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Andy Burnham Has Been Accused Of “Playing Chicken" With People’s Lives As The Coronavirus Cash Row Escalates

Andy Burnham said it is "not about the size of the cheque" amid a battle with central government over putting Greater Manchester into a Tier 3 lockdown (PA)

4 min read

Andy Burnham has been accused of blackmailing the government and “playing chicken with somebody else's life” by councillors in Greater Manchester, amid the ongoing row over putting the region into a Tier 3 lockdown.

The metro mayor has been locked in talks with Number 10 for a week over a financial package to compensate those workers who will not be able to do their jobs if the area is moved into the “very high” category for coronavirus.

The outburst of local anger comes a day on from four Tory MPs springing to Burnham's defence after a letter was sent by another group of MPs from the same party, in which they asked him to "engage" with the government on its local response.

Meanwhile Downing Street is saying Manchester’s intensive care capacity will be fully used up with coronavirus patients within days as infections continue to rise across North West England.

Mr Burnham has been praised for his tough stance, saying this morning the question of whether a deal can be reached is "not about the size of the cheque”.

He told Sky News: "It's about protecting low-paid workers, people who are self-employed, supporting businesses and preventing them from collapsing.”

But he has been accused of “putting lives at risk” by the Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick, while Nathan Evans, leader of the Conservative group on Trafford Council, has claimed he is “grandstanding” to boost his profile.

He told PoliticsHome: “He's been quiet for six months and has had no profile, and it's all about 'raise my profile' - and it's playing chicken with somebody else's life effectively."

With hospitals at Salford, Bolton and Stockport already “at capacity”, he said “the bottom line is we need to go into Tier 3, that was agreed on last week.”

Cllr Evans said Mr Burnham is calling for more funding to go into tougher restrictions but “on the back of it is also calling for a national lockdown, so there's a disparity in what he’s calling for, and meanwhile people are getting iller.”

He said “the longer we delay this, the longer we delay everything,” and the “sooner we go into Tier 3 the sooner we come out of it, and we've wasted a week”.

While he understands the mayor’s desire to get a better economic settlement, he accused him of “brinksmanship” and said with the rate of infections doubling every seven days “we should have been arguing about money later”.

This was echoed by Salford councillor Robin Garrido, who told Sky: "Can I say that I think the behaviour of Andy Burnham has been quite outrageous. 

“I think he's held the government up to blackmail using the residents of Manchester.

“People in Greater Manchester, by and large, do not support what he is saying, and I think it's about time in fact he stopped playing party politics with what is a very serious pandemic.”

Again pointing to local hospitals being at capacity with Covid-19 patients, the Tory councillor added: “So I think it's time for Andy Burnham to stop playing politics, to start talking to the government and stop using it for party political purposes.”

Earlier a spokesman for the prime minister said the “entire surge ICU capacity” could be taken up by November 12 if cases keep rising as they are.

"In the over-60 age group, cases have tripled in the most recent 15 days of full data - there were 89 cases per 100,000 on September 27 compared to 282 per 100,000 on October 12,” he said.

"Hospital admissions in Greater Manchester are doubling every nine days."

Assuming a 14-day doubling time of positive cases, which is the "best case" scenario according to the government’s SPI-M modelling group, all free intensive care beds would be used by October 28.

They project Greater Manchester would pass the peak of the first wave to hit the region by November 2, Covid patients would take up the entire current ICU capacity by November 8. and the entire surge capacity by November 12.

Asked if that meant hospitals being overwhelmed, the spokesman said: "Yes, that's the entire surge ICU capacity.”

He confirmed talks with Mr Burnham and other local leaders were continuing, but repeated Boris Johnson’s suggestion they could act without an agreement in place "in order to protect hospitals and save the lives of residents".

This morning communities secretary Robert Jenrick, who is leading the negotiations, said he hoped a deal could be done "in the next day or two".

But he told the BBC: "Delay I'm afraid will only make the situation worse, will only put people's lives at risk, and will only make the economic fallout for the city worse in the long term.

"We do now need to take action. I hope that we can reach agreement but one way or another, we need to draw this to a conclusion."

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