Covid: Greater Manchester facing 'winter of hardship' without support - Burnham

Published
comments
Comments
Related Topics
Media caption,
Burnham: 'It can't be right to close businesses without support'

The failure to agree a £65m package of support will mean a "winter of hardship" for Greater Manchester if tier three measures are imposed, the region's mayor has said.

Andy Burnham said tighter measures "would be certain to increase levels of poverty, homelessness and hardship".

He added ministers "walked away" from negotiations over aid earlier today.

Tier three rules mean most pubs and bars will close, and there will be extra restrictions on household mixing.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to hold a press conference at 17:00 BST, which will be followed by a statement in the House of Commons from Health Secretary Matt Hancock at 19:00.

Speaking alongside other local leaders, Mr Burnham said: "At no point today were we offered enough to protect the poorest people in our communities."

The former MP added he was still willing to do a deal with the government "but it cannot be on the terms the government has offered today".

But addressing the people of Greater Manchester, he added: "Please, everybody, observe the law at all times and follow the public health advice. Above all else, please look out for each other, as I know you will."

The latest government figures showed that, on Tuesday, the UK recorded a further 21,330 coronavirus cases and a further 241 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

'Government failure'

Mr Burnham's comments follow 10 days of talks between the government and local leaders - including mayors and MPs - over moving Greater Manchester's 2.8 million population from tier two to the highest restrictions.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the "collapse of the talks" was a "sign of government failure".

Greater Manchester is currently under tier two rules, meaning pubs and restaurants must close at 22:00, there is no household mixing indoors and the rule of six applies outdoors.

Under tier three rules - currently only applied to Lancashire and the Liverpool City Region - pubs and bars not serving substantial meals have to close, household mixing is banned both indoors and outdoors, and there is guidance against travelling in or out of the area.

Greater Manchester was offered £60m of central government to help support businesses under the new Tier 3 limits - but in a conversation with the prime minister, Mayor Andy Burnham suggested it was not possible to accept less than £65m.

Greater Manchester leaders originally submitted a request for £90m, which had been costed by a former Treasury official. On Tuesday morning they discussed £75m with government officials, which would have covered the period until the end of the financial year.

It's understood that Boris Johnson and Mr Burnham discussed a figure of £60m but were unable to agree. Ministers were reluctant to set a precedent of giving one region more, proportionately, than another, especially given ongoing talks with several other parts of the country which could also face tougher restrictions.

It is now not clear what financial support the region will receive. After 10 days of talks (of a kind) and billions spent during this crisis, it is quite something that the deal fell over down to a gap of £5m.

Earlier, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said Mr Burnham had been "unwilling to take the action that is required to get the spread of the virus under control".

He added: "I have therefore advised the prime minister that these discussions have concluded without an agreement."

Responding to the news, Sir Keir said: "The Conservatives have been treating local communities, particularly in the Midlands, North West and North East, and their leaders with contempt.

"Labour recognise the need for stricter public health restrictions. However, that must be accompanied by extra financial support."

William Wragg, Conservative MP for Hazel Grove in Greater Manchester, tweeted that the "sense of failure" was "overwhelming".

He added: "I shall avoid political comment until I have heard Matt Hancock's statement in House of Commons this evening."

The three-tier system of alerts came into force in England last week in an attempt to control rising coronavirus cases without a UK-wide lockdown.

On Monday, Mr Hancock told the Commons that discussions were planned about South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, north-east England and Teesside also moving into the top tier.

Speaking ahead of those discussions with government, Nottingham City Council leader David Mellen said he planned to make clear "that we want a package that properly protects local people, businesses, jobs and education, whether it's for tier two or tier three".

Media caption,
What is the new three tier system after lockdown?

Elsewhere in the UK, in Wales people will be told to stay at home from Friday, while pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops will shut, as part of a "short, sharp" national lockdown until 9 November.

A two-week school closure has begun in Northern Ireland as part of a tightening of restrictions.

And in Scotland, the tightest restrictions are in place in the central belt, and there are plans for a three-tier framework of measures, similar to England's.