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Fri, 27 November 2020

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Andy Burnham Has Blamed Boris Johnson For The Failure To Reach A Deal For Greater Manchester Over A Tier 3 Lockdown

Andy Burnham Has Blamed Boris Johnson For The Failure To Reach A Deal For Greater Manchester Over A Tier 3 Lockdown

Andy Burnham has blamed the government for being unwilling to offer enough financial support to Greater Manchester

5 min read

Andy Burnham has blamed Boris Johnson for the collapse in talks over a cash settlement for Greater Manchester as it faces the highest level of coronavirus restrictions.

And the region’s mayor has set up a Commons clash over Tier 3 lockdowns by saying he looks to “Parliament to intervene and make a judgement on a fair financial framework”. Labour later said it would force a vote over the restrictions.

In a press conference shortly after it was revealed the government will impose the tightest measures on Greater Manchester without local approval, he said the government had not offered enough to protect people through the "punishing" winter ahead.

Negotiations continued beyond the government’s self-imposed 12pm deadline today, but finally broke down without an agreement to provide extra financial support for the region.

A statement from communities secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed the outcome, with explicit criticism of the mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.

"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," Mr Jenrick said.

"I have therefore advised the Prime Minister that these discussions have concluded without an agreement.”

But Mr Burnham hit back over the funding for businesses and employees affected by a Tier 3 lockdown, which will see all pubs that cannot operate as a restaurant shut for a minimum of 28 days, along with betting shops, casinos, bingo halls, adult gaming centres and soft play areas.

He said local leaders had calculated they needed £90million in extra support, around £15million a month until the end of the financial year.

Having dropped that to £75million during the negotiations in the past week, Mr Burnham told reporters they were prepared to reduce it again to £65million - a figure he described as the "bare minimum to prevent a winter of real hardship" - but Number 10 would not go above £60million. 

"That is what we believe we needed to prevent poverty, to prevent hardship, to prevent homelessness," he said.

"Those were the figures that we had - not what we wanted - but what we needed to prevent all of those things from happening.

"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 has said it had sought to work with the mayor, council leaders and MPs in the region to find a mutually agreeable solution, but has also repeatedly said the prime minister has the power to unilaterally move the area from “high” to the “very high” category.

It has expressed fears about compliance if the restrictions were not endorsed by the local authorities, but appears willing to act now after projections released by Number 10 yesterday suggested Greater Manchester’s intensive care capacity would be filled within days.

It is now unclear what level of financial help the Treasury will hand over to enter Tier 3, as any lump sum was set to be on top of a £22million payment to pay for additional test and trace services and enhanced enforcement.

This equates to around £8 per person, which is proportionate to the per capita deals struck by Merseyside and Lancashire when they went into the "very high" category last week.

Mr Burnham was highly critical of the process, saying: "I don't believe we can proceed as a country on this basis through the pandemic, by grinding communities down through punishing financial negotiations.

"We are asking a lot of the public at this difficult time and we need to carry them with us, not crush their spirits.

"We need national unity, and that is why I now look to Parliament to intervene and make a judgement on a fair financial framework for tier three lockdowns, because make no mistake, this was not just about Greater Manchester, all parts of the country may find themselves in a tier three lockdown at some point this winter.

"And what we need to be able to say to people living in those areas, is that they have a guarantee that they can apply for, should they need it, 80% of their wages for their income.

"That is the least that we owe to those people. The money that businesses will be able to rely on to survive. We should be setting out fair financial frameworks."

In response to the news Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “The collapse of these talks is a sign of Government failure.

“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.

“Labour will continue to support Andy Burnham in the fight for people’s jobs, lives and livelihoods.”

And William Wragg, the Conservative MP for Hazel Grove in south Manchester, tweeted: The sense of failure is overwhelming.

"I shall avoid political comment until I have heard Matt Hancock’s statement in the House of Commons this evening.

"Leadership is required from everybody. Trust is placed in us all and that is the privilege of public office."

Read the most recent article written by Alain Tolhurst - Areas Of Kent With No Coronavirus Cases At All Are Being Placed Into Tier 3 Restrictions

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