GM Conservatives split as party moves to heap blame on Andy Burnham for failure of Tier 3 talks

Date published: 21 October 2020

Greater Manchester’s ‘red wall’ Conservatives appear to be split over whether Andy Burnham should carry the can for the collapse of Tier 3 negotiations.

The blame game has begun after local leaders and the government were yesterday (20 October) unable to come to an agreement over a financial support package by yesterday’s midday deadline.

Despite asking for £90m to cover an 80% furlough scheme, it is understood the region was prepared to accept a £65m deal – but the government’s maximum offer was £60m.

A figure of £22m was announced yesterday to widespread fury - particularly given the larger sums agreed for the smaller populations of Merseyside and Lancashire. However, this £22m is for the contact tracing and enforcement settlement and is comparable with the amount per person offered to other regions - in Merseyside this was £14m and £12m in Lancashire.

The government initially offered around £55million in business support (on top of the £22m) to Greater Manchester, which is also roughly proportional to the business support packages offered to other regions.

The Prime Minister has now confirmed £60m will be distributed among the region’s ten boroughs and communities secretary Robert Jenrick has written to the region’s 10 council leaders inviting them to open talks on claiming their share of the £60m.

The move seems designed to cut Andy Burnham out of any further negotiations.

The Mayor has enjoyed the backing of Conservatives such as Hazel Grove MP William Wragg and Bolton council leader David Greenhalgh during the talks, while others have taken a stance more in line with his position than that of the government.

Moves to shift the blame on to Mr Burnham’s shoulders have been reflected in a scathing letter signed by six of the region’s Conservative MPs asking the Mayor to ‘consider his position’ as a negotiator for the region’.

The signatories include Heywood and Middleton MP Chris Clarkson, Bolton North East MP, Mark Logan, Christian Wakeford, MP for Bury South, and Leigh MP, James Grundy. They are joined by James Daly, MP for Bury South, and Cheadle MP, Mary Robinson.

It reads: “Businesses in Greater Manchester are now at risk of closure as a result of the dogmatic stance you have taken. Your inability to work constructively for the good of the people of Greater Manchester is extremely disappointing - our current predicament rests solely on your shoulders.

“You have completely failed in your duty to the people of our city region.”

It adds: “In placing your own ego above that responsibility you have put hundreds of thousands of people in jeopardy.”

It comes ahead of a Commons vote this afternoon on a Labour motion seeking to set a national ‘template’ for Tier 3 financial support, rather than leaving it to negotiations.

Mr Burnham has urged Mr Clarkson to vote for the motion to demonstrate support for hospitality workers and businesses in his constituency.

But not all Conservatives in the region are pointing the finger at the mayor ahead of Tier 3 restrictions coming into force against a background of financial uncertainty.

Altrincham and Sale West MP Graham Brady has also criticised the government for imposing Tier 3 restrictions despite ‘considerable opposition’ from both Labour and Tory MPs in the region.

The lockdown-sceptic also questions the evidence that the new measures – which come into force on Friday – will have any significant effect.

Bolton West MP Chris Green last week resigned his junior parliamentary position over continuing restrictions in Bolton, claiming the ‘cure is worse than the disease’.

He is an unlikely ally of Andy Burnham, but his most recent tweet suggests some sympathy with his position.

It reads: “This has always been a Government/Local Authority relationship until No.10 decided to rope in the mayors. MPs can push and support but don’t negotiate the deals. Mr B[urnham]'s position has shifted in my direction and I will do what I believe to be right. It is why I resigned.”

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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