United City Research

Purpose and Approach

UnitedCity had been established to provide an independent research backed campaign group to safely reopen the Greater Manchester economy and help it get back on its feet.

UnitedCity will be research-led. We will use our analysis to support our lobbying and campaigns. Only by doing this will we establish the long-term credibility that is essential for the group. We have the ability to influence beyond public campaigns and have a major contribution to make the city-region’s efforts to safely reopen the economy and return to the success that Manchester has enjoyed over the last 10-years. Our approach is one of ‘safety first’. We support the creation and use of Covid secure venues and workplaces in tandem with local policing and targeted testing.

Initial Research

UnitedCity commissioned independent research from MetroDynamics which has looked at the health and economic impacts of Covid for Greater Manchester. The research has also looked at the best evidence related to transmission and testing working with health experts in Greater Manchester.


The research allowed us to develop our strategy. Given the evidence we have about infection and hospitalisation our aim is to get out of Tier 3 and into Tier 2 as quickly as possible. Given that every day counts for businesses and people impacted by the Tier 3 measures we have called on decision makers to get the new tiers in place from the 16th of December.

Beyond this we need to remain on course to get to Tier 1 and avoid a series of further damaging lock-downs in the New Year. This will allow us to re-energize the city centre by encouraging people to come back and use the businesses and amenities that are open and also for businesses to encourage their teams to return to the workplace. Our view is that the investment in Covid-secure settings coupled with targeted testing and local enforcement will allow us to reopen the economy in a way that protects people’s health, livelihoods and well-being.

Further Research

We want to build our research base further, for instance by looking more deeply at the economic, social and environmental costs of the crisis. We will also continue to look at transmission rates and the value of COVID secure premises.

Building a Coalition

UnitedCity wants to build a broad coalition of businesses and public sector partners around an evidence based strategy. This will include other business networks, sector groups, health and care partners, local government and others.

Overall our approach as UnitedCity will be to be bold but responsible and to back up our positions with sound evidence and research that will build our credibility. We will look to build the broadest coalition we can to help steer the city region through the coming months.

Executive Summary of United City
Evidence Base 04.12.20

Tier Allocation

Greater Manchester entered Tier 3 of restrictions on 2nd December. Tier 3 signifies a very high alert level and has been applied to areas with ‘a very high or very rapidly rising level of infections’.

Government allocated areas to Tiers based on analysis of the following criteria:

1. Case detection rates in all groups in the 7 days from 13th to 19th November.
2. Case detection rates in the over 60s.
3. The rate at which cases are rising or falling.
4. Positivity rate (the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests taken).
5. Pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy.

This decision was made based on Greater Manchester’s high case rate. At the time, the R rate for Greater Manchester had been falling for two weeks and was below the rate for Greater London and England. Case detection rates have continued to fall closer to the threshold of Tier 2 areas (approximately 200 cases per 100,000).

Infection rates per 100,000 for England, the North West and Greater Manchester between 16th September and 25th November 2020

Figure 2. R rate (left axis) case numbers (right axis)

For the remaining, data for Greater Manchester shows:

  • That the ages of those testing positive are typical of those across England – there is no indication of higher infection rates amongst the elderly than elsewhere.
  • That the positivity rate is falling at a fast pace, drawing closer to the national average.
  • That hospital admissions, occupied beds and death rates are now falling. Utilisation of GM HDU/ITU beds for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients on 24/11/20 was 76.3%.

In two weeks’, provided case rates continue to fall towards average rates and pressure on the NHS reduces, GM will have a good case for reallocation.

Economic Impact

Restrictions in Greater Manchester have been amongst the longest in the country. Since the first national lockdown began in March, there have been just three weeks when all of Greater Manchester has had restrictions equivalent to Tier 1.

Figure 3. Lockdown Restrictions in Greater Manchester and English Core Cities

This has caused significant damage to the local economy:

  • Mobility has dropped across Greater Manchester and is yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels. The sharpest decline has been in Manchester itself, suggesting travel to the city centre has fallen significantly.
  • Businesses have been hit hard, with lower output, profitability, and cash reserves since before the pandemic. Unemployment has risen sharply across every borough.
  • Restrictions to hospitality has had an outsized effect on Manchester’s economy due to the size of the night-time economy in the city.
  • High levels of health deprivation and household overcrowding has made Greater Manchester more susceptible to infections and at greater risk of deaths.

Economic Cost

As Christmas approaches, every day counts. In the run up to Christmas, we estimate that £8.1m of wages would be paid every day in the night-time economy, which is closed in tier 3.

Over the course of fourteen days until the next review period that equates to £114m of wages lost. This is an underestimate, as it does not capture the wider implications for other sectors (taxis, catering suppliers, etc).

Some of this will be paid in furlough, but there are still costs and potentially permanent damage to the businesses and workers affected.

When Greater Manchester re-entered tier 3 on the 2nd of December till the 15th of December (when tiers reviewed) it is estimated that £114M in wages have been lost.

What can be done?

  • More scientists now understand that the coronavirus is airborne and can infect people hours after being exhaled. A small minority of patients cause most new COVID-19 infections; as few as 10% of people drive 80% of infections.
  • Due to the uneven nature of COVID-19’s spread, targeting these conditions and stopping super-spreader events may be sufficient to significantly curtail the spread of the virus.
  • Greater Manchester has the structures, guidance, and coalition in place to both prepare businesses for COVID safe reopening, and to operate a targeted, effective testing regime to make infection hotspots secure and locate clusters of infection.
  • Health Innovation Manchester has robustly evaluated the different COVID-19 tests and established a targeted testing approach. They are ready to help manage a safe reopening.

An Agenda for Reopening

  • Rational & systematic approach to managing COVID risk & maintaining our city economy over next six months. Social & economic harm of not re-opening is huge, but re-opening must be done in a way that minimises health risk.
  • Government commitment to meaningful review of Tiers in 2 weeks time, as trend rate reduces & economic costs escalate, & to support GM to reduce case rates and to prepare for safe re-opening.
  • GM Health Leaders need to be supported to develop systematic response, with focused, tailored and effective programme of test & trace in hotspot areas & sectors, & to prioritise vaccine rollout process for risk groups in GM.
  • United City will work with health & political leaders to build confidence in safe city centre, pioneering best COVID-safe practices in offices, shops & hospitality venues: better use of outside space; better indoor ventilation; & reduced volume in venues.