‘You need to be clear what’s on the table and what the key outcomes are’

Joanne Roney, Manchester City Council

After days of intense negotiations, the government placed Greater Manchester into the new tier three restrictions in mid-October without the agreement of local leaders. It led to the closure of hospitality businesses as well as a ban on any kind of mixing between households. 

Manchester City Council Chief Executive and President of Solace Joanne Roney and Eamonn Boylan, the Chief Executive of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, led the negotiations with civil servants, reporting back to the other council chief executives, council leaders and mayor, Andy Burnham. 

Reflecting on the experience, Ms Roney said: “It helps to be clear locally what is needed and what is being asked for. That was a real strength in Greater Manchester – the 10 councils, local MPs and mayor were all aligned. It meant just Eamonn and I could sit down and do the bulk of the negotiations for the area.” 

Greater Manchester had agreed on the need for more restrictions, and were clear that support was needed for those businesses that would be affected – and that was the sticking point that meant agreement could not be reached. It meant there were subsequent conversations between the mayor, MPs and ministers.

While the issue for Greater Manchester was the financial support package, Ms Roney said there were still other aspects of the process outside of the financial details which proved difficult and, she hopes, as more areas go through the process will be refined. 

“The key things would be an understanding from the start what is available in terms of local measures that best reflected your position and needs - that could be extra enforcement, more support for test and trace, tailored tier three restrictions. 

“During the summer, when extra restrictions were introduced there was much more scope for local authorities to come up with their own interventions as set out in their outbreak management plans. The move to tiers feels less flexible just at the point we need the public and businesses to really support it and feel it will work.”

She also said it was not clear which metrics were being used to determine a move to tier three and neither is it clear how to exit it.

“Different statistics, data and metrics have been quoted. Some quoted the R number, while others were talking about hospital admissions and then admissions among the over 60s before ICU capacity and capacity in the whole hospital becomes the issue.

“All the figures were true, but what is not clear is which are the most important and which will be the measures to agree the escalation and de-escalation between the tiers?”

Ms Roney said her advice to others going through the process would be to have a clear understanding of the measures which will be effective locally, backed by the data, backed by the politicians, and all having a shared view of what the key metrics around entering and leaving tier three.

“It was certainly challenging and I’m sure the process will improve as discussions evolve across different areas. But the thing we should not lose sight of is that we are all working towards the same goal – controlling the virus. The civil servants are under pressure too – as we are. I am certain that these issues will be resolved and there will be greater clarity moving forward.”