Devo Manc: regional devolution and inequality debate

Green Party energy spokesperson Andrew Cooper spoke about the pitfalls of the Devo Manc deal, as it currently stands, to a large audience at the Friends’ Meeting House.

The discussion on regional devolution and inequality, organised by Equality Northwest, was billed for the 11th of September with Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, as the guest speaker, but she pulled out last minute to take part in BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme.

Cooper talked about his investigations into how democratically accountable the elected mayor model is, using the recent Scottish Referendum as an example of a referendum result that is expected to stand for a generation. In contrast, the Manchester mayoral election where the result was resoundingly in favour of not having a mayor has been discarded within a few years.

He described the whole process as being autocratic due to the limited number of people and the secrecy involved in making the deal. When Chancellor George Osborne announced the deal, he said that the agreement has been reached “after several months of private discussions with local representatives from all three parties, I have reached agreement with the civic leaders of Greater Manchester to create the first metro-wide elected mayor outside of London”. The decision came as a shock to the majority in Greater Manchester (GM).

George Osborne and the civic leaders of GM announcing Devo Manc.

George Osborne and the civic leaders of GM announcing Devo Manc. Photo: Manchester Evening News

For Cooper there was no sense in “transferring power from a remote centralised government to a remote centralised individual”, in his eyes the major reason for pushing the devolution deal is to delegate the responsibility for cuts to local authorities. He felt that an elected assembly for GM with the power to raise taxes locally would be a better deal for the people.

Devo Manc allows a directly elected mayor of Greater Manchester to be installed as head of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) with these responsibilities & powers:

  • Increased strategic planning powers
  • new £300m housing investment fund, projected construction of 15,000 homes in 10 years
  • local transport control, ability to operate franchised bus services and integrated tickets
  • welfare-to-work schemes, with dedicated £100m budget, to allow 50,000 places
  • existing local authority social care and health budgets combined and controlled by GMCA
  • greater control of further education and business support, earn back up to £30 million tax for growth created

The interim mayor Tony Lloyd was appointed in May 2015 by the 10 local authority leaders that make up the GMCA, he will be in post until 2017 when the elected mayor is appointed.

After Cooper’s speech, the panel was opened up for a Q&A session from the audience. The panel included David Fernandez, founder of the Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign, Neil McInroy, chief executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and chair Allan Wort of Equality Northwest and 38 Degrees Manchester.

Fernandez was keen to see a ‘Barnett’ like formula to secure a fixed level of expenditure for Greater Manchester: “Osborne decides what we get”, he said. “We have no protection whatsoever to any decision to pull the rug from under us, and that is a form of power and control.”

McInroy questioned the dubious philosophy underlying Devo Manc in which “health is seen as a cost rather than an investment” and questioned whether better health can be delivered by declining budgets. A “broad and deep democracy” is what a devolution deal should provide for the residents of Greater Manchester, according to McInroy, with the ability to manage the economy at a local scale.

The supreme vindication and definition of a representative government is eloquently expressed in the words of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg speech with the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – the general consensus of the people during the debate was that Devo Manc fails on all three counts.

Wort was pleased with the event: “Around 200 people gave up their Friday night to participate in a full-throated discussion with experts on regional devolution and inequality”, he said. “Our audience is now not only better informed but rarin’ to go in making our society a better place to live.”

For more information, see Equality Northwest, 38 Degrees Manchester, Centre for Local Economic Strategies and the Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign.

First published in Manchester Mule, 18th of September 2015

Conrad Bower

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