By BBC Newswire

A TEESSIDE mayor has pressed his government to help the self-employed and renters “immediately” so they aren’t left at risk of homelessness.

Conservative Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said more needed to be done to help the two groups through the coronavirus crisis on Wednesday (March 18).

The metro mayor has also called on the government to speed up efforts to put a “quick and easy mechanism” in place for firms to access £10,000 and £25,000 grants.

Mr Houchen said: “I’ve left colleagues in Westminster under no illusion that more needs to be done immediately to support the self-employed and renters who must be given security that they won’t be at risk of being asked to leave their homes.

“We are in the midst of a global crisis not seen before, and given the unprecedented challenges for individuals, families, business and public services we need to throw out the rulebook on ideology and political motives and take whatever measures are necessary to preserve lives and minimise economic damage over the coming weeks.”

The warning came after the mayor warned as many as 17,000 jobs could be lost due to the crisis in the Tees Valley – and as much as £1bn could be wiped from the region’s economy.
Government advice has urged all people to avoid public gatherings – including  pubs, clubs and theatres – in measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

Grants of between £10,000 and £25,000 for small businesses were unveiled by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday.

The chancellor also said he was extending a business rates holiday to all firms in the hospitality sector – with mortgage lenders offering a three-month “mortgage holiday” for those in financial difficulty due to coronavirus, Jessie Joe Jacobs, Labour candidate for Tees Valley Mayor, has set up a raft of her own ideas and plans to try and help the region.
She has called for a “civic society response” to Covid-19 with a “simple to access non-medical helpline”.

Ms Jacobs said: “There is lots of community activity already happening but it needs pulling together.

“The same is true for businesses.

“Coronavirus is already having catastrophic impacts on the retail, leisure and service industry – with jobs and businesses being lost by the minute.

“We must call on the national government to address this urgently with financial measures – particularly in the form of a non-repayable, easy access capital and grants stimulus for business.

“Loans are not sufficient and capital is needed immediately, not in a month or so time, when it could already be too late.”

‘Heartened’ by response
Meanwhile, health bodies and councils are working around the clock to deal with the impacts of the virus.

Mr Houchen was confident the region was “on track” to meet the challenge ahead – with preventing hospitals and public services being “overrun” with infected people the “top priority”.

Officials say the number of people affected on Teesside is likely to mean pressures on services “not seen for more than a century”.

The mayor added: “I’m heartened to see that each of our local councils are working tirelessly to do all they can to protect vital public services and prepare for what is to come in the coming weeks and months ahead.

“The dedication of staff – from the chief executives through to front-line personnel – and the preparations that are in place that are improving every day, give me confidence that as a region we are rising to the challenge that coronavirus will bring.

“Our absolute priority as leaders is to protect life and do all we can to support the most vulnerable who are at risk.”