DEVOLUTION REVOLUTION – THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING

DevoRevoThere is huge public opposition to the Devo Manc deal foisted on to the people of Greater Manchester in an undemocratic and clandestine manner by George Osborne. Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, spoke at the event calling for greater consultation on devolution deals and “no more secrets”.

The meeting, which took place at the Central Hall in Manchester on the 6th October, was organised by a coalition of local groups (see notes 1) concerned about the Devo Manc deal. Two hundred people attended the event, with a straw pole showing around 25% were under 25 and around 25% were pensioners.

The event was chaired by David Fernandez, Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign for Democratic Devolution. He said that a poll by Manchester Evening News reported that over 85% of people were opposed or wanted a referendum. Over 80% of people asked in a street poll by the members of the Campaign did not know about the devolution plans. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority Strategic Framework has seventeen strategic priorities, of which fifteen are economic, two are social and none are about democracy (see notes 2).

Panel discussion

Initially the meeting took the form of a panel discussion. The panel members were invited to address the impact of the devolution deal on one of four dimensions: society, economy, environment and democracy (SEED).

Neil McInroy, Chief Executive of CLES and Chair of Greater Manchester Poverty Action Group, said that devolution was an opportunity and a rare chance to reverse 100 years of economic centralism. However, the proposals were based on a narrow economic theory of new spatial economics and heavily controlled by the Treasury. Members of the local state were doing their best and needed help and support to build on and fashion an even better deal. It is clear that it would be possible to get an even bigger dividend by putting greater emphasis on social aspects and community wealth building. Greater Manchester should be aiming to build a progressive new local social contract.

Estephanie Dunn, North West Regional Director, Royal College of Nursing, said there was a lot at stake in Devo Manc if they failed to get right, but it presented an opportunity. She welcomed the proposals aims for health improvement and primary prevention and argues for key indicators to identify what will be achieved, but questioned whether they had the plans or means to deliver, particularly as austerity had reduced public health budgets and staff numbers. Alongside that, years of pay restraint and doing more with less had affected staff morale. She said that a major issue across communities was low levels of trust, which evidence shows leads to a lack of empathy and willingness to cooperate. Inequality in the region left a legacy of serious health problems, particularly mental health, including alcohol and drug abuse, and depression, which was linked to eating unhealthy comfort foods, leading to obesity and diseases such as diabetes, whilst poverty forced people to survive on foods that were less healthy and cheaper to purchase.

Natalie Bennett, Leader, Green Party, said that Manchester was leading the way for the whole UK and that other regions had much less time to come up with plans. She called for “no more secrets” and greater consultation, which led to prolonged applause. She welcomed the proposals to re-regulated buses in a united service but questioned the lack of links to rail. She also questioned HS2, which would benefit London more than the North West, and said the idea that air traffic would de-carbonise in 25 years was impossible. However, the elections for Mayor would be in 2017, giving people time to assert a bottom-up devolution.

Andrew Mycock, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Huddersfield University, said the Devo Manc proposal came from a British tradition of elite-to-elite based negotiation which ignored local residents. It was centralised decentralisation for economic regeneration without political devolution. Missing from the plans is a sense of purpose, a coherent holistic vision of the UK as a result of devolution and a process for getting there. There was also a failure to connect the two constitutional changes – English Votes for English Laws and Devo Manc. This created a new version of the West Lothian Question, the Manchester Withington Question, which meant that the local MP could not vote on services for his constituency of Manchester Withington which had been devolved to Greater Manchester, but he could vote on them for the rest of England!

Andrew warned that asymmetric, short-term constitutional fixes created tensions and risked destabilising the union, as in Scotland. This was in contrast to the federal systems of Australia, the US and elsewhere which had clear, negotiated relationships between cities and regions, which were therefore stable. Regional and local elites have been too timid in their dealings with the centre, which left many issues unresolved. Democratisation was not part of the agenda and people’s views were of no interest to the elites negotiating the deals. No account was being taken of the fact that voters had rejected mayors in recent referenda. The evidence from the US was that Mayors were not so effective, which has been confirmed by London, where turnout was just 38%, about the same as local elections.
The plans raised several other questions:

  • What steps are being taken to change Westminster and Whitehall: none are evident so far;
  • What’s going to happen to counties outside the city regions?
  • Where is the parity between regions and the centre, so that regions can plan ahead?
  • Where is the link between devolution and changes to constituency boundaries?

Andrew thought there would be a growth in regional parties, like Yorkshire First. The fact that there will be two years until the mayor is elected meant that there is time for people in Greater Manchester to organise. He said we need a written constitution, drawn up by a people’s assembly, which drew loud applause.

