Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham says the region’s leaders “unanimously reject” a Tier 3 lockdown that he says is “flawed and unfair”.
He gave an impassioned speech on Thursday night on St Peter’s Square alongside other north west leaders after a day of talks with the government ended in frustration and confusion.
The Government is urging north west leaders to back a move to increase the COVID-19 alert level in Greater Manchester and Lancashire from Tier 2, high, to Tier 3, very high, which would mean pubs and bars must shut and all household mixing indoors and outdoors would be banned.
But Mr Burnham said they have been given no assurances from the government’s medical advisors that such a measure would make any real difference to spiralling coronavirus cases.
He also said that the Government has yet to agree to their demands for an increase in the financial package to businesses affected if Tier 3 measures were imposed.
He said: “Today we communicated our clear and unanimous view to the Government.
“It is wrong to place some of the poorest parts of England in a punishing lockdown without proper support for the people and businesses affected – to do so will result in certain hardship, job losses, business failure.
“It will cause harm in a different way to people’s mental health and is not certain to control the virus.
“Last night the deputy chief medical officer told GM leaders that to bring the infection rates down any regional lockdown would require widespread closures way beyond pubs to stand any real chance of working and that would have to be done in tandem with other neighbouring regions and even then it would not be certain to work.
“But here’s the point the government is not giving city regions like ours the necessary financial backing for lockdowns of that kind.
“That’s why we have unanimously opposed government’s plans for Tier 3, they are flawed and unfair. They are asking us to gamble our residents’ jobs, homes and businesses and a large chunk of our economy on a strategy that their own experts tell them might not work.
“We would never sign up for that. While this is not necessarily Greater Manchester’s view, the deputy chief medical officer told us last night the only certain thing to work is a full national lockdown.
“The overnment told us this morning they are unwilling to do that for the damage to the national economy.
“They are willing to sacrifice jobs and businesses here, to try and save them elsewhere.
“Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region and Lancashire are being set up as the canaries in the coal mine for an experimental region lockdown strategy with the attempt to spare the expense of what is really needed.”
Burnham said he and fellow leaders are asking for a full and fair 80 per cent furlough scheme for all affected workers, a proper compensation scheme, but said so far they’ve not been able to offer anything.
He added: “This is an important moment, Greater Manchester will stand firm we are fighting back for fairness and for the health of our people in the broadest sense.”
The furious response of Mr Burnham has been backed by council leaders and advisors from across the region who say they will NOT back Tier 3 measures as it stands.
Manchester Council leader Sir Richard Leese said: “Let me be very clear. There has been, and will be, no agreement from Greater Manchester leaders to Tier 3 measures.
“Without a comprehensive support package for affected businesses, and clear evidence that what is being proposed is justified by evidence of where and how the virus is being transmitted, and that the proposed measures will work, we cannot accept measures which will risk causing an existential threat to many city businesses and putting the health and livelhoods of thousands of people on the line.
“Leaders and MPs across Greater Manchester are united in their opposition to the imposition of these measures.
“There is very little evidence that significant levels of transmission of the virus are taking place in bars and pubs so to penalise our licensed premises, which have worked so hard to provide Covid-safe environments, is arbitrary and absurd when the evidence we have seen suggests that most transmission takes place through people meeting in household settings. Closing pubs won’t stop people meeting and, for those who wish to, drinking – it will just drive them underground.
“Of course we want to do whatever is effective to stop the increasing spread of Covid-19 cases and reduce the pressure on our local health system.
“But that requires restrictions which are clear and consistent, that people buy into and that come with increased, targeted enforcement powers and local control over track and trace – not a lockdown with no apparent exit strategy and the likelihood of real economic harm. Work is a health issue – both physical and mental health. Actions which put people out of work will have serious short and long-term consequences.
“Tier 3 – being asked to do something that even the government’s own advisors say are unlikely to work, increased restrictions with inadequate support – feels like the worst of all worlds.”
Meanwhile Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester’s night time economy advisor, said that a legal challenge is still being prepared in the event that the Government forces the Tier 3 measure on the region.
He said today: “I will support any measure which puts the health and safety of Greater Manchester residents and businesses first, but only when a proper financial support package is in place and where clear evidence has been provided that the proposed measures will work.
“At present we, in Greater Manchester, have not been provided with any evidence which shows a Tier 3 lockdown, and the economical damage that will cause, will be effective.
“I once again call on the Government to provide the necessary scientific data which outlines their reasoning for a move to Tier 3 and a potential hospitality lockdown.
“Cherry picking parts of the country and parts of the economy to test ill-thought through strategies is not something that Greater Manchester will be a part of.”