Local politicians have warned of a “winter of hardship” in Greater Manchester as the area is forced into harsher coronavirus restrictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed the stringent Tier 3 rules when negotiations between ministers and local leaders broke down after more than a week, but only confirmed a fraction of the funds Manchester politicians wanted from Government.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham accused the Prime Minister of “playing poker” with people’s lives when a deal could not be reached on cash for the region to support them through the measures.
Mr Burnham said leaders of the authorities in Greater Manchester had originally wanted £90 million – £15 million a month until the end of the financial year – to protect incomes for people forced out of work.
They eventually reduced that sum to £65 million – which Mr Burnham described as the “bare minimum to prevent a winter of real hardship” – but ministers would only offer £60 million.
Boris Johnson only confirmed £22 million for the region in a press conference on Tuesday evening – though Health Secretary Matt Hancock later told the House of Commons that the £60m offer “remains on the table” and added: “Our door is open to further discussions with local leaders in the coming days about business support.”
Mr Hancock also told MPs he would consider thrashing out financial support borough by borough.
Speaking to reporters before the PM’s press conference, Mr Burnham said: “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?”
He added: “Are they piling pressure on people to accept the lowest figure that they can get away with? Is that what this is about?”
Deputy Labour leader and Ashton-under-Lyne MP Angela Rayner also reacted furiously to what she called the “spiteful, vindictive and nasty” way measures were imposed on the region.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the PM was “punishing the people of Greater Manchester”.
“This isn’t a game, it’s about people’s lives, people need proper financial support,” he said. “This is a national crisis and we won’t defeat this virus on the cheap.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer later said the party will force a Commons vote on Wednesday demanding a “fair one nation deal” for areas facing Tier 3 restrictions.
Conservative Chris Green, MP for Bolton West, said Bolton had “been through a far tougher lockdown than Tier 3 and it didn’t work”.
He added: “The Government believes that three weeks of closing pubs and soft play centres will make a dramatic difference. It hasn’t and it won’t.”
But six other Greater Manchester Tory MPs wrote to Mr Burnham accusing him of “placing your own ego” above his responsibility to the people of the region and urged him to let local MPs and council leaders attempt to get a settlement.
Mr Johnson, who will face MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, confirmed pubs and bars that do not serve food, bookmakers and soft play areas are among the businesses that will have to close their doors for at least 28 days from October 23.
He said: “Over the last 10 days we tried to get an approach with local leaders in Greater Manchester.
“Unfortunately an agreement wasn’t reached and I do regret this.
“As I said last week, it would have been better and we would have a better chance of defeating the virus if we work together.”
The restrictions will be introduced in Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan.
Rates of coronavirus infection in most areas in Greater Manchester continued to climb in the seven days to October 15, however they have started to drop in Stockport, Trafford and Manchester in the south of the region.
Meanwhile, there were another 21,330 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, the Government said on Tuesday, and a further 241 people died within 28 days of testing positive.
This was the highest daily death figure reported since June 5, but there is often a delay in the reporting of deaths over a weekend.
South Yorkshire could be the next area to agree to be moved into Tier 3, according to reports.
The Daily Telegraph suggested an announcement on stricter restrictions could be as made as soon as Wednesday.
A spokesman for the Sheffield City Region said on Tuesday evening: “Mayor Dan Jarvis, the leaders of South Yorkshire’s local authorities and the Government have been in extensive and constructive talks over the coronavirus alert level for the region.
“These talks continue as all sides seek to agree a plan which will protect lives, jobs and our NHS.”
Other regions are known to be in discussions with the Government about the possibility of being moved to Tier 3, including the North East, West Yorkshire, Teeside and Nottinghamshire.
In other developments:
– West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said he would not accept “a public, drawn-out negotiation with Government” should Tier 3 restrictions be imposed on the region.
– The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said under Tier 2 and 3 rules on household mixing people can still meet up for work meetings under certain circumstances.
– The Health Secretary suggested he was willing to talk to MPs about the possibility of gyms reopening in Merseyside.