Devo Manc : regional devolution and inequality debate

Discussion panel, from left: Neil McInroy, David Fernandez, Andrew Cooper and Allan Wort. Photo: Conrad Bower

Discussion panel, from left: Neil McInroy, David Fernandez, Andrew Cooper and Allan Wort. Photo: Conrad Bower

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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Comments (4)

  1. Rashid Mhar


    Really good write up of the event Conrad. I’ve been following this campaign for about a year now and it’s been a great example of the benefits of getting people involved that the Government has consistently messed up on. Really great progressive thinking has emerged in the conversations of the people who are left out of this process.

    I’ve been to events and talks organised by Open Government Partnership, cities@manchester, CRESC, CLES and others who you could collectively refer to as civil society. Though well meaning and attempting involvement they still don’t actually express the real deficits and the impacts of those deficits on the people excluded. This issue highlights the need for people from all parts of society to have a voice. Well meaning and charitable hearted people sometimes just don’t get it, they can’t plug the gap in the democratic deficit by being kind hearted. They need to stand with others for what is right.

    I was disappointed that Natalie Bennett didn’t make this event, but I hope she will make a future one. I’ve only had the chance to listen to her from the back of a crowd once, and I don’t like just relying on TV but I am optimistic about the direction she has led the Green Party. Though I am not a member of the Greens I do feel democratically they are on the right lines. Andrew Cooper was a good speaker on the night.

    The only part of his talk I’d have a few qualms with was his description of public health and the NHS. This isn’t because he was wrong with his analysis of the current problems, and the benefits of coordinated joined up public services. It’s because I feel he didn’t base his argument on looking at what was done before. Many services have been cut and merged already, Health & Safety and Public Health Inspectors have been cut, entire layers have been stripped from the system, and the burden keeps falling on the NHS to pick up the pieces. I feel that needs to be said, the NHS hasn’t failed, it is not a failing of the NHS if it keeps being expected to pick up the pieces with no new resources or capacity facing constant re-organisation, hidden privatisation and cuts itself. That point should always be made strongly by speakers.

    Looking forward I feel we do have to make our voices heard, we’ve looked at the GMDA and the supporting legislation, The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill 2015. This is not devolution, this is local government reshuffling marketed as devolution because of the delegation of budgeting from Westminster. To be honest there is nothing going on that hasn’t been seen before. Years ago the area I was working underwent, this form of localisation, when Tory government shifted budget control to quangos, at that time they were against local governments in the North, they felt them too Labour. Later under a Labour Government some things were shifted around again, but Labour failed to offer real democracy and wanted to pander to its Councils and ignore the calls to end First Past The Post. All of that failed and laid the foundations for today’s mess, where this latest attempt to paper over the cracks, is offered by Tories to the leadership of mostly Labour Councils. They now feel they can trust them to not be led by social justice or social democratic ideas but by narrow views of neoliberal economics and the mentality of austerity.

    The movement of real and committed devolutionists, democracy advocates, social justice campaigners and local community activists are showing real insight into the problems faced. I believe that if we can pull together the disparate parts of society, and all be involved in a real devolution process, it will have benefits for everyone.

  2. Reply

    Rashid – that is a good point you made about the NHS picking up the pieces. There are many ways that Tory policy is affecting the NHS not just the ones directly affecting them:
    – their refusal to deal with air pollution problems is placing a major strain on the NHS
    – their refusal to do anything concrete to tackle the obestiy epidemic is enabling the steady increase of diabetes
    – their refusal to implement effective measures to tackle alcohol and drug abuse
    – their insistence on making more people homeless, due to a mind boggling asinine housing policy.

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