Manchester 'faces winter of hardship' after talks collapse, mayor warns

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham says Downing Street were first to ‘walk away’ from negotiations on a tier three lockdown.

Earlier today Number 10 announced that after an 11 day standoff, talks over a deal for financial support had collapsed – reportedly over an extra £5million.

Burnham says he couldn’t accept the Government’s terms, which he said would bring a ‘winter of real hardship’, with ‘people too often forgotten by those in power’ at greatest risk of job losses.

He said Downing Street had taken the ‘unilateral approach rather than working with us’ and said he is calling on Parliament to ‘intervene in this situation now’.

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The Mayor said Greater Manchester leaders requested a £15million a month package to cover residents across the 10 boroughs – amounting to £95 million by the end of the financial year.

He said they were willing to accept £65 million as the bare minimum ‘to prevent a winter of real hardship here, that is what we believed we needed to prevent poverty, to prevent hardship, to prevent homelessness’.

Burnham added: ‘Those were the figures that we had – not what we wanted – what we needed.

‘I don’t think it is right to ask people to go into a lockdown, to accept further changes within their lives, without supporting them through all of that.

‘How can we carry the public with us through this pandemic if we are forcing them to lose their income, their place of work, without supporting them through that?

‘But the Government refused to accept this and at 2pm today they walked away from negotiations.

‘In summary, at no point today were we offered enough to protect the poorest people in our communities through the punishing reality of the winter to come.

‘Even now I am still willing to do a deal but it cannot be on the terms that the Government offered today.’

The Government is thought to have offered £60million, which leaders in Greater Manchester have reportedly turned down following last-ditch talks between both sides.

Burnham announced a press conference to make his case shortly after 4pm this afternoon, one hour before Boris Johnson holds a briefing to formally set out the regions’ fate.

ITV political correspondent Paul Brand says Number 10 may now withdraw their offer as a result.

Greater Manchester had been given a deadline of midday today to reach an agreement, or else the Government would intervene and force the county into a tier three lockdown against their will.

In a rallying cry to the people of Manchester, Burnham said: ‘We are asking a lot of the public at this difficult time and we need to carry them with us not crush their spirit,” he said.

‘We will carry on fighting for you.” on the terms that the Government offered today.’

Leaders in the North West region were holding out for better financial support, claiming Downing Street had not done enough to soften the ensuing economic blow.

Previously only Liverpool and Lancashire were placed under the most severe category of England’s new ‘traffic light’ Covid-alert system.

Tier three rules will see pubs and bars forced to close their doors for 28 days, unless they are serving substantial meals, along with betting shops, casinos, bingo halls, adult gaming centres and soft play areas.

The measures are expected to come into effect after midnight on Saturday.

In a statement, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: ‘I’m disappointed that despite recognising the gravity of the situation, the mayor has been unwilling to take the action that is required to get the spread of the virus under control in Greater Manchester and reach an agreement with the Government.

‘I have therefore advised the Prime Minister that these discussions have concluded without an agreement.’

Yesterday, the mayor slapped down the suggestion that Downing Street was planning to offer £100million, insisting he is ‘not just going to roll over at the sight of a cheque’.

The Mayor, along with many other northern leaders, said they wanted the Government to cover 80% of workers’ wages for businesses forced to shut, as was the case in March under the old furlough system.

But the Jobs Support Scheme, which comes into effect from November 1, will only over 67% of wages for those who are unable to work.

Remarking on the breakdown of talks, Manchester Central Labour MP Lucy Powell tweeted: ‘Just for some context, the money the Treasury recently clawed back from GM in business cash grants from March/April lockdown stands at £88 million.

‘So Government TOOK BACK £88m in Covid business support but now won’t give less than this to support GM businesses now.’

She claimed the Government ‘clearly doesn’t really care about supporting businesses and protecting jobs AND protecting health because they are prepared to cause huge breakdown over £5m (a tiny fraction of what they’ve spent elsewhere)’. Powell added: ‘This is politics at its worst, not public health.’

At a Downing Street press conference on Friday, the Prime Minister said he would ‘intervene’ if an agreement wasn’t reached with Greater Manchester soon.

He said: ‘Cases doubled in the last nine days, high infections are creeping up the age range, while cases are 690 per 100,000 for 16-29 year olds. They have now risen to 224 per 100,000 for the over 60s.

‘The number of Covid inpatients in Manchester’s ICU beds is already over 40% of the number at the height of the first wave. That number will inevitably rise further given that hospitalisation occurs two to three weeks after infection.

‘On present trends in just over two weeks there will be more Covid patients in intensive care than at the peak of the first wave. So, I urge the mayor to reconsider and engage constructively.’

But many northern leaders have urged Downing Street to allow more time for restrictions already in place to take effect before enforcing any new ones.

Downing Street was criticised by Burnham for a ‘selective use of statistics’. In a joint letter with Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese, he said the area’s ICU occupancy is ‘not abnormal for this time of year’, claiming it is comparable to the same time last year.

The county’s lead for coronavirus response Professor Jane Eddleston denied this, insisting the system can ‘cope’ and that they would ‘bring more beds into play’.

Downing Street admitted the figures did not include Manchester’s NHS Nightingale Hospital, designed to deal with an overspill of coronavirus patients.

More to follow.

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