages and we’d have been able to tell our own system how to get ready to implement it. It came mostly to a head for us in July, which you may want to get on to.

Counsel Inquiry: We will in a moment, but I want to deal with data, if I can, very briefly. I know it’s not the most exciting of subjects, but –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Well, it was a big one for us in this period.

Counsel Inquiry: And an important subject as well. We’re going to deal with data, and one of the issues you mention in June 2020 was: you were struggling to manage the stubbornly case rate in Manchester. That’s what you say in your statement at paragraph 19. And your lead director of public health was having difficulties in accessing data regarding those who had tested positive. And this was something which was causing real difficulties.

In terms of Test and Trace, that’s something which is going to be considered by the Inquiry at a later stage, so I want to deal with this quite shortly, but what was the issue in relation to getting data in June 2020 for you?

Mr Andrew Burnham: We couldn’t.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Andrew Burnham: We asked for patient identifiable data.

Counsel Inquiry: And that was refused. Is that the position?

Mr Andrew Burnham: It was refused. It was refused for weeks and weeks and weeks, and I had to enter another media battle to try and get hold of that data. This was data that they really had no argument with us. In the law that they passed in early March, the Covid emergency legislation, Covid-19 was added to the list of notifiable diseases.

Counsel Inquiry: So local authority was under a duty – a local public health authority was under a duty to report Covid-19.

Mr Andrew Burnham: It had to be reported.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Andrew Burnham: And yet this new Test and Trace system that they had outsourced said it didn’t have to give us this data, and ministers said they didn’t either, and we had to show them the law that they had passed, and this was important to us.

Counsel Inquiry: And why was it important, in terms of getting that data?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Because lockdown had been lifted too early. We had a high case rate. Many of our residents were in jobs where they didn’t get sick pay. They couldn’t go home if they were ill because their employment wouldn’t support them being paid if they were off ill. So we had fundamentals that were hard to deal with.

We wanted – the difference between the Test and Trace system and what we wanted to do for our proposals for a more locally run tracing, contact tracing, was the national outsource system was making calls from call centres that nobody was answering. We wanted the data so we could knock on doors, and we said to government right the way through this period: local contact tracing will be much more effective than the call centre approach. And in the end, I had to get Greater Manchester fire and rescue service to kind of put a team together so we could say: please just give us this data. Let us do local contact tracing.

Counsel Inquiry: You got the data in due course after –

Mr Andrew Burnham: After a battle.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. And was applied? Did you apply that on local level after obtaining the data? Did you do any –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes, of course.

Counsel Inquiry: Okay. Going to move on to a different topic. Test and Trace is one which we’ll return back to.

I want to deal with a topic which perhaps you never thought you were going to deal with when you were elected in 2017 is when you found yourself in a dispute with the First Minister from Scotland. I’ve been invited to address that with you. Is it –

Mr Andrew Burnham: It was 2021, just – because we’re not just in 2020 now.

Counsel Inquiry: That’s correct. Thank you.

And in 2021, there was – was it 2021, or was it 2020 when there was an issue between you and the First Minister regarding a ban on the people of Manchester travelling to Scotland, or people from Scotland travelling down to –

Mr Andrew Burnham: 2021.

Counsel Inquiry: 2021, thank you. So that’s where we are in the time period. And is this a fair summary, that there was an announcement by the First Minister that those people from – Scottish people weren’t allowed to travel to Manchester, and people from Manchester weren’t allowed to travel to Scotland?

Mr Andrew Burnham: The first I knew about it was I was on my weekly phone-in on BBC Manchester. And a lady rang in from Bolton, and she said, “Our walking holiday has been cancelled in the Cairngorms because the guest house says they can’t take somebody from a Bolton postcode.” so I went back to the office and asked the office to check, and sure enough, we discovered that the Scottish government had put a ban on Bolton people travelling to Scotland without any notification or information about that. And that was the first I became aware of the issue.

Then if you go forward a few days later, I was actually sitting in my garden the night after England had played Scotland at Wembley in the delayed European football championships, and there was a picture of lots of people in the fountain in Trafalgar Square, but underneath that photo was a headline that said: Scottish government puts travel ban on Salford and Manchester. That’s quite a big deal when you’re putting a travel ban on – that was the first I’d heard of it when they actually banned people from Manchester and Salford travelling to Scotland. No notification. No consultation. Exactly what the Scottish National Party would always have accused Westminster of doing to Scotland. Well, they had done exactly the same to us.

Counsel Inquiry: So pausing there. No consultation in the way you’ve expressed.

Was there any subsequent discussion about how this was going to be enforced? Was there police officers lining the platforms at Manchester Piccadilly?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Well, no, we – no, there weren’t, and you know, we – it wasn’t our policy. We had no understanding of what they were trying to do. And as I understood it, the Scottish government wasn’t enforcing it because people from Scotland were coming down and getting off the train at Manchester Piccadilly. It was bizarre, if I’m honest.

And, as I say, Michael Gove invited me to the committee of the nations, and I had an exchange with the former First Minister at that meeting. In the days that followed, we pointed out that the case rate in Scotland had gone higher than in Manchester, Salford and Bolton, and it wasn’t long before the travel ban was removed. But it was another example of how the lack of UK coordination –

Counsel Inquiry: A bizarre footnote to the pandemic perhaps, and at that meeting with Mr Gove, I think there was an agreement between you and the first ministers, a joint ambition towards a more unified approach as far as possible.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And let’s move on then, if we may. We’re going to move well into summer 2020, so we’re now going back a year, but in that summer 2020. And 30 July is the next significant date in 2020. That’s when the UK government announced local restrictions on household mixing in Greater Manchester from midnight.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: How much notice and detail did you receive in advance of that announcement?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Minimal. I had a call around about four o’clock from the health secretary, and he said that we needed to do something because the case rate in Greater Manchester had got too high. I said, yes, I can see that it is too high. We are not against doing something, but I can’t just announce with you that – I’ve got to go through the local council leaders. He asked me if I would do that. This, in effect, would become what’s known as Tier 2, so –

Counsel Inquiry: It wasn’t Tier 2 then –

Mr Andrew Burnham: No, it wasn’t called that. It was the first restrictions on household mixing.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Andrew Burnham: It was to be ourselves, parts of Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire that would go under these restrictions in late July, but it was chaotic.

You asked me before when you quoted me as saying it felt chaotic. This was as chaotic as it gets because they were putting these restrictions on us. He gave me an hour to talk to our local leaders, and to those who claim that we were being obstructive or – we said we were ready – we can see the issue. We’re ready to work with you. But we did immediately start to make the point that this is going to have an impact on people. It’s going to have an impact on people’s businesses.

What I remember is that about 8 o’clock that night, the Health Secretary made a very cursory announcement to a TV camera in 4 Millbank that we would be going under these restrictions, and then all hell broke loose. My Twitter feed, which was – I was using it a lot at that time to have direct communication with people in Greater Manchester. It was just absolutely inundated with people saying: I’m a painter and decorator, I work in people’s homes, can I go to work tomorrow? I’m a childminder, can I go to work tomorrow? I’m a domiciliary care worker, can I go to work tomorrow?

Counsel Inquiry: So the lack of notice –

Mr Andrew Burnham: There wasn’t a Q & A. There was not a UK Government frequently asked questions that we could point people to. There was nothing. There was nothing put up on the website. If something went up, I think it was gone 11 o’clock that night, probably even later –

Counsel Inquiry: Did this also align with the time of Eid? Eid was – the celebration of Eid was around that time.

Mr Andrew Burnham: It did. And I think there was a concern there would be, you know, large-scale household mixing as we saw similarly played out at Christmas, you know.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Andrew Burnham: It was – the same thing got played out, didn’t it?

Counsel Inquiry: In terms of managing a message, doing it at such short notice for such a significant religious festival –

Mr Andrew Burnham: It was as if they hadn’t realised that, realised it late and – yeah, and hence to the situation we found ourselves in.

Counsel Inquiry: I’m going to move on slightly to this period of local restrictions, inverted commas, Tier 2 (unclear). You’ve got 12 areas within Greater Manchester –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Ten.

Counsel Inquiry: Ten, forgive me. Of those ten areas, were they – was the restrictions uniform to the ten areas?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Initially, but you can imagine that there was lots of kind of – people were suffering under these restrictions. They weren’t light. If you can’t mix at home, it has a real impact on people.

Counsel Inquiry: But there was a variation in Greater Manchester between cases. Some were higher in certain areas; some were lower in certain areas.

Mr Andrew Burnham: That’s right. So at the time those restrictions went in, Wigan borough, where I live, was quite low. And I would be out walking the dog, and people were saying, “Why on earth are we in these restrictions?” But then Wigan’s case rate changed while we were in and went higher, and then the places that had had higher had gone a bit lower, and then they were complaining.

In the end, we used to have this weekly process with the government – it was at their gold committee. They would work through this whole process every week, reviewing restrictions. And our ten boroughs would lobby at the GM Covid emergency committee saying, put the case forward for us to be taken out. We want to be – we tried to stick with a Greater Manchester approach for a long time, but in the end, it got hard to manage some of the differences, and I think Stockport were taken out at one point and Trafford possibly were taken out at one point.

