Pubs and bars will close for more than 1 million people in Lancashire after the region’s leaders reluctantly accepted the strictest tier 3 coronavirus restrictions in exchange for £42m in financial support.
One council leader complained they had been “blackmailed” into accepting the deal after Boris Johnson’s chief strategic adviser threatened to withhold cash from any district council unhappy with the offer.
Announcing the deal, the government said it had promised to give Lancashire “a support package worth £12m” plus an unspecified package for “business support”.
But Mohammed Iqbal, the leader of Pendle council, said the actual figure was £42m, accusing the government of trying to hide the true amount “because they think Manchester and Liverpool and everyone else will be queuing up for it too.”
The measures will come into force from midnight. Casinos, betting shops, bingo centres and soft play will also close under the restrictions. But unlike in the Liverpool city region, gyms and leisure centres will remain open.
The discrepancy caused an immediate complaint from Merseyside, where leaders said the government gave them no choice but to close leisure centres earlier this week. The decision means that gyms will be open in places such as Chorley but closed in Ormskirk – despite the two areas being under tier 3 restrictions and only several miles apart.
Joe Anderson, the Liverpool mayor, branded the news a “shambles” and said Merseyside had “demanded immediate clarification” from the government. He tweeted: “Inconsistent mess we now have Tier 3 A and Tier 3 B. Are Gym users in Lancashire more safer than those in Liverpool Region?”
The restrictions will apply in Burnley, Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, Chorley, Fylde, Hyndburn, Lancaster, Pendle, Preston, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, South Ribble, West Lancashire and Wyre. They will be reviewed after 14 days.
Lancastrians must not socialise in groups of more than six in an outdoor public space such as a park or beach, the countryside, a public garden or a sports venue, the government said. All pubs and bars must close, unless they are serving “substantial” meals. Car boot sales will be banned.
Iqbal said he was “not entirely satisfied” with the deal but insisted it was far better than the original offer.
“The end figure is actually £42m, but they don’t want to broadcast that because they think Manchester and Liverpool and everyone else will be queuing up for it too,” he said. “The £12m is for track and trace and enforcement and the £30m is for business support.”
He complained that he was “blackmailed” into accepting a deal, with Sir Edward Lister, the prime minister’s adviser, threatening to withhold funds from dissenting councils.
Iqbal said: “I’m not entirely satisfied because we were saying there needs to be enough to deal both with the pandemic and the peripheral businesses affected. We have been negotiating for seven days and this morning in a roundabout way we were blackmailed into the deal, because we were told that if we didn’t agree, we were going into tier 3 anyway. So if I disagreed, Pendle would still go into tier 3. But my businesses wouldn’t get any additional support. It was as blunt as that. There were two of us holding out until 10am this morning: us, Preston and South Ribble.”
He said he relented because: “I can’t have businesses in my patch getting nothing and businesses down the road in Burnley getting support.”
But local Conservative politicians seemed happier. Nigel Evans, MP for the Ribble Valley, criticised the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, for his remarks on Thursday claiming to speak for the whole of the north-west.
“Andy Burnham does not speak for Lancashire. He was elected in Greater Manchester. He does not speak for the rest of the north-west,” said Evans.
“Our figures are going up and something desperately needed to be done to save lives. He has to learn that we are concerned about the number of cases and we have to act now.”
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said: “An unrelenting rise in cases in Lancashire means we must act now, and we have worked intensively with local leaders to agree on additional restrictions. I know how heavy these additional challenges will weigh on everyday life for the people of Lancashire – but they are critical in bringing this virus under control.
“Without them, we risk the health of your loved ones, your most vulnerable, and your local NHS services. Now is the time to play your part, and we will make sure you are supported.”
It means Lancashire becomes only the second part of England to be placed under the “very high” level of coronavirus restrictions while other parts of northern England remain firmly opposed to the measures.
In Lancashire, infection rates are among the highest in the country and continuing to rise rapidly, the government said. Rates are highest for those aged 16-29 at 552 in every 100,000 people, while for the over-60s, cases stand at 214 in every 100,000 people. This increases to 594 in every 100,000 for the over-60s in Burnley and 671 in every 100,000 for 16- to 29-year-olds.
The government’s standoff with other northern leaders deepened when Burnham and Jamie Driscoll, the North of Tyne mayor, joined forces to oppose the imposition of tier 3 rules without significant additional financial support.
Boris Johnson declined to confirm that he would impose restrictions on Greater Manchester, saying only: “I’d much rather that we were able to do things with the help, the support, the leadership of local authorities.”
In a pooled TV clip, the prime minister repeatedly placed the responsibility on local leaders, saying they had to get on board with the government’s plans.
But asked why he would not offer more financial support, as demanded by Burnham and others, Johnson avoided the question, saying only: “Other local leaders have come forward and joined in the tiering system and shown the kind of leadership that I think is necessary.”