Greater Manchester is no longer a city region united after the only Conservative-run council announced it was willing to consider a bespoke deal for its hospitality workers.
David Greenhalgh, the leader of Bolton council, said he was “willing to look at” a Bolton-only package, breaking away from the rest of the cross-region negotiating block and distancing himself from Andy Burnham.
He said he had spoken to Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, this morning, after hearing that the £60m offered by government to Greater Manchester on Tuesday was still up for grabs for individual councils.
It is clear the amount on the table, which is what has been accepted in Liverpool, Lancashire and now South Yorkshire, and I am not prepared for Bolton businesses to miss out on this extra financial help.
This is not the time for posturing and politics. This is about getting the best deal available for Bolton business, and those who work in the sectors worst affected.
I hope to have further discussions later today with government officials and ministers, and progress as a matter of priority to enable a scheme to be worked up that targets those most affected.
Unsurprisingly, his Labour counterparts are fuming.
The latest episode of the Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast is out. Heather Stewart and Peter Walker run through a cantankerous week in Westminster. Rajeev Syal speaks to the chair of the women and equalities committee, Caroline Nokes. Plus, Heather chats to the comedian and former Labour party member Matt Forde, about his new book, Politically Homeless.
Government invites Greater Manchester council leaders, but not Burnham, to discuss allocation of £60m
Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, has written to all 10 Greater Manchester council leaders inviting them to come forward individually to claim their share of the £60m still on offer.
The move appears to be a deliberate attempt to cut Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, out of the discussions following the dramatic breakdown of talks on Tuesday.
In the letter, seen by the Guardian, Jenrick says it was “with regret” that he had to inform the prime minister that they had been unable to reach a deal. But he adds:
Though our discussions with the mayor were unable to reach agreement, the government remains committed to providing people and businesses in Greater Manchester with the support they need as we move into the next phase of action against coronavirus.
I am therefore writing to restate our offer of business support to your areas. This funding of £60m is for the people and businesses of Greater Manchester and with your help, we will ensure it reaches them as swiftly as possible and ensure this support can go to those who need it. Our officials stand ready to work quickly and closely with their counterparts to ensure this can happen – starting today.
I have valued the conversations I have had with you in recent days. I do not underestimate how challenging it is to lead your councils and communities through this period. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss further.
Here’s the letter from Robert Jenrick. Clear deliberate attempt to cut Andy Burnham out of the picture. pic.twitter.com/H2eUM9YVXN
October 21, 2020
at 1.40pm BST
Starmer says ‘miserly’ treatment of Greater Manchester defining moment for government
Here is the quote from Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs where he claimed that Boris Johnson’s treatment of Greater Manchester was a defining moment for the government. He said
This is a prime minister who can pay £7,000 a day for consultants on track and trace, which isn’t working, can find £43m for a garden bridge that was never built but he can’t find £5m for the people of Greater Manchester.
I really think the prime minister has crossed a Rubicon here, not just with the miserly way that he’s treated Greater Manchester, but the grubby take-it-or-leave-it way these local deals are being done.
It’s corrosive to public trust to pit region against region, mayor against mayor, council against council, asking them to trade away their businesses and jobs.
My colleague Helen Pidd, the Guardian’s north of England editor, came up with a similar analysis in a tweet posted this morning.
I think the way the government treated Greater Manchester yesterday will be one of those rare things which linger in voters’ minds long after the fact — bit like the Lib Dems and tuition fees. Some very flimsy Tory majorities up here.
October 21, 2020
at 1.31pm BST
Downing Street clearly thinks Michel Barnier’s comments to the European parliament this morning (see 10.55am) were significant. In response a No 10 spokesperson said:
We note with interest that the EU’s negotiator, speaking to the [European parliament] this morning, has commented in a significant way on the issues behind the current difficulties in our talks.
We are studying carefully what was said.
David Frost will discuss the situation when he speaks to Michel Barnier later today.