Counsel Inquiry: Going forward, ten individual areas, boroughs. Is it practical having restrictions in Stockport and no restrictions in Bolton or vice versa?

Mr Andrew Burnham: No, it’s not.

Counsel Inquiry: And why is that? What’s the difficulty?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Well, it gets you to whether the tier system works. People are going to travel. Life does not end at a local government administrative boundary. People are going over that boundary every day. People don’t live their life within those – the boundaries of those boroughs. You know, Greater Manchester, it’s a system where everyone’s crossing those boundaries every day, going around their work. As I say, it’s something that might make sense in an office somewhere, but it didn’t make sense – the reality of it didn’t make sense.

Counsel Inquiry: So on the ground, with a desire to make things work in the public interest, we move through summer 2020, and we’re into August, autumn 2020. And on 8 September, further restrictions were imposed by the UK government on Bolton. And that was without consultation, and you describe that as another key moment. Why was that?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Because, again, from nowhere, all hospitality was closed in the borough of Bolton with no package of support for the businesses affected.

Counsel Inquiry: So pausing there. Not wishing to be London centric, Bury has got a proud history. Would it be described as an area which is economically deprived, or parts of it have got economic deprivation?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Bolton?

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes, you would say it’s quite mixed, but there are parts of Bolton that have significant deprivation.

Counsel Inquiry: So in relation to the need for financial support, was there any financial support offered when this was announced?

Mr Andrew Burnham: None.

Counsel Inquiry: And did you –

Mr Andrew Burnham: And the former Conservative leader of Bolton who we worked really closely during the pandemic who sadly passed away the following year, he was saying to me, whatever you can do, Andy, I’ll work with you. The government should not treat a place like Bolton like this. And the frustration we all felt was – because they’d just done it to Bolton. It was like no-one else could see it, no-one else in the country was bothered, but the impact there was really huge. And I do just by an aside just need to say there was a strong feeling that Eat Out to Help Out had caused some of the problems that Bolton were experiencing.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s focus in on Bolton, not Bury – Bolton for a moment. So you had this background where there was restrictions which had now been imposed in Manchester since May.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: A lack of financial support.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: No financial support for the people – the businesses of Bolton.

Mr Andrew Burnham: True.

Counsel Inquiry: And was there – was this something that you raised at any stage with Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Frequently.

Counsel Inquiry: And the response?

Mr Andrew Burnham: To be fair, he was more sympathetic, actually, than some of the other ministers that I spoke to about this matter.

We were coming through the summer into the early autumn feeling increasingly frustrated. We’d spent pretty much the best part of year by now saying: look what’s happening here. Help us. Help us with the contact tracing. Give us that data. Help us, you know, support you to put in place measures, rather than this chaotic way, and particularly help our people and our businesses if you’re going to ask us to close them. And it felt like we were just shouting into the abyss in this period.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s move on to 5 October, which is a meeting between the metro mayors and Mr Hancock.

And something you touch upon your statement, and perhaps we could bring that up, at paragraph 70 of your statement. You describe how you had that meeting. This is cases had risen across the country in September. We’re into October. And that’s the context. And at paragraph 70 (a):

“… we wanted to see a clearer role for mayors in informing decision-making, communication and engagement since March has been limited.”

Again, this request for a regular meeting.

And response from Matt Hancock in relation to this request for more regularity in contact between the metro mayors and central government, can you recall?

Mr Andrew Burnham: I think there was a like a broad: oh, yes, we must. And: it needs to get better. But I’m just looking at the date on this note, 5 October. It sticks in my mind because two days later, it was my 20th wedding anniversary. And I’d been out in Manchester with my wife, and we were getting a train home, and on the train, I remember we were looking at our phones, tomorrow’s front pages, and one of them was: pubs to close across northern England. So this was the first of the Tier 3 –

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Andrew Burnham: – issues coming, and that had not been mentioned to us in this meeting, just –

Counsel Inquiry: So in terms –

Mr Andrew Burnham: – a couple of days before.

Counsel Inquiry: Okay. So in terms of the timeline, your wedding anniversary two days after that, and you’re going to refer to something which wasn’t mentioned at this meeting.

Let’s turn to 70, paragraph (b), please, thank you, overleaf, and we’ll see what else was mentioned at the meeting so everyone can put into context.

You talk about the local restrictions, lockdown measures. I say “you”. You refer to it in statement:

“The tiered approach being developed was helpful.”

This is the prospective tier approach:

“The current position at that time was too complex, and we must take steps to support people to comply. A crucial element of these plans must be clarity on how and when places move back out of these measures [i.e. between the tiers].”

So the view at that stage – this is before you have experienced Tiers 1, 2 and 3. The view expressed was that the tier approach would be helpful.

Why did you hold that view at that time?

Mr Andrew Burnham: I mean, this was an M9 document if I remember, not a Greater Manchester document.

Counsel Inquiry: It’s quoting – I think you refer to your statement –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – (overspeaking) voice from you in that?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Because I was in – you’ve always got to remember, I was in a different position to the other eight mayors in that we’d been under restrictions and others hadn’t, and I’d grown frustrated about the approach, particularly the lack of support.

I think this was trying to articulate the view of everybody, and it did touch then on some of the frustrations everybody had, i.e. there was a feeling that if you go into these measures, you don’t come back out again. They just – they stay there, and everyone wanted a de-escalation sort of regime. When do you come out if you’ve gone in?

Counsel Inquiry: So if you pull out of the document again. So a consensus approach, if this is you producing what was presented as a metro document, but you had your concerns.

We move on to financial support as well, a real need for financial support at paragraph (c), that:

“The impact of Covid was obviously not only health. Lockdown could only work if financial support was in place for those we were asking to close businesses or limit activity.”

Mr Andrew Burnham: This was very much informed by the Bolton experience, and I was pleased that Andy Street supported it.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. He’s a mayor based down in –

Mr Andrew Burnham: The West Midlands, yes. And he and I and the other mayors had always worked together in a very practical way, and we did in that period of time.

Counsel Inquiry: And a Conservative Mayor.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Conservative Mayor.

Counsel Inquiry: And we go up to paragraph 71, please, and the last point in relation to this:

“… we advised that there were concerns about the processed tier system [to put in context] with restrictions and no identifiable support. Support was most likely to be available from a national circuit break” –

Mr Andrew Burnham: That’s what we were calling for –

Counsel Inquiry: “… rather than the north standing alone.”

Mr Andrew Burnham: That’s was we – see, that’s what we were saying. There should be a national circuit break. Leaving the north of England under restrictions and the rest of the country not.

Counsel Inquiry: Was that the view, without being overly emotive about it, but did you and your fellow metro mayors feel that the north was standing alone?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Well, the thing was, if you go back to start of the pandemic, it went up from the south, and it was national lockdown when it was there, but when we had the high case rate and it was about to come back down the country, it was then regional and tiers. And did we feel like we were standing alone? Definitely. Very much so. It just felt that we were treated in a way that other parts of the country wouldn’t be treated. There is no way – there is honestly no way that a borough in greater London or I would say in the wider southeast would be treated like Bolton were treated. No way at all.

Counsel Inquiry: Going to move on to another topic linked to this which is the debate about Tier 3 restrictions which occurred in October 2020, shortly after this meeting. And I’m going to summarise your evidence and then ask you a couple of questions if I may.

You describe that were was unprecedented engagement between Greater Manchester and the government around this time, 7 October, your wife’s anniversary – your anniversary, and over the next few days. And the issue concerned, the sticking point concerned financial support, and you raised the concern that there needed to be sufficient financial support.

And to summarise quite a complex issue, the sticking point related to the level of financial support. A national lockdown would have 80% of a person’s salary, whereas is it right that what was offered in these discussions was less than that 80%?

Mr Andrew Burnham: So my memory of this meeting is very much that it was dominated by financial support. Because this was about the tier system. In principle, not what they hadn’t told us they were about to do within a day or two.

But we were really clear at this stage: you can’t do this. You can’t do a Bolton to everybody. You know, you’ve got to put in place proper financial support. And to be fair, I think Matt Hancock understood that, and he said he would take it back to the Treasury. I remember him saying that in that meeting. I said, look, I won’t be – I can’t support measures without that support. And I said really clearly, at that point, you can’t tell people working in pubs, bingo halls, betting shops, that they only get 67% of their wages because that’s what was kind of building around at this time, that there would be a kind of Tier 3 package for people whose work places were closed.

Counsel Inquiry: And what would the answer be to someone saying, well, 67 percent of someone’s wage is sufficient compared to 80 percent.

Mr Andrew Burnham: So these, by definition, are people on the lowest wages. So when everyone else was sitting in their gardens on 80 percent, why would they get 67 percent? What would be – possibly be the justification for that?

