Home Secretary Priti Patel has given police new powers to tackle the mass gathering problem besetting England during lockdown.
From this week, £800 fines can be given to anyone found attending a house party of more than 15 people.
This will double for repeat offenders up to a maximum of £6,400.
Patel made the call to ramp up fines due to “a small minority who refuse to do the right thing”; claiming that bigger penalties would help the government “crack down on the most serious cases of rule-breaking.”
A lot of this ‘rule-breaking’ the Home Sec was referring to has happened very close to home.
Greater Manchester has a poor record for COVID breaches.
Data from the National Police Chief’s Council showed that 2,183 fines were handed out in the region between March 27 and December 20 – ranking Greater Manchester the second-worst area in England.
The only region that received more fines in this same period was Northumbria – with 3,034 FPNs.
And the fines have kept coming.
Since August, local police have served over 2,800 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) in total – with around half of those for house parties.
So, does this mean that GMP has been tougher than other forces in England? Or is Greater Manchester simply more badly behaved than its neighbours?
First and foremost, it’s worth noting that the NPCC data covers the whole range of COVID legislation breaches – from mass gatherings and meeting others to operating business when required to close.
Rules have varied between different areas in England – changing more than 64 times in the process.
Since the first lockdown ended, there have only been 27 days when Greater Manchester has not been under some form of restriction – beginning with an indoor ban on July 31.
GMP’s Assistant Chief Constable Nick Bailey believes that this is one of “a number of factors” that play into Greater Manchester’s bad COVID breach record.
“Greater Manchester has been in some form of lockdown or restriction pretty much longer than anywhere I think other than Leicester,” he stated.
“So more offences have occurred over a longer period of time.”
The ACC also stated officers have moved beyond simply warning residents now – given how everyone is aware of the rules.
“Our staff have had longer to engage with the public and make sure they’re informed about the rules, and yes we’ve probably reached a stage where we are at enforcement with more people sooner than lots of other parts of the country,” he explained.
“Whilst we were having to enforce breaches over August and early September, many other forces weren’t under that level of restriction, so they weren’t dealing with COVID breaches.
“We’ve done a lot of communication with our population, so it’s hard for them to say they don’t understand the rules.”
All parts of England are currently under the same blanket restrictions as part of a nationwide lockdown. But recent breaches in Greater Manchester have remained high.
Local police issued over 100 FPNs after shutting down multiple New Year’s Eve gatherings. But, perhaps more surprisingly, 190 FPNs were also distributed in the middle of January (a traditionally quieter period).
87 of these fines were for house parties alone.
According to officers, this represented 16% increase in the same period during December.
Most COVID breaches are reported via the police’s online system, but the force has urged people to use 999 if there’s “real disorder”.
An increasing number people are being found in attendance at party properties – with an average of 15 or more.
ACC Bailey admitted that some people “haven’t got it in their heads” that mass gatherings are dangerous.
“This variant – which is in Greater Manchester now – is far more infectious,” he stated.
“COVID is still killing people in our communities.
“If you go to a party, there is a chance that you are aiding the spread. If that happens, quite frankly, people die.”
The new hefty £800 fines come into force this week, but ACC Bailey has said the size of these penalties isn’t going to deter officers from handing them out.
“The fine itself doesn’t change how we enforce,” he said.
“In our view: A breach is a breach. We will not be introducing any leeway just because the penalty has changed.”
“If the only way people can learn a lesson is to receive a fine of quite a significant amount, then that is what we will do.”
We tried Greater Manchester’s first eight-course pie-tasting menu and it was absolutely unreal
Every now and again the opportunity to eat something genuinely new and different and which pushes the envelope when it comes to the kind of food you ever even thought you’d enjoy — sitting down for the inaugural ‘PieSessions’ was one of those such occasions.
This month, we had the privilege of being invited along to one of the most exclusive and highly-anticipated dining events in Greater Manchester: an eight-course pie-tasting event created by pie-pros Ate Days A Week, Scotty’s Pies and a number of other collaborators.
Hosting a true first for the region, Notion Bar over in Stockport was packed out with over 50 guests who were all eagerly awaiting to taste pies from the local favourite, MasterChef contestant turned meat and pastry specialist Scott Eckersley-Bell, as well as Wigan staples Baldy’s Pies and Harwoods Patisserie.
At first glance, the popular SK Deep South-inspired dive bar might not look like the place to offer up a gourmet tasting menu, but what it did have was an accessible charm and a bunch of hungry people not only willing to keep their minds open but who simply love all things pie. Who doesn’t?
At the top of the bill was probably one of the most interesting things we’ve eaten all year: a Japanese-inspired ‘Pie-Scream’ which delivered the exact savoury spin as it promised on the tin. A malt-crust cone stuffed with smoothly pipped mash, katsu curry sauce and crispy Teriyaki bacon in place of a flake.
We believe we call that ‘making a good first impression’. From that moment on, we knew we weren’t just going to be eating any old meal and that it wasn’t just going to be plate after plate of what you normally consider a pie; everything was different and we can honestly say everything was good, if not amazing.
