Policing fears prompt PM to stay his hand on Manchester
BORIS JOHNSON held back from imposing harsh Covid restrictions on Manchester last night amid fears the police will not adequately enforce them without the support of the city’s mayor.
The Prime Minister said he wanted “maximum local enforcement” but that could only be achieved with “maximum local buy-in”.
Greater Manchester Police answers to Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor who has so far refused to agree to the city being put into the highest of three tiers of lockdown measures. Yesterday, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, phoned Ian Hopkins, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, to make sure he had “all the support [he] needs” from “local politicians”.
Talks with Manchester’s leaders will continue over the weekend, with Government sources suggesting no decision on putting the city into tier three is now likely to be made before Monday.
Mr Johnson said last night that if the two sides could not agree, “I will need to intervene in order to protect Manchester’s hospitals and to save the lives of Manchester’s residents”. However, the Prime Minister’s three-tier policy was in danger of unravelling after leaders in the North East also persuaded the Government to back off from putting the area into the top tier by producing figures that showed the infection rate in the area was going down.
Lancashire did reach an agreement with the Government to be placed into tier three, only for its council leaders to later accuse ministers of bullying and blackmailing them into accepting.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Liverpool demanded to know why his city had been forced to close gyms when Lancashire’s had been allowed to stay open.
Yesterday, 15,650 people tested positive for coronavirus, a decrease of 3,330 on the previous day, with 136 deaths, two fewer than on Thursday. Figures also showed the infection rate dropping in Greater Manchester, with the sevenday rolling average falling from 556 cases per 100,000 people to 460. Mr Burnham has told the Government he
will only agree to tier three status for Manchester if the furlough scheme, which paid 80 per cent of the wages of people who could not work, was reintroduced in the region, something which the Treasury has ruled out.
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is prepared to give some extra support by extending the new job support scheme – which pays two thirds of wages – to businesses forced into “restricted trade”, as well as those forced to shut their doors, such as pubs.
It would mean businesses such as restaurants would get help in tier two and tier three.
Another option would see the cash grants available to firms forced to close, which currently run up to £3,000 a month, extended to f i rms whose incomes have been slashed by the ban on household mixing. Business groups are pressing the Chancellor to change the criteria for grants to include those firms forced to close by “circumstance”, as well as those shut down by law.
Mr Johnson said: “I hope that the Mayor of Greater Manchester will come with us … we’ve got to get this done but it’s better to do it together because we want the maximum local buy-in, the maximum local enforcement … and that means local leadership that is needed.”
Government sources said Mr Johnson was anxious to make sure police in tier three areas enforced restrictions. Ms Patel spoke to chief constables in Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Wales and Merseyside, “to make sure they have all the support they need from national politicians but also, more importantly, from local politicians”, said a Home Office source.
Police and crime commissioners – a role filled by Mr Burnham in Manchester – have the power to help set strategic priorities for their local constabularies.
The Home Office source added: “The police are not politicised. They have operational independence and it is the police’s job to enforce the law.”
Mr Burnham and fellow leaders in Greater Manchester released a statement saying said they had heard nothing from the Government all day, and had not received a promised response to requests made on Thursday.
“We do not believe that the current proposals provide adequate support and that is why we await further talks with the Government,” they added.
The seven-day rolling average of Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people in Greater Manchester yesterday, down from 556