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Other than they were in the north of England in low-paid jobs. Oh, well, you know. That’s how it felt to us, and that’s why – this is the issue about the Tier 3 debate. It became a point of principle about this. They tried to portray that we were quibbling about 75 million or 65. It wasn’t. We were saying: you’ve got to put enough money in the system to give people on very low wages that – at least an 80% furlough scheme.

Counsel Inquiry: I’m going to return to that in a moment –

Lady Hallett: Except we are coming to that in a later module, Mr Keating.

Mr Keating: Yes.

Lady Hallett: Have we had enough for this module?

Mr Keating: Nearly. We’re nearly there, my Lady. I’m going to trespass on your patience just for a moment.

In relation to this, and this is going to the point to assist my Lady and is in relation to whether a tier system was going to work and, actually, in relation to that, isn’t it right that you had a meeting on 14 October with Jonathan Van-Tam –

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and a junior minister for health, and there was expression – you asked whether the tier system, would it be effective? Would it address rising cases. And what was the response in relation to that?

Mr Andrew Burnham: So we were sceptical about the tier system because we’d been under it since July and it hadn’t worked. And we knew if they carried on with the 67% furlough that there would be definite damage to people’s lives and people’s businesses.

So in meetings, and particularly with Jonathan Van-Tam, myself and the ten leaders of Greater Manchester said give us – if we’re going to do this, you have to guarantee to us that this is actually going to work and it’s going to bring the cases down, the R number down below one.

Counsel Inquiry: And the response?

Mr Andrew Burnham: He couldn’t give us that guarantee. And I think if I could, this gets to the heart, really, of my evidence and what I wanted to say today.

Counsel Inquiry: I’m going to draw that together and give you that opportunity and draw this topic together. And it’s right you didn’t – there was an agreement between you and central government; that’s a matter of fact.

Mr Andrew Burnham: We heard the Deputy Chief Medical Officer say the Tier 3 approach wasn’t going to necessarily bring our case rate down.

Counsel Inquiry: And you’re aware that there has been criticism in central government and in wider media of the stance you took, that you were being obstructive and had behaved appallingly. I’m quoting a minute in a meeting. I want to give you the opportunity to be able to respond to that criticism, and then I’m going to move on to another topic.

Mr Andrew Burnham: I’ve seen that minute, the Covid-O minute. And frankly, it is – it’s nothing short of disgraceful, the points that were made in that minute. They – to quote back what you just said, “the Mayor of Greater Manchester was with behaving appallingly”. It wasn’t me that was behaving appallingly; it was the people in that room that were behaving appallingly because they were about to impose a policy on Greater Manchester which they knew didn’t work, and that’s something that I’ve only now realised looking at other people’s statements to this Inquiry.

And it makes me angry on behalf of the people of Greater Manchester that they sat in that room and they up imposed a policy that they had been advised by SAGE and others would not work. Indeed, I’m reading Matt Hancock’s evidence to this Inquiry. I could give you the number if you wish to call it up.

Counsel Inquiry: We’re going to have the advantage of him giving evidence himself in a few days’ time.

Mr Andrew Burnham: So let me just quote from his written evidence. I won’t – this is critical for us because I think the people of Greater Manchester need to hear this and understand this. He says in his evidence about Tier 3:

“I was in despair that we had announced a policy that we knew would not work.”

Counsel Inquiry: Did he explain or express that to you around the time of your discussions and negotiations?

Mr Andrew Burnham: No, he didn’t.

Counsel Inquiry: No.

Mr Andrew Burnham: And I see this conversation in this Covid-O committee, where they are then starting to talk about a punishment beating for Greater Manchester that Lancashire should have a lighter set of measures imposed than Greater Manchester, since they had shown willingness to co-operate, tougher measures should be imposed on Manchester that day.

Because we stood up for people in our city region who would otherwise have really struggled had they gone into that lockdown without the funds to help them. Because we took that stand they decided to make, you know, an example of us.

And it was – it’s unbelievable for me now to look at evidence saying they knew it didn’t work they knew Tier 3 didn’t work, but they were going to impose it on us without enough financial support.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Burnham, I’m going to invite you to pause there. I wanted to give you that opportunity. I think you’ve had a reasonable opportunity to deal with that matter, and I’m going to move on and hopefully have your assistance in relation to another topic. Is that okay?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Mm-hm.

Counsel Inquiry: Communications, and another area I have been invited to explore with you is the wider communications from central government and how they were received on a local level from your perspective and in relation to certain communities, certain communities – minority ethnic communities.

From your experience, was there issues with the central communication, central Government communication , or blanket messaging, as you described it?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes. I mean, we worked hard to make sure that the core messages from the Government were put into languages that could be understood by everybody in Greater Manchester. I think – if I’m being fair, I think there was some collaboration on these matters between public health information experts in Greater Manchester and at the government level, but it was a constant challenge. The absence of British Sign Language interpreter at the daily briefings was unforgivable, to be honest, all the way through.

Counsel Inquiry: We have dealt with that in evidence already but thank you.

I’m going to move on really as a final section and firmly with lessons learned how to do things better going forward.

There may be a couple of topics you might want to raise. One of them you have touched upon already, and I promised you I would return back to it, would be that – your view as to the placement of the metro mayors in the civil resilience structure.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: I think I said I would come back that.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: That’s something you wanted to deal with?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes, I just think it’s what should be there in a situation like this.

Here’s my central argument: a more devolved approach to the pandemic would have been a safer approach to the pandemic. The way we run this country is often concentrating power in a very small number of hands in Downing Street and in the middle of Whitehall. It’s disfunctional in normal times; I would say it’s dangerous to run things like that in a pandemic. You look at countries like Germany that adopted a much more devolved approach to these things.

Counsel Inquiry: Just pausing there, in terms of you had the Hine review when you were post the swine flu pandemic. Is there any view that you have regarding the view of subsidiarity in view of this?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Well, that was the central call from the Hine review, which I set up. It said that a future pandemic should be handled in a much more delegated way, devolved way, with much greater subsidiarity. And it would appear that that had not been taken on board.

And the thing that I kind of – we’ll come back to and back to, is it just – the absence of those structures just meant that people, whenever I spoke to them in Downing Street or Whitehall, they just didn’t seem to know how people were feeling in our part of the world. It had been miserable, really, all through 2020, with almost endless restrictions, but they just didn’t seem to know.

If I could just inform the committee on the kind of final day, when we were about to have Tier 3 imposed on 20 October 2020, I had a final call with the then Prime Minister, Mr Johnson, and he was saying, “We just need you to agree to these Tier 3 restrictions and the package of support.”

And I said, “Well, we can’t, it’s not enough. You know, we’ve been under restrictions for a long time.”

He said, “What do you mean?”

I said, “We’ve been under restrictions since July. You do know about that, don’t you?”

Counsel Inquiry: And what was the response?

Mr Andrew Burnham: And to me it didn’t seem that he did know about that. He wasn’t aware that we had been struggling all of that time. And I think it’s the absence of a kind of place every week where people can report in to say, “This is how it feels for us at this moment in time”. That, I think, led to a situation where there just wasn’t an understanding of what some of the things that Government was doing, what they were actually – or the impact they were having on people’s lives.

And that’s why I hope this committee – this Inquiry will make some clear recommendations about a more devolved infrastructure that can then both have its – be represented at a national UK level but then be given more responsibility to deal with the pandemic at regional local level.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Burnham, thank you so much.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Thank you very much.

Mr Keating: My Lady, I think you’ve granted permission for questions from one of the core participants?

Lady Hallett: I have.

Mr Weatherby.

Questions From Mr Weatherby KC

Mr Weatherby: Thank you, my Lady.

Mr Burnham, as I think you know, I represent the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice UK group, and you’ve known of that group since it formed because you were, in fact, one of the first public figures to support the call for this public enquiry.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Mr Weatherby KC: I’ve got permission just for two short points, picking up on the matters you have been asked about. I’m just going to ask you about the period in the middle of September and then, briefly, the middle of October.

On 16 September you wrote a letter to Mr Hancock, which I will put up just to remind you of it. It’s INQ000165174.

Now, I’m not going to read through that but it’s a letter from you to Mr Hancock, Secretary of State for Health, setting out a whole raft of proposals for escalation measures to be implemented, quite sophisticated measures to be implemented in Greater Manchester in response to the rising cases across the ten council areas, including support for self-isolation, local food support, services for vulnerable groups, vulnerable people, a call for some changes to local enforcement powers to target enforcement better, and localised enhancement of test, trace and isolate that you’ve already mentioned.

Is that right?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Mr Weatherby KC: Then if we can just flick on to the next page –

Mr Andrew Burnham: I think this is what I was saying a moment ago. This is what a more devolved approach to the pandemic in our view looked like.

Mr Weatherby KC: Yeah. The reason I wanted to put this up is so we can all see, the Inquiry can see, the level of sophistication and thought that Greater Manchester has have put into this. But the second series of bullet points on the second page is – then referred to the other side of the coin, which is what you needed from Government. And that included additional funding to help the self-isolation proposals, you needed some legislative changes to support targeted approach to enforcement, and realistic levels of funding to enable local and time-limited interventions, as you have said. So, again, a sophisticated set of proposals from your side. And then as there’s a list of asks, and of course the perennial need for resources to support that. Is that right?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Mr Weatherby KC: So we can take that down, please, and just briefly put up INQ000165173.

