Tuesday, 20 Oct 2020

Confusion for Greater Manchester as row between No 10 and Andy Burnham continues

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has denied Number 10’s suggestion that talks have been arranged to end a row over plans to move the region into tier three coronavirus restrictions.

Downing Street said a call had been scheduled for tomorrow morning as both face mounting pressure to strike a deal, as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in the area.

But Burnham, who has rejected tier three plans unless more financial support is provided to soften the ensuing economic blow it would cause, claims no discussion has been arranged.

He says no meetings had taken place since Thursday morning, saying in a joint statement with council leaders that ‘we are ready to meet at any time’.

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Today Downing Street indicated that a message was left with Burnham, but a spokesman for the mayor said: ‘Nothing has yet been arranged.’

A Government source responded: ‘No 10 reached out this morning to try and arrange a meeting with the Mayor of Manchester.

‘We will continue to try and reach an agreement on these difficult, yet necessary, measures to protect the NHS and the people of Manchester.’

Boris Johnson has warned that he could impose restrictions without local permission, with Labour agreeing that the situation in Greater Manchester is ‘grave’.

The confusion over talks adds to anxiety already felt by the people of the metropolitan county, who could be plunged into a tier three lockdown at any moment.

Amid the growing pressure to reach a lockdown deal, Greater Manchester Police chief constable Ian Hopkins has responded to fears the force may not not adequately enforce third tier restrictions.

In an open letter published today, he said: ‘I wish to clarify that as the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police I am accountable to the Mayor of Greater Manchester and responsible to the people of Greater Manchester, critically I am operationally independent.

‘Throughout the coronavirus Pandemic, GMP have taken a proportionate response to policing the regulations. Over the last 10 weeks we have had more stringent local restrictions and have maintained this approach, issuing 563 fixed penalty notices for breaches of the regulations.

‘It is for local and national politicians to agree the necessary restrictions to keep us all safe. As the Chief Constable I will then ensure my officers and staff enforce these in a proportionate manner alongside our local authority partners.’

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green earlier urged both sides of the conflict to end the ‘blame game’, and called for negotiations to ensure the region receives an adequate support package.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston said: ‘That has not been offered by the Government. There hasn’t even been discussions over the past 24 hours between the Government and Greater Manchester’s leaders.

‘We have to have our local leaders around the table with the Prime Minister or with his representatives to thrash out a deal today.’

At a Downing Street press conference yesterday, the Prime Minister said: ‘I cannot stress enough: time is of the essence. Each day that passes before action is taken means more people will go to hospital, more people will end up in intensive care and tragically more people will die.’

But the mayor and council leaders across Greater Manchester insist they have done ‘everything within our power to protect the health of our residents’, demanding greater support for worker and businesses before a tier three lockdown can be accepted.

According to Public Health England Manchester’s infection rate currently stands at 460 cases per 100,000 people – the highest rate in the region.

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