By Dave Sanderson
George Osborne has offered to devolve some budgets and associate decision making
powers to the current leadership of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. It’s a start, I
suppose, but it certainly isn’t devolution as practiced in many other parts of the world nor
indeed in London or Scotland. There are some glaring omissions and the way it is being
rushed through with next to no consultation with the people is shameful.
So what exactly is wrong with it? It is a deal with the Treasury. Nothing wrong with that,
except that DevoManc (as it is known) therefore largely excludes devolution of any powers
to do with social, environmental or democratic matters. It is a very limited deal and far
removed from what devolution implies elsewhere in the UK. Furthermore, it has been
handed down by the Chancellor to the leaders of the Greater Manchester Combined
Authority without any reference to the people of this city. It has even imposed on us a Mayor,
currently unelected, even though the people rejected the idea of a Mayor some years ago.
We, the populace, have no say in the matter!
Negotiations to complete the deal and to put it into action are moving quickly. The
Chancellor is in a hurry and GM leaders want to grab the opportunity. If we want to influence
the process we need to get a move on! We also need to bear in mind that GM already has
17 strategic objectives that it uses to guide its activity now. These are largely economic.
So what would we like to see? A much more comprehensive settlement, covering not just
the economy and the local ability to control spending of money devolved from Whitehall but
the ability to raise money locally through a variety of mechanisms and then spend that how
we like. I’ll come back to the ‘we’ in a moment. Control over social support services and
education, environmental regulation, power generation and other infrastructure when it is of
an appropriate scale, the ability to devolve down decisions to a more local level whenever
those decisions can be better determined locally. And much more besides.
This will only work in the long term if the people of the city are given a much greater say in
what happens, and how. There is a serious democratic deficit when the powerful in London
hand down limited powers to the powerful in Manchester and demand it be done in a certain
way. Although I have no doubt that GM leaders think they have the best of intentions, it is
unlikely they will do things differently unless we ask for it. So we must. We need a city-wide
debate, leading to new ways of organising decision making that take the views of all manner
of people and organisations into account in a democratic way.
We need to quickly develop an alternative Plan for devolution in GM. A ‘People’s Plan’. It
needs to be credible, comprehensive and easy to read. And it must result from the inputs of
a very broad set of people. We need a basic one as fast as possible, partly to stimulate
others to critique it and make inputs to it, so it gets better and wins widespread support. And
we cannot know when we will get an opportunity to put it forward for adoption. We certainly
need it well before the Mayoral elections in 2017.
As part of this, all of us need to think carefully about the sort of city we would like GM to be.
Who will live there and what will they do? What will it feel like? How big will it be? How will it
work? And so on.
Going through that process myself recently led me to have a go at writing a first rough draft
of a ‘Peoples Plan’. It is far from perfect, some ideas are deliberately a little controversial and
I’m sure there is much to criticise. That’s fine. It is a ‘straw man’, put forward to stimulate
debate. You can read it here and leave your hopefully constructive comments at the end of this article or by emailing the 38 Degrees Manchester team.
Having an alternative plan for the future of our city is fine but we need to get it noticed and
we need to then get people great and small to adopt as much of it as possible and
implement it. So we also need a plan of action. Most people in GM have not heard of
DevoManc and if they have are not interested. That’s the reality. If the current cuts do not stir
us out of our apathy, nothing will. But we nevertheless need to use all forms of media to get
more people engaged and to harvest their thoughts, opinions and ideas. So who is ‘we’?
This campaign, if that is what it is, is being pulled together by a coalition of local activists led
by 38 degrees Manchester. But ‘we’ really ought to be as many of the normal people of GM
as possible. Yes, you and me and our friends and relations.
The movement, for that is what it needs to become, needs to get talking to the current
leaders of GM, to the media and other influencers, to central Government to let them know
we want change, we have a plan, we want it to become a better plan and so we want to talk
with them, constructively. We seek buy-in from a wide cross section of people and
organisations. There may be a role for direct action, for lobbying, for petitions and all the
other tools of change in the modern world. We should plan to put up a candidate in the
Mayoral elections too, so gaining a further, official platform from which to seek change.
Again, this is referred to in the draft ‘Peoples Plan’ available here.
I would urge all readers to think about the sort of Manchester they would like, to read the
draft plan and to give their comments. If we don’t act, we’ll get what we deserve! If we do
act, if you act, we may well get something better that you have helped craft.
If you would like to input to the People’s Plan, please email one of the 38 Degrees organisers.
Similarly, if you would like to contribute an article of blog for the 38 Degrees Manchester website, we’d love to hear from you. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, please sign the 38 Degrees petition calling on the INTERIM MAYOR OF GREATER MANCHESTER, AND THE POLITICAL LEADERS AND CHIEF EXECUTIVES OF THE 10 COUNCILS OF GREATER MANCHESTER to MAKE LOCAL DEMOCRACY A TOP PRIORITY FOR REAL DEVOLUTION!