So the next day Mr Hancock responds in a series of WhatsApp messages with you, and I think this rather evidences what you said earlier about him having a cordial, helpful engagement with you on this level; is that right?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes.

Mr Weatherby KC: And he’s checking with you things which were – essentially just needed to be checked over with the latter. You are making clear – at the bottom, is that should be prepared to do localised curfews, your concern about the confusing patchwork of restrictions across the ten council areas, and a clear sense that they are of limited and deficient effectiveness. So you are explaining to Mr Hancock the purpose of your letter and what you need, and that seems to be going all fine in terms of your communication and detail and his orientation to you.

Now, in terms of the financial support, am I right that this was particularly related to low paid and vulnerable groups, because without financial support then there was no way of ensuring the effectiveness of these measures to reduce the high case level?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yes, this was a theme, like I said before we’d raised all the way through. Greater Manchester has a higher number or people who can’t access sick pay or who don’t get paid if they’re not –

Mr Weatherby KC: Yeah, so people on zero hours, people in the gig economy. You mentioned some self-employed people.

Mr Andrew Burnham: There was a survey by UNISON North West early in the pandemic that found that 80 per cent of domiciliary care workers in the north-west said they wouldn’t be able to self-isolate if they were asked to do so because they wouldn’t be paid. It brings home – you know, if you can’t fix that issue, you can’t fix the –

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes, and you are acutely aware of that as the Mayor for the area.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yeah.

Mr Weatherby KC: Now, we’ve looked at the immediate response from Mr Hancock by the WhatsApps, but did this letter of 16 September, did this actually lead to any greater financial resources being provided?

Mr Andrew Burnham: I think there was still modest moves later in 2020, but they were never – there was a scheme to be administered by local authorities, but it never got close to the simplicity of the scheme that myself and the Mayor of the Liverpool City Region were calling for.

Mr Weatherby KC: Yeah, so these extra resources, to a large extent, were not – you were not able to implement them because of a lack of resourcing?

Mr Andrew Burnham: They never were. Yeah, they – we never –

Mr Weatherby KC: Second point, and briefly, fast forward a month, but same theme, 19 October. I just want to put up a note prepared by the Cabinet Office.


Again, I’m not going to go through it but I just wanted to prompt your memory.

So this is a note of a meeting with your counsel leaders and Mr Jenrick, Minister of State, and this, I think, was aimed at reaching agreement on Tier 3 and, from your side certainly, a financial support package for Greater Manchester.

I just want to look at the “Headlines” section that’s been highlighted there. The summary, and that’s Robert Jenrick himself, he:

“… summed up by stating there seems to be a lot of common ground, but not on financial support measures.”

Then in the second bullet point he reaffirms that a hardship fund was not an option tabled by Her Majesty’s Government.

Later, we don’t need to go to it, but later in the document Ed Lister raised, and it was agreed, that time wasn’t on anybody’s side, given rapidly increasing infection rates.

The reference to your request for a hardship fund was again, going back to the things we’ve just discussed, assistance for the self-employed and those who simply could not afford to stay off work. Obviously hadn’t been resourced up to that point. Was there any further financial resourcing for these measures or did the Government stick to its guns in terms of saying, “Well, we like your ideas, but we’re just not going to pay for it”?

Mr Andrew Burnham: No, it stuck to its guns. I mean, what we were calling for was money to top up that 67% furlough, that top-up wages point. That’s what that refers to. And the government at that point was saying, “No, you can have 65 million”, which was the core kind of funding that everyone had been offered. And in fact, although they claimed that they were negotiating with us, that was a formula actually that they were applying to everybody in Tier 3.

So the next day we go into the final – because this was 19 October, the next day the 20th, the final conversation I had with Robert Jenrick, that – that was the last person I spoke to before they said, “We are imposing” – well, he told me that – he said, “You’ve been through the whole thing now, we’re going to impose.”

And I said, “Well, we’ve tried to work with you. We don’t think what we’re saying is unreasonable. So I take it with you imposing, you’re imposing what you put on the table, the 65 million.”

“Oh, oh no, there’s no guarantee of that.”

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes?

Mr Andrew Burnham: And what happened was there was then a – I went outside to tell the world that we were having this imposed on us and we tried to avoid it and we tried to get the best that we could and we didn’t agree with it, and it was in the middle of that when a Greater Manchester MP, Lucy Powell, sent a text to my political director saying, “I’m in a meeting with Hancock, he’s telling us about the details of the imposition and he said that we are going to get 25 million.”

So not only did they not guarantee that, they tried to then initially say they were going to punish us with this –

Mr Weatherby KC: With less money?

Mr Andrew Burnham: Yeah. And this is – this is how this whole – at this stage, how this whole thing was handled. It was like classic divide and rule. And should misters be doing that in the middle of a national emergency? No, they should not.

Mr Weatherby: I had a third point but you have already answered it, so thank you, Mr Burnham.

Mr Andrew Burnham: Thank you.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Weatherby.

Mr Keating, that completes the questions for Mr Burnham?

Mr Keating: It does, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Mr Burnham, thank you very much indeed for your help.

The Witness: Thank you very much, thank you.

Lady Hallett: Right, for the time being – encouraged to take a break now. I shall return at 3.25.

(3.10 pm)

(A short break)

(3.25 pm)

Lady Hallett: Ms Cecil.

Ms Cecil: Indeed, my Lady.

May I call Steve Rotheram, please, the Mayor of Liverpool City Region.

Lady Hallett: Sorry to have kept you waiting.

Mr Steve Rotheram


Questions From Counsel to the Inquiry

Ms Cecil: Thank you, Mr Rotheram.

Mr Rotheram, if you can keep your voice up, we also have a stenographer who is taking a note, effectively preparing a transcript of what you are saying, so if we can take things slowly. If I ask you to slow down, it’s my fault not yours, it’s just to ensure that an accurate note is taken. Again, if I ask you to repeat anything, that may well be why.

Similarly, if I ask a question and you’re not sure what I’m asking or you need clarification, just say. Okay?

So, Mr Rotheram, thank you again for assisting the Inquiry. You’ve also provide a witness statement. That witness statement is dated 17 August of this year. It runs to some 15 pages, and indeed at the outset what we see is a statement and declaration of truth. And if we turn to page 15, we’d ordinarily see your signature, but of course it’s redacted. Is that correct?

Mr Steve Rotheram: It’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

Mr Rotheram, your evidence today is concerned with your role as Mayor of the London (sic) City Region; is that correct?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Liverpool City Region, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed – sorry, did I say London? I’m sorry, Liverpool City Region.

Mr Steve Rotheram: It’s better than London.

Counsel Inquiry: I’ve got Mr Khan’s evidence in my mind.

Lady Hallett: Oh, you may not be forgiven for that.

Ms Cecil: I know. I’m off to a bad start already, let’s hope it can only get better from here.

But just dealing then, perhaps, with your professional background, you were heavily involved in local politics initially, as a councillor. From there you became the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, in 2008-2009. You then were elected as the Member of Parliament for Liverpool Walton and occupied that role from 2010-2017. And then in 2017 you were the elected metro mayor of the Liverpool City Region, and indeed you were re-elected in 2021.

Mr Steve Rotheram: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: So it’s fair to say that you’ve had perhaps a longstanding commitment but, moreover, knowledge of Liverpool and its surrounds.

I want to turn now, if I may, to the structure of the Liverpool City Region combined authority. That is a consequence of a devolution agreement that was signed with the government back in 2017. And it is composed of six local authorities, just to run through them very quickly, Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and the Wirral. Is that right?

Mr Steve Rotheram: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you. Now if I can just take you to paragraph 3 of your witness statement, this is on the screen here, that sets out the powers effectively that are conferred upon the London City – Liverpool City, I’m afraid, regional authority, and indeed the Mayor, those are: economic development, transport, housing, planning and employment and skills.

We’ve heard a little bit about this already earlier today but there’s one notable exception, isn’t there, in relation to the pandemic, and that’s health; is that right?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Indeed.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. Now, similarly, it’s not a Category 1 or Category 2 responder under Civil Contingencies Act and framework, but separately to that you are an active member of the Merseyside Resilience Forum. Can you just tell us a little bit about that, please.

Mr Steve Rotheram: Well, we have statutory responsibility for public transport, and obviously that’s an important role in regard to the Merseyside Resilience Forum, and therefore we have a seat on that. But as the metro mayor of the area, we don’t have any codified or statutory responsibilities, believe it or not, because the Civil Contingencies Act is 2004 and that would pre-date the metro mayors, which came in in 2017.

Counsel Inquiry: We’re going to turn to that in due course in relation to the structural relationships and potential deficits as you see them. But just dealing with that resilience forum, that oversees, effectively, the preparedness, response and recovery for major incidents within that region; is that right?

