Greater Manchester leaders are set to make a last-ditch bid for more funding after the Government issued an ultimatum threatening stringent new coronavirus controls unless a deal is agreed by midday.
Andy Burnham accused ministers of acting provocatively by issuing a statement on Monday night warning that the Government had no choice but to act because of the deteriorating situation in the region.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said there were now “more Covid-19 patients in Greater Manchester hospitals than in the whole of the South West and South East combined”.
He added: “Despite recognising the gravity of the situation, local leaders have been so far unwilling to take the action that is required to get this situation under control.
“I have written to local leaders this evening to make clear that if we cannot reach agreement by midday (on Tuesday) then I must advise the Prime Minister that despite our best endeavours we’ve been unable to reach agreement.”
Mr Burnham said he would “try to be positive and respond, and see if we can find a way forward” despite the “slightly provocative move” by the Government.
“The letter is odd in that it is both an ultimatum but it references potential additional support that could be given to us. The thing is, we’ve never been given a figure for that additional support,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“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.
“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.”
Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Today that £22 million has been offered to Greater Manchester, equivalent to £8 per capita, and there would be “additional support commensurate with what we have done in Liverpool City Region and in Lancashire”.
Mr Burnham said he would not break the law if the Government imposed the measures on the 2.8 million people in Greater Manchester without the consent of civic leaders.
The leader of Manchester City Council Sir Richard Leese also said he still hoped it would be possible to find an agreed way forward in the hours remaining.
And he acknowledged they would have no choice but to comply if ministers decided to impose the most stringent Tier 3 restrictions.
“I am hoping that tomorrow (Tuesday) morning we will be able to sit down again with ministers and come to an agreement which will serve the best interests of the people of Manchester,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.
“Clearly if Government imposes Tier 3 – and I hope that won’t happen – we will clearly need to comply with that.”
There was anger among some of those involved in the negotiations at what they said was the use of “selective statistics” by the Government to raise concern about the public health situation in the region.
A Downing Street briefing for journalists in Westminster suggested Greater Manchester’s intensive care capacity could be overwhelmed by Covid-19 within weeks.
But Professor Jane Eddleston, Greater Manchester’s medical lead for the coronavirus response, insisted the system can “cope” and that they would “bring more beds into play”.
The imposition of Tier 3 controls would mean a ban on households mixing – including in private gardens or outdoor hospitality settings – while pubs and bars will be forced to close unless they serve meals.
So far only Liverpool City Region and Lancashire have come under the tightest restrictions in England – in each case with the agreement of local leaders.
Mr Jenrick’s statement follows a warning last week by Boris Johnson that the Government would act to impose stricter measures in Greater Manchester if they could not get agreement locally.
It came after the latest talks on Monday between the region’s leaders and the Government broke up without a deal.
In other developments:
– Test subjects could be exposed to the new coronavirus in controlled settings from January in a bid to speed up vaccine development, officials have confirmed.
– The Irish Government agreed to impose the highest level of restrictions under its five-tiered plan for living with Covid-19 from midnight on Wednesday for six weeks.
– The Equality and Human Rights Commission said the pandemic has disproportionately hit the young, the old and those from ethnic minorities.