Greater Manchester’s only Conservative-run council has begun negotiating a bespoke deal for its hospitality workers after the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, invited the region’s leaders to come forward individually to claim their share of a £60m coronavirus relief package they all rejected on Tuesday.
Bolton’s leader, David Greenhalgh, infuriated his Labour counterparts after breaking ranks to say he was willing to look at a Bolton-only package.
The move came as Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester’s mayor, lambasted Conservative MPs for trying to encourage the government to pick off the region’s councils one by one after the region failed to collectively reach a deal with ministers.
Burnham was responding to a letter signed by six out of nine Greater Manchester Conservative MPs – all but one newly elected in 2019 – that suggested they and local council leaders take over negotiations. The letter said the government offered to give Greater Manchester “92% of what you asked for, with a settlement of an additional £60m funding, you decided the best option was to walk away having secured absolutely nothing”.
Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser, Sacha Lord, also announced he had begun a judicial review into the legality of implementing emergency restrictions on the region’s hospitality sector, without scientific evidence.
Jenrick wrote to all 10 Greater Manchester council leaders shortly after midday on Wednesday in what looks like a deliberate attempt to cut Burnham 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.”
In a statement, Greenhalgh said he had spoken to Jenrick after hearing that the £60m was still up for grabs for individual councils.
He said: “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.”
Earlier, the region’s Labour MPs and council leaders had insisted they would stand firm together. In an interview with the Guardian, the Tameside leader, Brenda Warrington, praised Greenhalgh as a “gentleman of integrity” who would not go rogue – before hurriedly retracting the remark after hearing the news.
She insisted Greater Manchester would not budge from its bottom line of £65m, which was refused by the government. Any less than that would push hundreds of thousands of people into destitution, she suggested. “We made it clear we wanted an arrangement that would allow us to top up hospitality wages to at least the 80% furlough that exists at the moment,” she said.
Warrington added: “We don’t particularly enjoy the position we are in but at the same time we won’t be brow-beaten into submission just to save face for the government. We just want fair economic support for our people.”
Jenrick also had a call with Greater Manchester’s nine Tory MPs on Wednesday morning, in which he suggested Bolton was not the only council tempted to do a deal. One person on the call said: “He was confident of Bolton being first, but thinks other councils were sounding more promising behind closed doors.”
On Tuesday evening, Mary Robinson, the Tory MP for Cheadle in Stockport, said in parliament she would be asking the Labour-controlled Stockport council to “negotiate a local authority-specific financial package that supports and protects Cheadle residents and businesses”.
Lord had been threatening to take the government to court ever since the idea was first mooted of government forcing Greater Manchester’s pubs and bars to close.
He tweeted on Wednesday: “Last night we started the judicial review into the legality of implementing emergency restrictions on Greater Manchester’s hospitality sector, without scientific evidence. A pre-action letter has been filed and we await the health secretary’s response. The fight goes on.”