Mr Steve Rotheram: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Similarly, as a consequence of that, it also has responsibility in relation to financial distribution of money, effectively, in response to restrictions imposed upon the region. And that was true within the pandemic?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yeah, both in regard to settlements with the government but also to passport funding as a conduit to local authorities.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you. If I can then turn, please, to your role as Mayor, so your individual role, how would you describe that?

Mr Steve Rotheram: I’ve seen mayors today give evidence, and it’s very similar to what you’ve already heard. I believe that you need a single voice and there was never a more opportune time for devolution to work than through a pandemic, where you had a single point of contact and somebody who could liaise both with national government and, through regional structures, with local government.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed, as you set out within your statement, also effectively working in the interests of the Liverpool City Region area?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Always in – with that at heart.

Counsel Inquiry: At the heart of what you do?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Indeed.

Counsel Inquiry: With regard to your responsibilities as Mayor during the Covid-19 pandemic, there was not a codified set of responsibilities with respect to your mayoral role was there?

Mr Steve Rotheram: That’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: I think certainly within your statement you set out that there were three broad categories within which your responsibilities fell. The first of that was civic leadership and co-ordination, and how did you see that role?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Well, that was speaking up for our area but also working with other political partners of all different political persuasions to ensure that those voices were heard at central government. Central government may well be from a different political party than me but the real important issue is that we both did the right things for the 1.6 million people in the Liverpool City Region. And so I was very vocal at times to ensure that our voices were heard over the clamour, you can imagine, from other areas in the country.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. And you have referred to the 1.6 million. That’s residents, isn’t it, within the Liverpool City Region, and that rises to approximately 3 million people, including people working within the region; is that right?

Mr Steve Rotheram: The functional economic geography is a little bit more than that, we think about 3.2 million.

Counsel Inquiry: About 3.2 million, thank you.

The second of those roles and responsibilities is facilitating funding. We touched on that briefly with regard to the broader structure, but just dealing with that, that deals with the city region and for the benefit of local residents and businesses.

Mr Steve Rotheram: It does.

Counsel Inquiry: It has two sides to it in that respect, those who live there but also the business and economic activity within the area and the region.

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yeah, there’s money from central government, but also, of course, we have different sources of our own funding, and all of that is to ensure that we get the flexibility to spend the money the way we believe it should be spent in our city region.

Counsel Inquiry: Effectively targeting where you feel it’s needed most?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yes, but some – we get passported money. In other words, it’s hypothecated to the city region and is ring-fenced for certain issues that we have no flexibilities within.

Counsel Inquiry: Of course. Then finally, you describe your third set of responsibilities as sustaining services, and if you can just tell us a little bit about that very briefly.

Mr Steve Rotheram: Public transport is probably the main one. And even throughout the pandemic, of course, public transport never stopped, and so that’s why it was important that we had that voice in the Merseyside Resilience Forum, but without having the statutory responsibility to be there we were all too often reliant on the people who represented the combined authority on that forum to come back and to inform us of things that were happening, plus the goodwill of people like the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Chief Constable at the time, which was Andy Cooke.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you. I will be putting public transport to one side. It’s fair to say that various accommodations were made by you in your role throughout the pandemic, including free transport for key workers, those sorts of accommodations, and then also, of course, you were trying to deal with the deficit from individuals not utilising public transport during that time and the revenues that that would incur; is that right?

Mr Steve Rotheram: One of the benefits of devolution is that we can take those decisions locally, and we decided that there were charges against key workers and essential worker and we wanted to ease that burden during the height of the pandemic because they were the only people using public transport and yet we were charging them to use that public transport. So we tried to reduce the burden.

Counsel Inquiry: And then, if I may just turn to another area in which there was no authority and that relates to the regulations and the Covid legislation, and you played no rule within those, developing those?

Mr Steve Rotheram: No role nationally but not even consulted locally.

Counsel Inquiry: I’m going to move to consultation in just one moment in relation to both the Liverpool City Region and Westminster.

Certainly in relation to that if I can just take you back to the initial stages then of the pandemic. Was there any engagement from central government through the months of January, February and up to the lockdown?

Mr Steve Rotheram: No. And people might remember that actually the people who came to isolate and to go to Arrowe Park Hospital from being to Wuhan, they came through many areas and ended up in the Liverpool City Region, and we weren’t even informed that these people were going to travel through our area or end up in a hospital environment being isolated.

Counsel Inquiry: So just before I turn to that, that’s in early February of 2020, were you aware in January or prior to that of the issues in terms of the pandemic and Covid-19 with respect to the UK in terms of communication from central government?

Mr Steve Rotheram: I believe that was 31 January when the quarantine happened. And obviously we were all aware, weren’t we, as citizens of the world, that something significant was happening at that stage. Some people believed that it could be contained and not end up as a pandemic.

Counsel Inquiry: So when individuals were repatriated from Wuhan and sent to Arrowe Park in the Wirral, when did you first find out about that?

Mr Steve Rotheram: On the news.

Counsel Inquiry: What did you do in response to that? Did you try to make any communication with Westminster?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Well, first of all we contacted Wirral Council because they were the local authority in which Arrowe Park Hospital is located, and they had had no notifications in advance, and that seemed to be the way in which things were conducted early on.

Counsel Inquiry: Did that continue, as we moved through the March period into lockdown, again were you consulted at any point or was that information – or communication made with you or your team?

Mr Steve Rotheram: No, there was nothing in particular. Obviously there was back channels and informal conversations about what potentially might happen, but in – within the combined authority we would sit around that – you know, 5 to 6 waiting for the evening news way to see whether there was going to be an announcement at 6 o’clock that we would be locked down. And that happened for week after week. And of course we all know when the announcement happened, but right up until the day of the announcement by the Prime Minister there was no conversations at all locally.

Counsel Inquiry: Okay. So as we were approaching the lockdown, and from February onwards, did you begin to make your own preparations?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Well, we did in as much as that we started to think about what the group of people that we would need to pull together would look like, and I think in – March was our first Covid action group, and that was, you know, MPs, the local police and all the relevant agencies all coming together, so that we had a forum that we could all share information in, outside, of course, the statutory responsibility of the Civil Contingencies Act.

Counsel Inquiry: Was that prior to lockdown or post lockdown?

Mr Steve Rotheram: It was the – our first meeting was on the 20th, which is the Friday before lockdown, so the planning of that must have been weeks before.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. In your statement you describe also engaging with the local NHS directors of public health from February, effectively, onwards; is that right?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yeah, and one of the problems that we had is that – again, that was predicated on the goodwill of people who were leading local authority areas, for me to have access to their directors of public of health and not a statutory responsibility.

Counsel Inquiry: Again, going back to that potential lacuna that you identified at the outset.

Mr Steve Rotheram: Absolutely.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, as the pandemic progressed and post lockdown, did things improve to any degree, in terms of communications with the government?

Mr Steve Rotheram: When are we talking about here, what month?

Counsel Inquiry: Effectively post lockdown, from that March, April, May period.

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yes, there was some informal communications but there were no official channels for us to raise any particular issues and it was much later on that we started to get the access to the secretaries of state and senior misters in the government that we needed to – so we could find out the information necessary to put appropriate measures into what was happening locally.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed, we’ve heard a little bit earlier this afternoon about attempts to engage with Westminster and to attend COBR. Were you part of those attempts?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yeah, we – well, we believed as a group – it was the – called the M9 at the time, there were nine metro mayors, and I think it was four Tories, five Labour, so it was pretty balanced, and we believed that there should be representation from that group at COBR. We hadn’t decided who that might be but we did believe that our voices should be heard because of the enormity of the population that those nine people had – represented.

Counsel Inquiry: With regard to that nine group, the group of metro mayors, did there ever come a point where you were represented essentially by one individual in that way?

Mr Steve Rotheram: No, I don’t believe so.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed, you did not attend COBR, save for one exception, which we’ll move to later in the chronology, in October of 2020?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yes, that’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: We’ve heard evidence earlier that you and Andy Burnham issued joint statements asking government to widen membership to also include mayors from the north-west. Did you ever get a response to that?

Mr Steve Rotheram: No, I don’t believe we did?

Counsel Inquiry: Turning, as we go, again, through the chronology and into the summer, and looking at engagement, a number of NPIs were relaxed as coming out of lockdown initially but then also Eat Out to Help Out was announced. Did you have any advance notice of either those relaxations or the scheme?

Mr Steve Rotheram: We had no notification whatsoever. So that came as a real bolt out the blue.

Counsel Inquiry: So were you finding out as the public found out?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yeah, on nearly every major announcement we were watching the telly and – and we work late anyway in our office, so we were staying until stupid hour watching what was happening on the news so that we could then start to formulate our response to that for the next day.

Counsel Inquiry: Did that present any challenges for you?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Consistently.

Counsel Inquiry: What challenges were they?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Well, that we were reacting rather than proactively working in engagement with central government to formulate some of those policies.

