Andy Burnham: ‘This is about people’ Manchester lockdown standoff

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“It’s not a case of ‘give us our money’, we’re just doing this for a big cheque for Greater Manchester,”

“It’s about people and their health, lives and businesses. Do that in a negotiated way with us that doesn’t level down our communities.”

Andy Burnham has accused the Government of trying to “level down” Northern communities as ministers prepared to impose tough new restrictions on the region.

Burnham said it was likely that “most places” would be in tier 3 restrictions before a vaccine was found, and the current Treasury offer was insufficient to prevent businesses from collapsing and people experiencing severe hardship.

He said: “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. We believe that sense of fairness will only be achieved by providing similar terms to the financial package afforded to the whole country back in March.”

But the row showed no signs of softening with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove accused Mr Burnham of having engaged in political “posturing” and called for him to accept the measures “to save people’s lives”.

The Greater Manchester mayor denied he was “playing politics”, insisting he had signed up to measures as far back as July.

He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr show: “It’s a very challenging situation. This is all about the health of the people in Greater Manchester. We were the first in the country – myself and the 10 leaders of local authorities here – to accept local restrictions. To those who say we’re playing politics, I would point them to that, which proves that we’re not doing that.”

Mr Burnham accused the Prime Minister of having engaged in an “exaggeration” of the severity of Covid-19 in the region during a Downing Street press conference.

“It’s a serious situation but I don’t think it was the situation that was described by the Prime Minister on Friday evening,” the mayor told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“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.”

But despite the clash, Mr Burnham said he would speak to Sir Edward later on Sunday, which Downing Street confirmed, after the two sides struggled to arrange talks the day before.

Andy Burnham said in a letter to the PM and other party leaders that Parliament should hold an urgent debate to end the deadlock.

Greater Manchester’s mayor has called on Boris Johnson for help in “breaking the impasse” over stricter Covid-19 curbs in the region.

In the letter, Mr Burnham said the prospect of tier three – very high – restrictions on hospitality and other areas “is not just a Greater Manchester issue”.

He wrote: “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.”

“As leaders of the main political parties in Westminster, I urge you to work together to help resolve this current dispute and establish a fair financial framework for local lockdowns that the whole country will be able to support,” he added.

Mr Burnham reiterated his call for a return to the generosity of the furlough scheme when it covered 80% of workers’ wages if they could not do their jobs.

And he warned he would still consider a legal challenge over financial support for the worst off.

“I would do anything to protect low-paid workers who I think are very close to the edge,” he said.

He also criticised the “I’m alright Jack” letter from Southern Tory MPs urging him to back down – which has angered Tory MPs in the Greater Manchester region.

Mr Burnham, who along with cross-party council leaders and MPs from Greater Manchester has opposed the Government’s attempts to push it into Tier 3, insisted his resistance wasn’t simply about financial support.

“It’s not a case of ‘give us our money’, we’re just doing this for a big cheque for Greater Manchester,” he told the BBC.

“It’s about people and their health, lives and businesses. Do that in a negotiated way with us that doesn’t level down our communities.”

He added: “Protecting health is about more than controlling the virus. We’ve been under those restrictions for three months and people’s mental health isn’t good.

“They’re worrying about their kids, their jobs, their businesses. This isn’t about politics or about money.

“A punishing lockdown without support, trapping people in Tier 3 for winter, will do real damage to peoples’ mental health.”

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