Greater Manchester faces ‘high noon’ on Tier Three lockdown today with ministers preparing to overrule local leaders and Tory MPs – despite figures suggesting the coronavirus spike might already be easing in key areas.
Regional mayor Andy Burnham railed at the ‘provocative’ deadline set by the government this morning after a week of bitter wrangling over a compensation package.
But he admitted he will have to obey the law if Boris Johnson forces the issue, saying he would put one final number to the ‘penny pinching’ government – which is already thought to be offering the area up to £100million.
Mr Burnham also swiped at ‘selective’ figures highlighted by Downing Street that suggested Greater Manchester hospitals could be overwhelmed within weeks unless tougher action is taken. He insisted intensive care bed occupancy was about normal for this time of year, at 80 per cent.
The high-stakes brinkmanship came as a swathe of the country faces being escalated into the highest lockdown bracket, which means shutting pubs and restaurants as well as a ban on households mixing indoors. Mr Johnson gathered his Cabinet this morning for talks on the raging crisis.
However, fresh questions have been raised over the need for the drastic step, as official data show Nottingham, Newcastle, Sheffield and Manchester are among the cities where cases have started to plateau after a surge at the end of September, when thousands of students and staff poured back into universities. Infection rates in all four cities have been easing for several days.
In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Burnham criticised the late-night statement from Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick laying down the noon ultimatum.
The mayor – who has been demanding support equivalent to the 80 per cent wages furlough scheme for those hit by the lockdown – claimed Greater Manchester leaders had ‘never been given a figure’ for how much funding they would get. And he said they must have carte blanche on how the money is spent.
‘What I’ll be proposing to the Greater Manchester leaders when we meet this morning, quite early, is that we write to the Government setting out what we think a fair figure is for that support, given we’ve been under restrictions for three months and that has taken a real toll on people and businesses here,’ Mr Burnham said.
‘The second thing we would need is full flexibility to support the people that we think are going to need to be supported in a Tier 3 lockdown.’
Mr Burnham said: ‘I don’t think the government should be enforcing or dictating in this way. We need to work together as a country and I have been offering to work with the government all year.
‘Greater Manchester needs to establish a fair financial framework for Tier Three, because there is a chance all parts of England will come under Tier Three at some point over the winter and if the terms aren’t right we are going to see real damage to people’s lives right across the country.
‘This is an issue for everyone and is not just about taking a stand for Greater Manchester.’