Counsel Inquiry: Did that cause any difficulties with your constituency base?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Often, especially on messaging, and we desperately needed a single voice and some coherence around that message, and that was often lost because things were quite fluid and changed quite often and things would flip-flop one way and then a different way and a different occasion. So it was much more difficult to take people with you.

Counsel Inquiry: We’re going to deal with some of those challenges later when it comes to looking at tiers, but were there also any logistical challenges for the authority?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yeah. There was – I’ll give you an example. Both the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and myself were asking I think in the April around face coverings, and I wanted the government to introduce this and I wanted to do it locally.. And believe it or not I would have had to change the bylaws locally and get that through the legislative process to do that before we could enforce face coverings.

So there were lots of things that happened where if it had have come from central government that would have alleviated the local problems that we were facing.

Counsel Inquiry: We’ve heard a little bit already this morning about that issue and engagement on that issue, so I’m going to leave that there, but mainly because we’ve got other points to cover this afternoon.

But dealing then, if I may – so that’s public communications and messaging. I’m going to now come to, the tiers, and that takes us somewhat ahead, following Eat Out to Help Out, the summer time, and then effectively moving through September and into October.

Now, in October, is it correct there were rising infection rates in the north-west and in particular within the Liverpool region?

Mr Steve Rotheram: There were across the north-west but specifically in the Liverpool City Region, and one of our areas was the third highest R rate in Europe.

Counsel Inquiry: So you had one of the – the third highest R rates in Europe. In terms of the situation with regard to the NHS and hospitals, how did that present itself in the Liverpool City Region?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Well, by now we were having regular conversations and meetings with the directors of public health, with our NHS representatives and with the scientists, and the – around mid-October we were getting genuinely concerned that the NHS didn’t have the capacity if the R rates had have continued and the numbers of people who were presenting with infections in hospital, then there would have been no capacity at all within the Merseyside area for anybody presenting with any other condition that was non-Covid. So we were literally at capacity and worried that it might tip over.

Counsel Inquiry: The Inquiry has heard some evidence about the development of the tier structure in response to concerns such as the rising R rate and infection numbers within Liverpool. When did you find out about the potential for tiering?

Mr Steve Rotheram: So we’ve had some conversations with the Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, early in October, I think it was the 5th, and within that we’d – he’d said there might be the need for some additional restrictions, and I think tiering might have been mooted, certainly no detail on that, and what we were very concerned with at that same time was that the government had also floated the idea that furlough would be reduced from 80 per cent to 67 per cent, and so that was the main topic of conversation from my perspective because I was 100 per cent opposed to any reduction, because that would have hit our area harder than anywhere in the country.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. Presumably you’ve been listening to the evidence immediately before you from Andy Burnham in relation to furlough. I’m not going to go back over that now, save as to say you are on the same page as him, presumably?

Mr Steve Rotheram: I didn’t hear it all and the connectivity is not brilliant, so it cut out, but generally we do speak with one voice, myself and the Mayor of Greater Manchester, because we were communicating on a regular basis, a daily basis, during that terrible period.

Counsel Inquiry: In terms of Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3, and potential Tier 3 restrictions for the Liverpool City Region, when did you first hear about that?

Mr Steve Rotheram: So we had a meeting with the Chief Medical Officer on 9 October, I think that was the Friday, and within that he outlined the concerning situation across the Liverpool City Region with the R rate but with the NHS, and it was understood that something needed to happen, specifically in our geography, because we – we were genuinely concerned that we wouldn’t have any additional capacity. So that was the first time that that sort of thing had been discussed.

He showed us all of the scientific evidence, so put charts on the screen. It was along with all the leaders in the Liverpool City Region, so the six local authority council leaders. So we basically knew we had to do something, collectively.

Counsel Inquiry: In terms of doing something collectively, at that point was it envisaged that it would be a tiered system, with increasing levels of restrictions, or were you looking at something different?

Mr Steve Rotheram: I think that came on the Saturday, the actual – you know, “We need to discuss about this new thing, Tier 3”. We started to talk about what that might look like and what the additional restrictions would be, whether it would be an a la carte menu or whether it would be a prescriptive list of things that we had to do. And of course then on if we did enter into Tier 3, because at that stage nobody had, if we were first entrants, what any financial support package would look like, because obviously that would mean, with another local lockdown, that businesses would be constrained, and we were very, very adamant that businesses shouldn’t be detrimentally impacted.

Counsel Inquiry: So were financial considerations a concern for you at that point?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Massive.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, in terms of discussion with the government, from 9 to 11 October – spans a weekend in short?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: You were involved in a number of discussions, negotiations, is that right, in relation to the measures that would be taken within the region but also the financial package that would come alongside it?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yes, with all sorts of people within Number 10 and secretaries of state and scientists and Uncle Tom Cobley and all to tell you the truth. But we were – we really wanted to understand the science and whether the list that eventually emerged would do the job, whether that would tackle some of the problems that were previously identified.

Counsel Inquiry: Just to be clear, those discussions and negotiations involved the Prime Minister and Edward Lister, who we have heard from previously, Robert Jenrick, another Member of Parliament, and other individuals?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Very much around that list, to tell you the truth. The others were peripheral. Ed Lister was central to this and he was the one that constantly we had conversations with and Zoom and Teams calls, and was somebody who would pick up the phone to me during the negotiations and inform me of what the thought of the Prime Minister were.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. And we know from other evidence that he was dealing not only with you but some of the other areas as well with other mayors as we’ve heard today and indeed earlier in the Inquiry.

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: With regard to those negotiations and the debate, did you reach a consensus or effectively an agreement, and at what point?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Well, we were certainly in dialogue right up until Sunday early evening, and then we sort of had adjourned that and we were going to pick this up the next day, on Monday the 12th, and there was a front page of The Times Online that came out that evening and that basically identified that was a fait accompli and we were going into Tier 3 whether we liked it or not. But we still thought that we were negotiating a deal.

Counsel Inquiry: So did that come as a surprise to you, that announcement, in terms of the paper article?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yeah. We were certainly moving towards the same conclusion, but to have the rug pulled under our feet – because we were very concerned at the messaging to the people in the Liverpool City Region. We – at this same time we had Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester who was trying to push back against the government who’d not supported Greater Manchester for weeks and weeks and weeks when they had been in the highest tier. So for that to be seen that Manchester were opposing something but we were almost voluntarily, as people would have seen it, moving into the highest tier, I thought could be problematic, and certainly that’s how it panned out.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. I’m going to move to that in a moment. I just want to deal with the remainder of the 12 October first, if I may.

You attended – that’s when you attended the first and only COBR meeting, is that right.

And if I can just call that up, please. Thank you.

Here we see the minutes of that. We can see it was held on Monday 12 October at 10.30 in the morning. A large number of attendees, Prime Minister sitting in the chair of the meeting. If we go over the page we see further attendees that were present. And over again, it’s a very long list, I’m afraid, and you’re on, I think, this page, and we can see you on the right-hand side, third up from the bottom, as attending.

With regard to that, if I can go to page 5, please, and paragraph 1 of that, initially it opens with the Prime Minister welcoming everybody and thanking you for being in attendance that day, gives an update on the situation, the R rate was between 1.2 and 1.5 and pinpointed various areas where transmission was of particular concern, Nottingham, Londonderry/Derry. Said a full lockdown would interrupt education again, would be very economically damaging. Alternate option, letting disease spread would result in many thousands dying prematurely. A middle-ground course of action led locally was required to reduce transmissions of Covid-19 and its success critically depended upon the co-operation of the public. And here we see the chair, the Prime Minister, acknowledged a package of support developed by Merseyside to reduce infections within Liverpool.

So that’s the opening, in short, to the meeting, is that right? That’s the context?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yeah. And the most important line in all that is that it says its success was critically dependent upon the co-operation of the public. I think that needs to be borne in mind for what we come on to.

Counsel Inquiry: Public messaging?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Indeed.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed.

If I just continue onward, please, to paragraph 2, we see an update from the Chief Medical Officer, and this is specific to your area effectively. He said:

“… the rates of COVID-19 amongst the over 60 years old, particularly within Merseyside, were going up and would result in increased hospitalisations and deaths … COVID-19 was displacing other health conditions which was increasing the burden of disease amongst non-COVID-19 conditions.”

A theme that we have already heard evidence on.

It continues, and this is the Chief Medical Officer’s view, Professor Sir Chris Whitty:

“… concluded that implementing baseline ‘Tier Three’ restrictions would not reduce the R-rate to below 1 and compliance with more stringent measures would be required to successfully reduce the virus.”

It then continues through the meeting, come back to some scientific advice momentarily, and we go through to your update.

It’s on page 6, please, and it’s paragraph 9.

You’ve been asked for your views on the potential measures in terms of local measures. It says:

“… the overall goal was to reduce infection rates and relieve pressure upon hospital beds.”

That’s what we were just referring to earlier.

“Measures to reduce infection included improved local capacity to use Test and Trace data. Enforcement remained a challenge for local authorities and that simplified legislation would support [that]. He concluded that … hospitality … would be impacted greatly by the new measures and asked that further consideration was given to how to support these workers.”

