Government and Greater Manchester yet to reach agreement on lockdown measures

19 October 2020, 07:14 | Updated: 19 October 2020, 19:08

Manchester leaders and the Government have been embroiled in a row over Covid restrictions
Manchester leaders and the Government have been embroiled in a row over Covid restrictions. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The government and local leaders in Greater Manchester have "disappointingly" still not reached an agreement on Tier 3 lockdown measures, a No 10 spokesperson has said.

Ministers are "carefully considering next steps" after failing to strike an agreement during a meeting with local leaders in Greater Manchester over Tier 3 coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

A government spokesman said: "A meeting between government and local leaders in Greater Manchester has concluded this afternoon following discussions throughout last week, over the weekend and this morning on measures necessary to protect the public.

"Disappointingly, we have still not been able to reach an agreement.

"This is particularly concerning against the backdrop of rising cases and hospitalisations in Greater Manchester. We are carefully considering next steps."

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has since written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to express "disappointment" at the outcome of the meeting with the Government.

Sources in Greater Manchester said they had been encouraged by an earlier call with officials where a proposal for providing support to low-paid workers was put forward, which was then expected to be discussed at the meeting with ministers.

But that appeared to then be ruled out by ministers, a source said.

Mr Burnham's letter is understood to stress that Greater Manchester will continue to work with the Government to find a resolution to the issue.

Meanwhile, Greater Manchester's intensive care capacity could be overwhelmed by Covid-19 within weeks, Downing Street has insisted, as it increased pressure on the region to accept Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.

Projections produced by the Government suggested Manchester's hospitals risked being overwhelmed by November 12.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: "Cases in Greater Manchester continue to rise.

"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.

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

Currently, the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care is around 40% of that seen at the peak of the first wave.

But, assuming a 14-day doubling time - the "best case" according to the SPI-M modelling group - all free intensive care capacity would be used by October 28 and would pass the peak of the first wave by November 2.

The projections suggest Covid patients would take up the entire current intensive care 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."

Talks on whether Greater Manchester will enter Tier 3 Covid restrictions have now concluded following several days of conflict between northern leaders and the Government.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said he had a "constructive call" with the Prime Minister's team on Sunday.

It has been suggested by the Treasury that further financial support could be given to the area, which Mr Burnham has been pushing for since Tier 3 was suggested.

According to Sky News, the prime minister is now ready to offer tens of millions of pounds to head off a Tier 3 revolt.

Read more: Liverpool mayor backs Burnham as Government accuses him of 'political positioning'

Read more: Andy Burnham blames Chancellor in Greater Manchester lockdown row

However, on Sunday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove hit back at Mr Burnham, accusing him of political positioning and insisting the Government wants to reach an agreement.

He said: "I want them to put aside some of the political positioning they've been indulging in, and I want them to work with us in order to ensure that we save lives and protect the NHS."

The dispute over which tier of restrictions Manchester should be placed under intensified on Friday when Boris Johnson said during a press conference that he may "need to intervene" in the region if a decision cannot be met.

Mr Burnham has stated previously that he wants the 80 per cent furlough scheme reinstated in the region in the event of Tier 3 restrictions in order to help the low paid and struggling businesses.

He told a press conference that the places that will be closed under Tier 3, pubs, betting shops and gyms, "are places where people are on low wages".

In a letter to the PM and other party leaders released before he had spoken to Mr Johnson's team on Sunday, Mr Burnham said Parliament needs to hold an urgent debate on this issue.

He urged party leaders: "We recognise the uncertainty that this is causing and write to ask for your help in breaking the impasse and finding a fair resolution.

"This could be done by parliament calling an urgent debate and vote this week to establish a cross-party consensus on what constitutes a fair financial framework for people in areas under Tier 3 restrictions."

Read more: Greene King boss: Tier 2 restrictions 'closure in all but name' for pubs

Read more: Wales poised for announcement on two-week national lockdown

He said: "The prospect of tier three restrictions on hospitality and other areas is not just a Greater Manchester issue".

"Establishing clear national entitlements of the kind we had during the first lockdown will create a sense of fairness which in turn would help build public support for, and compliance with, any new restrictions," he continued.

Significantly, Mr Burnham's demands for regional funding are being backed by Sir Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West and chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee.

It comes as the NHS in Manchester said it was monitoring the situation "very very closely" after the Guardian reported that it was running out of beds and that 82 per cent of critical care beds were taken on Friday.

However, a spokesperson said: "It's not unusual for 80-85% of ICU beds to be in use at this time of year and our hospitals work together if there are particular pressures in any one area, to ensure the best care for patients who need the high level of support ICU provides, both for Covid and for other reasons."

Over the weekend, Mr Burnham accused Mr Johnson of exaggerating the severity of the crisis in the region.

In a Sunday TV interview, Mr Burnham said: "I think it was an exaggeration of the position that we're in. Of course it's a matter of concern, and we watch the figures very closely indeed.

"But the figures have been falling in Manchester itself in the last few days, across Greater Manchester up slightly but certainly not doubling every nine days."

Downing Street said in a statement that Greater Manchester’s intensive care capacity could be overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases by November 12, further increasing pressure on the region to accept Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.

On Sunday, Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram told LBC’s Swarbrick on Sunday he will “stand shoulder to shoulder” with Andy Burnham in the row.

Mr Rotheram accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of using his name “inappropriately”, in what he described as “an attempt to divide and conquer”.

Liverpool entered into Tier 3 local lockdown restrictions from midnight on Wednesday, with gyms, casinos and pubs that do not serve food forced to close.

In the House of Commons and at press conferences, the Prime Minister has repeatedly mentioned Mr Rotheram as an example of a local leader who is working with the government.

Asked by Tom whether he was happy at being “so clearly close to the Prime Minister’s position”, the Liverpool mayor rolled his eyes, joking: “No it’s not and the wife is getting jealous so I wish he would stop.

"If I had a pound for every time I have had my name inappropriately used I would be challenging Captain Tom for his exploits in charity fundraising.”

It comes as a further 16,982 people tested positive for the virus in the UK as of Sunday with a further 67 deaths occurring within 28 days of a positive test.