That may be a hint that the trade talks will formally resume soon.
PMQs – Snap verdict
Who won? is the standard question after PMQs. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it isn’t, but Westminster conventional wisdom normally demands an answer more or less immediately. Today Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer both seemed happy to leave it for a month or two. They are both auditioning for the role of “Captain Foresight”, betting their credibility and authority on an assumption about whether or not the government’s tier 3 strategy will work.
Neither of them committed to a firm timetable, but the gist of it was clear. Starmer was saying that areas going into tier 3 would be stuck there for months. He said:
There’s a stark choice: carry on with the prime minister’s approach, which will lead to weeks and weeks and months and months of prolonged agony in all your constituencies for millions of people in tier 2 and tier 3, with no exit, or put in place a two to three week time-limited circuit-break to break the cycle and bring the virus back under control.
And Johnson insisted tier 3 measures would work, implying areas could be out within a month or so. He said:
I made it absolutely clear that part of the country going into tier 3 is only in there for 28 days, we will review it after 28 days and areas that have gone into tier 3, I believe, are already making progress. Areas where there are restrictions in place are also showing signs of progress. We are pursuing a local, a regional approach, which is the sensible approach for this country.
Ultimately, of course, time will tell – or at least up to a point, because it may well be the case that within a month or so the tier 3 framework has been revised. Most other government Covid strategies end up being rewritten within weeks. Starmer’s forecasts sounded considerably more plausible than Johnson’s. But he should also remember that being proved right is not a sufficient, or even perhaps a necessary, key to electoral victory. It probably counts less than pundits assume.
As for who “won” this afternoon, it was more even than in most recent weeks. Starmer’s question about what regions have to go to get out of tier 3 was very good because it was a real question, pertinent to millions, and not just a clever, gotcha trap. But it was that too, because Johnson did not have a very good answer, and Starmer was entitled to say his response sounded confused. Starmer also produced a reasonable hit on the £7,000-per-day consultants and the garden bridge.
But Johnson, although probably losing on points, had a vivid turn-of-phrase as he rounded on Labour’s plan for a short, national lockdown. He told MPs:
I think it’s the height of absurdity that [Starmer] stands up and attacks the economic consequences of the measures we’re obliged to take across some parts of the country when he wants to turn the lights out with a full national lockdown.
Although polls, like this one, suggest that the voters clearly back Starmer on this issue, none of these decisions and there must be a good chunk of people listening to Johnson minded to agree.
Helen Hayes (Lab) asks why consultants are getting £7,000 a day to work on test and trace.
Johnson says NHS Test and Trace has tested more people than any other system in Europe.
He says we need to get through this without going back into the social, psychological and economic disaster of further lockdowns.
And that’s it. PMQs is over.
Julian Sturdy (Con) asks what can be done to get the infection rate down in York.
Johnson says the guidance is having an effect. If it were not for the restrictions, R would be at three, he says. He says it won’t take much to get it below one. It would not be sensible to have a sustained series of national lockdowns.
at 12.41pm BST
Lilian Greenwood (Lab) asks for more help for Nottingham businesses.
Johnson says he sympathises with businesses. But in Nottingham the infection rate is running at 815 per 100,000. We must get that down, he says.
Johnson says the UK will use its Cop26 presidency to promote female education around the world.
Sarah Olney (Lib Dem) asks about reports that the congestion charge in London is going to be extended. That is unfair on Barnes residents who cannot use Hammersmith Bridge because it’s closed, she says.
Johnson says the bridge is closed because of Sadiq Khan’s incompetence. He says the Tory candidate for mayor, Shaun Bailey, would reopen it.
at 12.33pm BST
Stephen Metcalfe (Con) calls for suitable enforcement against people who flout the rules.
Johnson agrees. He says people must follow the guidance.
Sir George Howarth (Lab) says extending free school meals (over the holidays) to Easter is the moral thing to do.
Johnson says free school meals will continue during term.