Did you go into detail in relation to any further support within this meeting with the Prime Minister?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yeah, I said that it was an absolute red line for us to still at that late stage enter into any deal with national government that would see a reduction of furlough from 80 per cent to 67 per cent, and I think that’s what that’s referring to, slightly coded. But it was the people, the workers is in the city region who we were trying to protect at this stage. And of course it also mentions test and trace data. That was something that we had longed for, for – and I think – this is the bit that I did hear, Andy was explaining it wasn’t until, I think it was, Nadhim Zahawi was appointed that we started to get access to some of that data, but that data should have been ours as a right.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed.

Just continuing, if I may, just to focus on this meeting at the present time, you have raised the issues of furlough, you’ve raised the issues of financial package. At this point there had been no deal, had there? It was still being negotiated?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Nothing absolutely concluded but we were very much moving towards that. And just so that we have a full picture of this, there are people who spoke later and the leaders – so Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford, and Arlene spoke later – Foster – and they all said that they had supported my red line, which was no reduction in furlough.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, moving on through and just dealing with the other advice that was provided in relation to the tier system of which you were concerned, or why you were there that day, if I can go to page 8, please, and paragraph 18, what we have here is:

“The [Government Chief Scientific Adviser] …”

So Professor Sir Patrick Vallance.

“… [explained] that the impact of lockdowns and the impact of doing nothing were known, but the impacts of interventions between them was not known.”

And it continues:

“However, while the granularity of effects were not yet know, it was clear a baseline Tier Three approach would not reduce the R rate to an acceptable level. A circuit-breaker approach, a hard period of intervention for a limited time period, such as 3 weeks, was an option that SAGE had considered, it could reduce this R rate to below 1 and would allow for a period of reduced infections to follow. He concluded another positive of the circuit breakers was that they could be planned for but that final decisions would be dependent upon strategic aims.”

Were circuit breakers discussed at this meeting that you were present at at COBR?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Not just at this meeting but it was something that the metro mayors had called for for some considerable time in the build-up to all of this, because we understood that whilst we had to do stuff to control things within our own geography, there’s a bleed between geographies, people don’t stick rigidly to those administrative boundaries, so within the (unclear) of the Liverpool City Region, every single day people flow in and out of it and we knew that it was much more difficult to do it in one area but we had to try something. And by the way what we did was demonstrably successful, because despite – that’s a generalised statement, isn’t it, but within the Liverpool City Region we did see a fall over those three weeks, even with a Tier 3 approach.

Counsel Inquiry: Of course it was then – Tier 3 then moved into the national lockdown?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Exactly the point, yeah, but we’d already started to go in the right direction.

Counsel Inquiry: The infections started to decrease?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: At that point was your view that Liverpool City Region ought to enter into a tier system or that there ought to have been a circuit-breaker?

Mr Steve Rotheram: I think it was an inevitability that we were going to into Tier 3, given The Times headline. What I was most concerned about was the messaging, and I pointed out earlier, if you don’t take the public with you, it doesn’t matter what those restrictions might have looked like and the arguments for or against it, it had to be communicated correctly to the people in the Liverpool City Region, and I wasn’t afforded that opportunity.

Counsel Inquiry: Just going to that and not being afforded that opportunity, after this COBR agreement was reached and finalised and at that point is it right that you had a phone call with the Prime Minister?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: What was discussed in that phone call with the Prime Minister?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Well, exactly the whole scenario about how we would communicate to ensure that there was compliance as widely as possible. And I very much emphasised the fact that a Tory Prime Minister in an area like the Liverpool City Region might not be the best person to be communicating this, and so therefore there should be a joint comms strategy on this and we needed to get the messaging absolutely nailed down, and he agreed to that. So I had my team ready and was expecting a phone call from Number 10’s team so that we could agree some wording on what that would look like, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. Later that afternoon it was announced by the Prime Minister that Liverpool City Region was entering Tier 3, is that right, and then subsequently in a Number 10 press conference that evening?

Mr Steve Rotheram: It – on both of those occasions, yeah, without any notification to me, and then we had to try to pick up the pieces.

Counsel Inquiry: What were the consequences of that in terms of implementing Tier 3 within the Liverpool City Region?

Mr Steve Rotheram: At this stage we were the first, as I say, but Manchester, because of their extended restrictions period, were still trying to get a deal, so it looked as if we were doing a deal but we hadn’t had those same restrictions prior to Tier 3, and people didn’t understand that outside. It was a confusion of who was saying what and why would Manchester not accept the deal and we would accept the deal. And as I’ve explained, for all the right reasons we wanted to ensure that we could reduce the R rate but also the deaths, because as the R rate increased the death rate did and we were really cognisant of the fact that far too many people had already succumbed and we needed to do everything we possibly could.

What happened was as soon as the Prime Minister stood up in the House of Commons, Twitter literally blew up. And my team who, you know, tried to manage the social media side of things just said, “There’s thousands”. And that resulted in all sorts of threats and unintended consequence, I’m sure.

Counsel Inquiry: When you say “threats”, do you mean threats to you or to your team?

Mr Steve Rotheram: I think probably to me more than the team, but there were direct threats, and that resulted in the Chief Constable having to post 24-hour security.

And I’m not sure that when the Prime Minister broke that agreement with me that in any way he thought that might have been a consequence, but that’s why I was so clear in what we needed to do to prevent those sorts of eventualities.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, with regard to public compliance, the Liverpool City Region did go into Tier 3 the following day.

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: On 13 October. It remained in Tier 3 up until the national lockdown, the second lockdown, came into force, but initially it was to last for four weeks with a sunset clause; is that right?

Mr Steve Rotheram: It was, and we got a financial package through to support that. But the issue wasn’t the four weeks, the issue was the additional restrictions, because we agreed the package and I was told it was a prescriptive package, and then Lancashire went into Tier 3 and their restrictions were different than ours and that caused, again, a hiatus and some problems.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed. And within your witness statement you set out the correspondence that you subsequently had in relation to that package, financial arrangements and so on, mostly outside of the scope of this particular module but of course the information is there so I don’t propose to take you further through that.

With regard to that aspect I just want to touch now, if I may, on one other issue and that is, firstly, in terms of the lobbying.

You lobbied the government on various issues, one being access to PPE.

Mr Steve Rotheram: Mm-hm.

Counsel Inquiry: You’ve already mentioned face coverings. A third being the financial support that you’ve touched upon already, and indeed we’ve heard evidence earlier today, and there will be some questions on that in due course so I’m not going to deal with that in any great detail now but simply in relation to potential financial support packages to enable individuals to self-isolate. That was your concern in relation to the test and trace programme; is that right?

Mr Steve Rotheram: This was fundamental really to why I believe that the R rate had spiked, because there were far too many people – certainly low paid jobs in the Liverpool City Region where them people were faced with the sword of Damocles decision, and that was if they felt that they had symptoms they were choosing whether to stay home and get no pounds, no pence, or to take the chance that they didn’t have Covid and go to work, and I think that it was an intolerable position to put anybody in.

We explained this time and time again to government, that they needed to support us because we needed to have a package to support those workers so that if they felt that there may have been Covid symptoms that they erred on the side of caution and stayed at home.

Counsel Inquiry: Indeed, and you launched a Time Out to Help Out campaign, a play on Eat Out to Help Out campaign, in terms of words?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Again, you will be asked some questions about that. The other aspect that I wish to touch on very briefly is one particular event that took place that outset of the pandemic on 11 March. Again, you are going to be asked some questions about that but it’s the Liverpool match, the Champions League match versus Atletico Madrid that took place, the background to that being that public health concerns were growing, as you’ve explained.

With regard to that time what you say about that is that it was not clear at this stage if the government was seeking to take a herd immunity approach or was simply waiting to the last minute to implement a national lockdown.

That’s in relation to the timing of this particular football match that was being played. Why did you consider herd immunity to be a real possibility at that stage?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Because the government didn’t seem to have any strategy to tackling the pandemic and it appeared that they were just allowing things to happen. Herd immunity – look, I’m not a scientist, I hadn’t heard of herd immunity beforehand. This was something that we were reading about and learning about and worried about, but we do know, don’t we, from evidence to this Inquiry that there were allegations against the Prime Minister about piling up the bodies, and that’s how it felt. I was on the front line of this, if you like. It felt as if they were just going to allow it to let rip, and that was a major concern for all of us.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

I’m going to leave the questions about involvement in decision-making in relation to that match to others but if I may just ask you, finally now, in terms of lessons to be learned for the future and recommendations, a few questions in relation to the structural aspects concerning the role that you played the Mayor and the devolution agreements and the role of regional authorities essentially within the any civil emergencies response.

You have already explained that the Liverpool City Region combined authority is not a category 1 responder under the Civil Contingencies Act. We have also heard that London is. To what extent do you consider that lack of status as a Category 1 responder made a difference to your ability to co-ordinate the regional response in the Liverpool City area?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Massive. Massive difference.