Next up we had probably one of our standouts from the entire night which was a garlic, ginger and soy pork mince tartlet with a perfect piece of honey-glazed pork belly next to it, as well as a light edamame and spring onion purée to balance out the strong flavours.
Following on from the opener, the pair delivered all of the tried and tested Asian flavours in a method most will have never experienced them in before and, in truth, we could have even taken some extra spice with that virtually perfect tartlet but they were careful not to thrash our palettes early doors.
Two down, six to go and when we tell you it was plate after plate of precise pie-based ingenuity, we’re not exaggerating. From the short rib slider, which was almost like an elevated Wigan kebab, to the gentler poached cod pithivier which kind of reminded us of a seafood twist on a Cornish pasty, there was a single thing we didn’t like.
The way the menu was also carefully constructed not to beat you over the head with non-stop meat, pastry and gravy but to fluctuate between smaller bites and more substantial courses was already pretty impressive, as we managed to make it to the end of the meal at the perfect level of full.
We were even pleasantly surprised to see how the team tackled the issue of pudding, with a sweet and just sharp enough take on parfait with fresh orange, stem ginger and brown sugar, as well as a much richer chocolate, salted caramel and hazelnut brownie for a big finish.
To be honest, we loved the tiny little lemon madeleines they surprised us with as an after-dinner treat even more than the desserts (the two of us in attendance are lemon fiends, to be fair) but the best course of the night has to go to the ‘Big Jim Volume 2.0’.
Speaking to Ate Days A Week Founder Andy James on our way out, you could clearly see how his passion for the concept had translated amongst his colleagues, into the excitement of the guests and then back onto him after he saw how well the whole thing went down.
There was a real buzz about the place that was nothing like we’d ever experienced before with other tasting menus and we think it’s because those in attendance had never sat down for a meal that was as experimental as this one whilst also being that accessible.
Yes, it might be a touch posher than pie, mash and gravy but it never stayed too far away from that simple British pleasure and while there were certainly a few thrills to give you that tasting menu feel, nothing felt out of place and neither did the diners.
Pulling off one of the best teas we’ve had in a long time from a tiny kitchen inside a rough-around-the-edges late-night drinking spot, we already know there will be a sequel to PieSessions not only because Andy told us so but because it was such a massive success. Count us in for the next one.
Manchester Christmas Markets 2023 — dates, locations, prices and everything you need to know
Rejoice, Manchester it’s that time again — famously the most wonderful time of year, and you know what that means: we’ll soon be filling our faces with bratwurst, cheersing steins of Bavarian beer and filling our houses with far too many festive trinkets because the Christmas Markets are back.
We’re not even tooting our own horn when we say this, it’s just a fact that the Manchester Christmas Markets are some of the best and most popular on the planet and this year we celebrate 25 years since the seasonal stalls first opened up in 0161 and started a legendary annual tradition.
It doesn’t matter how many years roll by, we still await their arrival like little kids waiting for Christmas morning and set our schedules for what time we’re going to head out on which day to cross off the must-haves on our markets checklist.
With that in mind, we thought we’d help you put together your own plan of attack this holiday season and give you all the info you need to know to make the most of the 2023 Manchester Christmas Markets. You can thank us later.
Manchester Christmas Markets 2023 mug design and price
Every year the Manchester Christmas Markets has a limited-edition mug design, and this year the collectable souvenir has taken inspiration from the Nutcracker.
There are two different sizes and 2023 designs to collect when the markets officially open next week.
When you order a hot drink at the markets you’ll be charged a £3.50 deposit for a mug (that’s up from £3 last year).
You can then return your cup when you’re finished to get your money back, or take it home as a memento.
Last year, the Manchester Christmas Markets mugs were so popular they ran out before the markets had even finished – but they’ve ordered extras this year to be on the safe side.
Travel advice and how to get to the Manchester Christmas Markets 2023
Transport for Greater Manchester has urged people to use public transport wherever possible to travel in and out of the city centre for the Manchester Christmas Markets.
That’s because of all the events running alongside the festivities, from huge football matches to gigs at the AO Arena to Black Friday sales.
The Bee Network app will help you to plan your journey and you can read all the latest travel advice here.
The best hotels to stay in for the Manchester Christmas Markets
Now, for those of you travelling into town to sample our world-famous markets — as literally thousands do every single year — you might be in need of somewhere to lay your head after a few too many steaming mugs of Glühwein.
Fortunately, since this city continues to be such a popular tourist attraction all year round, there are plenty of hotels to suit whatever your budget is.
In fact, you’re so lucky that we already put together a list of the best hotels in Manchester a little while back, so you’re welcome in advance.
And that should do you for now and your guide to the 2023 Manchester Christmas Markets — we’re sure most of you know the score by now: it’ll be a big, cold, a bit busy but utterly wonderful as it always is.
We’ve found the trick is to try out a few days during the week if you want to beat the rush and then come back at the weekend for the full-bellied crowds brimming with festive cheer.
There really is nothing like it in our opinion and we’ll be sure to keep bringing you plenty of updates on all things Christmas Markets-related going on in Manchester over the next couple of months.