Andy Burnham has accused the government of provocation after a minister issued a late-night ultimatum via the media, threatening to put Greater Manchester under the tightest restrictions if a deal is not reached by noon on Tuesday.
Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, warned the region’s mayor late on Monday night that if they fail to agree to pub closures and a ban on household mixing, then tier 3 measures will be brought in unilaterally.
He said he would have to “advise the prime minister that despite our best endeavours we’ve been unable to reach agreement”.
Burnham, who insists he has cross-party backing among MPs and council leaders, said he was meeting Greater Manchester’s leaders on Tuesday morning to come up with a “fair funding framework” to compensate the region’s poorest workers, many of whom will be unable to make a living under tier 3 restrictions.
“This is about people who work in pubs, people who work in bookies, people who drive taxis, generally the people who Westminster politicians ignore,” he said.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Burnham said: “A late-night ultimatum briefed to the media was a slightly provocative move, but I’m not coming on to rise to that. I’m going to try to be positive and respond and find a way forward.”
Jenrick’s ultimatum said: “We have offered an extensive package of support for local people and businesses, proportionate to the approach we have taken in the Liverpool city region and Lancashire and in addition to the wider national support.”
But Burnham insisted: “We’ve never been given a figure for that additional support. So what I will be proposing to the Greater Manchester leaders, when we meet this morning, quite early, is that we write to the government with what we think a fair figure is, given we have 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 who we think are going to need to be supported under a tier 3 lockdown.”
Last week, one Greater Manchester leader said there was a £62m gap per month between what the government was offering and what they thought was necessary.
He said: “I don’t disagree with them and I support them in that call. But I hope people will support us in recognising the position that we are in and all along this has been about standing up for people and businesses which otherwise are going to be seriously harmed by a lockdown which at this point in time is not fully funded. And it’s really important to stress that this unites everybody in Greater Manchester. This isn’t posturing. It commands the support of our MPs and all of our council leaders.”
One of Greater Manchester’s nine Conservative MPs told the Guardian on Monday that he did not want to push constituents into “destitution”.
Christian Wakeford, who was elected MP for Bury South in December, said while he was not wedded to Burnham’s insistence that furloughed workers be paid 80% of their wages, as during the first lockdown, there should be a “minimum floor”.
Wakeford said: “If it’s not 80%, it’s no lower than a set amount, whether that’s minimum wage or something else, so that we are not forcing people into destitution. I appreciate the knock-on effect that has because you couldn’t just introduce that for Greater Manchester, but I do think that’s an area that has unity between Conservatives and Labour. I don’t want to be a member of parliament who pushes someone into destitution so they can’t put food on the table just before Christmas.”
He added: “There needs to be that minimum floor, the threshold beneath which you know you are not going to go, especially as we are approaching winter months. It’s one thing saying 80% during the summer but when a lot more money is going on heating your home we really do need to focus on that.”
Burnham said he made no apology for fighting for a “fair financial framework” which would benefit not just Greater Manchester’s 2.8m residents but the rest of England too.
“We are standing up not just for ourselves but everywhere. Because there is a very good chance that every part of England will find themselves in tier 3 over the coming winter,” he said.