Covid: Burnham questions the point of negotiations after government says Tier 3 financial help is based on formula

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has told ITV News there was never any mention of a formula for Tier 3 financial support during talks with the government and now believes there was "never a negotiation" in the first place.

The mayor, who wanted a minimum of £65 million in financial support for his region before new restrictions were imposed, claims he was told by the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick when they spoke on the phone at 2pm on Tuesday that Greater Manchester would not even get the £60 million that had been offered.The health secretary later announced the £60m was still available.

The mayor was locked in talks with the government on financial support for more than ten days, but on Wednesday morning Mr Jenrick said cash offered to Tier 3 regions is based on a formula.

In an exclusive interview with ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt, Mr Burnham said a formula was never once mentioned in his negotiations with government representatives, nor in his phone call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

'What was that all about'? Burnham questions why government engaged in negotiations:

He said it now appears the government "just wanted to impose what they'd already decided would be the maximum we would get".

"This is what's strange today, the government is talking about it as though it was a formula, as though it was never a negotiation, but if that's the case what were we doing then over the last few days…what was that all about, then?" he added.

Mr Burnham said he has "no regrets" over the way he took a stand against the imposition of Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions in his region but said it now appears "there was never a negotiation".

"This wasn't a negotiation, this was basically bulldozed through and we took a stand."

"At some point you have to just stick up for what you feel is right for people and at all moments through this I knew what I was doing, why I was doing it...the stand we took was the right one," he added.

He said the government originally offered £50 million in support for business, but the very minimum he could accept was £65 million.

Burnham says Westminster doesn't understand needs in the north:

Talks broke down when Boris Johnson insisted in a phone call £60 million was the "maximum they could do".

He claims there was meant to be a second phone call between him and the PM after the £60 million was offered but it never happened.

"Just for us to nod that through was to inflict certain hardship, certain homelessness on some people, a mental health crisis bigger than the one we've already got and of course business failure," said Mr Burnham.

"If devolution is to be real it is about somebody in my position saying no," he added, "the UK government cannot impose its will on England anymore, particularly the north of England, and just expect us all to agree to that."

Mr Burnham denies claims by a government source that he said to the PM on Tuesday’s phone call that “this is important to me” to get more money.

He says Communities Secretary Jenrick told him Greater Manchester would not be getting the £60 million in a phone call at 2pm on Tuesday, after the government decided to impose restrictions on the region regardless of Mr Burnham's support.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock later told MPs in the Commons that the £60 million financial package remained on the table.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the "additional £60m will be given to Greater Manchester to support businesses affected by these restrictions, and will be distributed via local councils".

“The communities secretary has also written to local leaders today reiterating this offer and asking them to confirm arrangements to receive it.

Burnham says he has no regrets about taking a stand:

“And as the PM has said, we want to create the maximum possible local consensus behind this more severe local action.

“That is why, in each area, we will work with local leaders on the additional measures which should be taken.”

At PMQs, the prime minister said the cash will now be distributed to Greater Manchester councils, as the new Tier 3 restrictions come into force on Friday.

But Mr Burnham said if the cash is based on a formula, the government should "hand it over" to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, rather than bypass him by directly giving it to councils councils.

In the interview, the mayor invited Prime Minister Johnson to Greater Manchester so the pair could "clear the air".

Burnham explains how battle with Number 10 began:

Mr Johnson, in a press conference on Tuesday, claimed the offer of financial support to Greater Manchester was "generous and extensive".

He said the offer was "proportionate" to the support given to Merseyside and Lancashire, "but the Mayor didn’t accept this unfortunately".

Mr Burnham does not believe his decision to reject Tier 3 restrictions will result in the people of Greater Manchester not following the new rules.

"The onus is on us even more now in this moment to follow the rules," he said.