Chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing to release tens of millions of pounds to persuade local leaders in Greater Manchester to take the region to the highest level of Covid-19 blockade, ending the blockade days.
Mr Sunak has told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he will not stand in the way if more money is required to “reach an agreement” with Andy Burnham, the mayor of Labor in Greater Manchester.
Mr Burnham held what his office called constructive talks Sunday with Edward Lister, Mr Johnson’s chief strategic adviser, raising hopes that an agreement to take the region to level 3 alert was imminent.
“We have said that if a bit of extra money is spent on them, we will not be a blockage of that,” an ally of the chancellor said Sunday. “The important thing is to reduce the spread of the virus.”
Mr Sunak has opposed Mr Burnham’s call for him to increase the generosity of a new local scheme for workers whose businesses are forced to shut down 66 per cent of wages to 80 per cent.
Instead, the chancellor is seeking to offer the region a discreet pot of money worth “no more than tens of millions of pounds” according to Treasury foreigners. Local leaders can decide how to spend it.
Mr Sunak has been concerned about not setting a precedent for large additional costs as more areas have been entered at level 3, which would see pubs, restaurants and many other businesses forced to close.
“Rishi made it clear to Number 10 that we can not distribute a lot of money to everyone,” said a government official.
The possibility of resolving the dispute with additional Treasury funds was heightened by the revelation that the Liverpool city region – the first part of England to enter Level 3 – had received another milion 30 million to help local businesses.
Civilian leaders agreed that 1.6 million people in the region would undergo the highest level 3 measures on Monday. But after other northern leaders refused to follow suit, the government has stepped up its financial support.
Mr Burnham said he was striving for more economic support for people whose livelihoods would be disrupted by the move to level 3, saying he was fighting for every part of the country.
“This is not just the Great Manchester War,” he told the BBC Andrew Marr Show. He said it was “everyone’s concern because everywhere he could end up at level 3” during the winter.
Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, said the government was ready to impose tougher restrictions on Manchester, but insisted the government wanted to reach local agreements if possible.
The stalemate has sparked political tensions between the north and south and within the Conservative party.
About 20 Tory lawmakers whose constituencies are less affected by the virus wrote an open letter to Mr Burnham and other regional leaders urging them to take the virus “under control” in Manchester to avoid ” the pain “of a national stalemate.
Led by Jerome Mayhew, MP for Broadland in Norfolk, they said: “We know you are calling for a national stalemate now, but you urge you to reconsider.” Some North Tor MPs privately said the letter was sanctioned by Number 10 and was wrong.
Mr Burnham said: “I’m not sure some kind of ‘we’re okay Jack’ letter from a group of Southern Conservative MPs will cut a lot of ice here.
Mr Gove said many people would receive at least 80 per cent of their income due to replenishments from the universal credit system. He said the problem could have been resolved days ago “if the political leadership in Greater Manchester had known the scale of the problem”.
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