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Government ensures a ‘winter of hardship’ for Greater Manchester

Andy Burnham warns Johnson's financial package will ‘increase poverty, homelessness and hardship’ in the region

THE government ensured “a winter of hardship” for Greater Manchester today as ministers refused to offer the “bare minimum” of funding for the region’s Tier 3 lockdown.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said that the government walked away from talks at 2pm today without agreeing on a financial package.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson later announced that the region would go into the harshest form of local lockdown from midnight on Thursday.

Mr Burnham and 10 local-authority leaders tried desperately to compromise over fully costed plans to protect people when their jobs disappear under the new wave of restrictions.

The mayor said that while the government was prepared to spend billions to fund failed test-and-trace operations, it was not prepared to give just £65 million to prevent a winter of suffering for Greater Manchester.

Mr Burnham spoke at a media conference shortly before the PM announced plans to force the region into Tier-3 restrictions, which will shut businesses such as pubs and bars and put thousands of jobs at risk.

“People here have been living under restrictions for six months,” said Mr Burnham. “To accept further restrictions without the financial support they need would increase poverty, homelessness and hardship.”

He said that thousands — particularly those on minimum wage — would be unable to survive on Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s new job-support scheme, which only pays 67 per cent of wages for those in locked-down businesses.

“It cannot be right to close people’s places of work and shut down businesses without giving them proper support to look after themselves during a very challenging winter,” Mr Burnham said.

“We put forward properly costed measures — an extra £15 million a month to support the people of the 10 boroughs across Greater Manchester. People who needed to be furloughed on 80 per cent of their wages, who could not survive on two thirds of their wages.”

He said that local leaders compromised and reduced their request for financial support from £90m to £65m — a figure he described as the “bare minimum to prevent a winter of real hardship.”

The government had only been willing to give £60m. But Mr Johnson later announced that Greater Manchester would now only receive £22m from the £465m offered to aid local authorities in implementing lockdown restrictions. 

Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese said: “There was, even to the last, a willingness of leaders in Greater Manchester to compromise, and we put together a set of proposals to deal with all the issues we face.

“We were prepared to compromise on the cost of that.

“The government were not prepared to meet us in a reasonable place.

“It’s not really a way to carry out business given the seriousness of what we face.”

Jonathan Reynolds, an MP in Greater Manchester and shadow secretary of state for work & pensions, said that the sums involved “sound entirely inconsistent with the packages offered to other parts of the country.”

“There is agreement that further health restrictions are required,” he said. “This is about the support package … Andy Burnham is right to fight for jobs and livelihoods.”

During his press conference yesterday, Mr Johnson said he “regretted” that an agreement was not made.

He argued that the financial support package was proportionate to that offered to Liverpool.


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