Greater Manchester will be moved into the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions from midnight on Thursday, Boris Johnson has confirmed as he refused to say whether a £60m offer of support for the region remains on the table following failed negotiations.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the prime minister did not specify how much support the region would get. Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, had sought £90m in support for businesses and staff affected by the measures, dropping the request to £65m, but ministers offered £60m and ended the talks without a deal.
Johnson said only that Greater Manchester would receive £22m, but this is believed to be for extra local test-and-trace measures. It is understood that talks will continue over the extra support amid reports No 10 might now reduce the £60m offer.
“Over the last 10 days we tried to get a joint approach with local leaders in Greater Manchester,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, agreement wasn’t reached. I do regret this. As I said last week, it would have been better, and we would have a better chance of defeating the virus if we work together.”
He said the government had made a “generous and extensive offer to support Manchester’s businesses”, calling this proportionate to amounts given to Merseyside and Lancashire, the two regions to already go into tier 3 , under which pubs, bars and other businesses must close.
“The mayor didn’t accept this unfortunately,” Johnson said. “And given the public health situation, I must now proceed with moving Greater Manchester to the very high alert level [tier 3]. Not to act would put Manchester’s NHS and the lives of many of Manchester’s residents at risk.”
But under repeated questioning, Johnson declined to say how much money would be available, or whether Greater Manchester might now get less than the £60m offered to help businesses after this was turned down. Johnson said the “door remains open” for more talks with Burnham and other local leaders.
“In respect of funding of Greater Manchester, obviously we want to do more, but for the sake of fairness the deal has to be in line with the agreements we’ve reached with Lancashire and Merseyside,” he added.
Before Johnson spoke, the deputy chief medical officer for England, Jonathan Van-Tam, showed data slides illustrating a slight fall in new coronavirus case numbers among younger people, but a notable rise for older groups, particularly in the north-west of England.
It was the rise in cases among the over-60s “that really worries us most”, Van-Tam said, adding that death numbers were set to rise.
He said even tougher restrictions might be needed: “We can’t take the brake off on this, and we may have to push on the pedal a little harder to get it back under control.”
Earlier, the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, announced that talks had ended after several hours of fraught negotiations came down to a dispute over £5m in funding, or £1.78 for each resident.
At a press conference in Manchester afterwards, Burnham blamed the government for having “walked away” from negotiations, saying there had not been sufficient support offered to help local people amid the new restrictions.
Burnham said civic leaders were prepared to reduce their bid for financial support to £65m, which he called the “bare minimum to prevent a winter of real hardship”, but that the government would only go to £60m.