Group discussions and propositions

The latter part of the meeting involved small group discussions and then voting by a show of hands on propositions from the small groups. The following list is of issues discussed and proposals voted for:

1. There should be a ‘Social Charter’ including proposals such as transparency, a living wage, housing
– strong support, 2 reluctant
2. Local accountability to monitor spending of money from central government
– strong support from under half, general support over half
3. Transparency, people involved and a regional assembly
– strong support from most, general support from a few
4. Constitutional convention
– strong support from a large majority, general support from a few
5. Electoral reform / single transferable vote as for Scottish local government
– strong support from a big majority
6. All regions / nations of devolved UK should have equal power, like Australian states
– strong support from about 75%, general support from just under 25%,
7. Private health and social care providers should be obliged to work together with the NHS, particularly on training (given that they are employed staff trained by the NHS).
– strong support from about 75%, general support 20%, against under 5%
8. Local authorities should run local banks
– strong support from 90%, general support 10%, 1 against
9. 38 Degrees Manchester should campaign to have ‘Improving Democracy’ included as one of the priorities for the GMCA Strategic Framework.
– strong support 100%

Closing statements

Andy: if you don’t have democracy and a vision of the end goal there is a risk of the UK breaking up. There needs to be communication, understanding of aims, process, the end goals and transparency. The media do not see what is happening to our politics because they are focusing too much on the parties. In Scotland the SNP is not leading, but responding to demand created by people organising in communities.

Natalie: boycotting the mayoral vote is not an effective strategy – just 15% voted for Police and Crime Commissioners and they still went ahead. We need a constitutional convention – for example, there is a Northern Citizens Convention. The ERS is organising two pilot citizens conventions, so we should see what they come up with. She questioned the idea of local authorities running banks and suggested strengthening credit unions instead.

Estephanie: there is a need for democracy, empowerment and listening to people’s voices. She urged people to become engaged in the process and not be the passive recipients of care.

Neil: devolution is here and coming, no matter what. Economic and social issues are live right now in Manchester, which even more devolution could help to solve. There are economic, social and environmental gains to be had and we need to grab them. He expressed a frustration, in that debate amongst activists and civil society for the past year had been dominated by what was wrong with devolution deal. He made a call for a need to focus on what needs to be done to make devolution even better. He said many of the ideas expressed to night were a great start to that. In particular many of the ideas could be wrapped into the idea for a social charter. This could be produced as a ‘peoples plan, which was a list of priorities, which could be put to candidates for the mayoral election in 2017.

Joe Taylor

First published in NatCan

Notes 1
Event details
DEVOLUTION REVOLUTION – THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING
18:30 – 20:30 Central Hall Manchester, Oldham Street, M1
With interactive questions, debate, voting, challenging food for thought, proposals for action and more, this promises to be a very lively, thought-and-action-provoking public event.
Architects of the recent Greater Manchester DEVOLUTION deals and NORTHERN POWERHOUSE plans, described as “a REVOLUTION in government” by George Osborne, intend to change our lives.
But the overwhelming majority of our citizens don’t even know it’s happening.
Our immediate context includes:
• The most unrepresentative election result in UK Parliament’s history
• Unprecedented austerity cuts to public funding of services and social support
• An escalating housing crisis
• Massive changes to our NHS under increasing pressure
So who decides our future & what are we going to do?
What is the best way forward from where we are?
Hosted/supported by:
Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign for Democratic Devolution, Manchester People’s Assembly, 38 degrees Manchester, Equality North West, Manchester Assemblies for Democracy, Manchester Trades Council, Unlock Democracy Manchester and others.

Notes 2
17 Priorities of the Greater Manchester Manchester Strategic Framework
CREATING THE CONDITIONS FOR GROWTH
(GMS 1) Reshaping our economy to meet new global demands
(GMS 2) Delivering an investment strategy based on market needs
(GMS 3) Revitalising our town centres
(GMS 4) Creating the spaces and places that will nurture success
(GMS 5) Stimulating and reshaping our housing market
(GMS 6) Crafting a plan for growth and infrastructure
(GMS 7) Improving connectivity locally, nationally and internationally
(GMS 8) Placing our city region at the leading edge of science and technology
(GMS 9) Building our global brand
SUPPORTING BUSINESS
(GMS 10) Supporting business growth with strong, integrated support
(GMS 11) Improving our international competitiveness
(GMS 12) Seizing the growth potential of a low carbon economy
WORKLESSNESS AND SKILLS
(GMS13) Delivering an employer-led skills programme
(GMS14) Preventing and reducing youth unemployment
(GMS15) Delivering an integrated approach to employment and skills
BUILDING INDEDPENDENCE AND RAISING EXPECTATIONS THROUGH PUBLIC SECTOR REFORM
(GMS16) Encouraging self-reliance and reducing demand through public service reform.
•Working with troubled families
•Improving early years
•Transforming the justice system
(GMS17) Reforming health and social care
http://nationalcan.ning.com/page/discussing-democracy-manchester-6-october-2015

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Comments (2)

  1. Joe Taylor

    Reply

    Over 2,500 signatures up to now so this has to have an impact at the select committee session tomorrow morning at the town hall. There’ll be lots to report back on, no doubt

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