As I say, I relied on the goodwill of others, including the leaders of local authorities. We were all from the same political persuasion. It might have been more difficult if we had have had people from different political parties, and therefore the likelihood that people could have played politics at no stage did any individual leader of the local authorities or the combined authority ever put politics before people. It was always about our place and our people and we were about protecting lives but protecting livelihoods as well, and that was the mantra right the way through it. Because we weren’t privy to some of the discussions and deliberations at the Merseyside Resilience Forum it was people anecdotally telling us things that had happened there, and that cannot possibly be the best way that we can run things and there needs to be a statutory footing for metro mayors. Basically our role needs to – the legislation needs to catch up with the advent of what we’ve now got across the city – sorry, across the country with regional mayors.

Counsel Inquiry: Of course, that legislation dates back to 2004 devolution agreements, subsequent to that?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Indeed.

Counsel Inquiry: Considerably so. And do you consider that that lack of status played any role in the way you were treated by central government with regard to effectively COBR meetings, Westminster, Number 10, Cabinet?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Possibly. I haven’t got the evidence to support this but there was a feeling that because we didn’t need to be included that at times we weren’t. And I’m slightly more confident that if we did have that codified statutory responsibility within the Merseyside Resilience Forum that only would the information have been readily to hand but also government would have had to included metro mayors, and myself, as part of the deliberations round that.

Ms Cecil: Thank you.

I have no further questions for you at this stage but if you just pause there.

My Lady, there are two sets.

Lady Hallett: Mr Weatherby.

Questions From Mr Weatherby KC

Mr Weatherby: Thank you very much.

Mr Rotherham, I ask questions on behalf of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice UK group and I have just two short topics, the first of which is the Atletico Madrid match. It’s of particular importance because a number of the families that I represent believe that their loved ones contracted Covid as a result of that match going ahead.

Now, for context, the match took place on 11 March, and that was the day that the Director General of the WHO belatedly, some may say, declared Covid to be a pandemic, and in doing so called for – called internationally for urgent and aggressive action to combat its spread. His words not mine. Yet on that date the match was allowed to go ahead in Liverpool.

The match was attended by, as you know, more than 50,000 people. The attendance included something like 3,000 people from Madrid. And again, by way of context, at that time Spain generally already had well known high case numbers, Madrid was a particular hotspot, and many Spanish football games were already taking place behind closed doors and there was a partial lockdown there at that time.

So, in terms of the match going ahead, were you consulted by ministers or government officials in relation to any decision to allow the match to go ahead?

Mr Steve Rotheram: So this was during March and sort of the pre-lockdown period, although of course, it happened very quickly afterwards. It was this and the Cheltenham Festival I think at the same time and that’s when lockdown happened which was too late for some people. At no stage were we consulted by anybody, not just national government, but there was no consultations with ourselves. Quite the opposite, actually. I mean, we were trying to get information, and at that stage the Government said the fixture was low risk.

Mr Weatherby KC: Right. So at that time you were concerned about it, and was it your view that the match shouldn’t go ahead?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Well, I was personally concerned as well because I’m a Liverpool fan, and I actually went to the game. And I remember it being very different than I think nearly every other game that I’ve been to because of the fan behaviour. You’ve already seen people sort of not socially distancing because you can’t at a football match but being much more cautious, and certainly with goals being scored, which we all know at a moment of unbridled joy, there was – it was certainly a subdued way which supporters were celebrating.

Mr Weatherby KC: I mean, the concerns you had, did you think it should have gone ahead at the time, or not, or were you simply looking for the guidance from official scientists or Government ministers about it?

Mr Steve Rotheram: We had no scientific evidence to support the fact that we were concerned about it, but if the Government had said, listen, this is not going ahead, I think everyone would have breathed a sigh of relief. But there was no evidence presented to us that it was anything other than the low risk that the Government claimed.

Mr Weatherby KC: Did you attempt to contact ministers or officials to question that, to say: where is the advice?

Mr Steve Rotheram: We had literally no conversations with national government at that stage about concerns over Covid. I mean, the doors were closed.

Mr Weatherby KC: Did you attempt to do so?

Mr Steve Rotheram: No, not directly, no.

Mr Weatherby KC: Yes, okay.

Now, following the match and later in April, I think it’s a matter of public record that the city Mayor, then Joe Anderson, called for an inquiry into why the game had been allowed to go ahead, and I think you supported that call for an inquiry; is that right?

Mr Steve Rotheram: I think if you get the chronology right, I was the first one the day before to say that there needed to be an inquiry into it.

What happened was the Mayor of Liverpool had asked that Matt Ashton, the director of public health, look at a local –

Mr Weatherby KC: I see. So you asked for a governmental level inquiry into whether the match should have gone ahead?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Yes. I had concerns, and I had phone calls from people who were genuinely worried that parents had gone to it and, of course, one or two of those subsequently did succumb to the illness.

Mr Weatherby KC: Did you get any response from a Government level regarding the rationale for the decision to allow the match to go ahead, or how municipal authorities or anybody else was supposed to manage 3,000 attendees from Madrid? Did you get anything after the match was over, after your call for an inquiry, by way of explanation as to that?

Mr Steve Rotheram: This was, as I say, during the period where the Government just blanked anything. It was a waste of time and energy trying to get them to do or help or assist or advise because it all fell on deaf ears at this stage, and not just in March but right the way through until –

Mr Weatherby KC: So you called for an inquiry but got nothing back.

Now, the second point, just very quickly – a different topic but about the position later in the summer. Mr Hancock in his second statement at paragraph 454 effectively puts the blame on local leaders or some local leaders making political points rather than following the data, in terms of the problems that you have already been asked about over the summer. How do you react to that? Was it local leaders who should be held accountable for the difficulties in the imposition of these localised regional restrictions, or were there other issues?

Mr Steve Rotheram: There was never an occasion where I was present at any meeting with any political parties or leaders where people tried to play party politics on this. But, look, does politics play a part in the background to this? Of course it does. When you have local authorities that are being hit the hardest in the whole country, they have a feeling that national government aren’t listening to them.

When you have an NHS that’s teetering anyway, they are political decisions. But there wasn’t party politics that were in any way a consideration of the approach that we took – (overspeaking) –

Mr Weatherby KC: As you said, nearly half of the mayors, the Metropolitan Mayors are, in fact, Conservatives?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Indeed, and within their combined authority areas, there are a mix of different political persuasions.

Mr Weatherby KC: Thank you very much.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Weatherby.

Ms Peacock.

Questions by Ms Peacock

Ms Peacock: I have a few short questions on behalf of the Trades Union Congress.

You already touched upon in your evidence the Time Out to Help Out campaign you launched in August 2020 alongside Mr Burnham. My questions focus on that campaign.

That campaign asked Central Government to continue to pay workers their full wage when they were required to self-isolate and they were unable to work from home; is that right?

Mr Steve Rotheram: Correct.

Ms Peacock: How did that campaign envisage practically speaking that workers would be paid to self-isolate? What was their proposal?

Mr Steve Rotheram: The proposal was that if anybody felt that they had the symptoms of coronavirus to err on the side of caution and for them to stay at home. The employer would pay the statutory sick pay to them, and – sorry, the bit between statutory sick pay and what their wage was, but that would be topped up by the Government. So the employer would pay, but they would be recompensed by national government.

Ms Peacock: And in terms of self-employed people, was it envisaged they could claim for loss of earnings up to a maximum daily amount as they are able to when on jury service; is that right?

Mr Steve Rotheram: That’s what we thought. We thought people who have complied with their public duty to do jury service, for instance, that’s what we were claiming that people should do with coronavirus. It was about public duty, and it was about those people – about if they went into work with symptoms and those symptoms hadn’t been realised.

Ms Peacock: You explained in your evidence earlier that you considered this issue was absolutely fundamental to why the R rate spiked because people on low incomes were being asked to make that very difficult decision between self-isolating and going to work and receiving payment.

How did this issue come to your attention? How did you become aware that this was an important issue for workers and residents in the Liverpool city region?

Mr Steve Rotheram: I think it was an excellent campaign by the unions to highlight the issue, but I was in dialogue with Frances O’Grady at the time, and she’d spoken out that something needed to happen because too many people, both the excluded groups, so the people who were self-employed and freelancers, were being left behind, but so were people who didn’t qualify because they were on zero hours contract so they were under the threshold.

Ms Peacock: My final question is: do you consider that Central Government responded adequately to the Time Out to Help Out campaign and the need for financial support for self-isolation at any point during the pandemic?

Mr Steve Rotheram: I think this, like a number of other issues that were discussed, was something that not only did they not respond adequately, I don’t think they actually responded.

Ms Peacock: Those are my questions, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much, Ms Peacock.

Ms Peacock: Thank you, my Lady. That concludes the evidence today.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much indeed, Mr Rotherham. Safe journey back to Liverpool. Thank you for your help.

The Witness: Thank you.

Lady Hallett: That completes the evidence for today. 10.00 tomorrow?

10.00 tomorrow, please.

(4.26 pm)

(The hearing adjourned until 10 am on Tuesday, 28 November 2023)