On Monday morning I was very pleased to be able to sign up to Devo Manc. I was deputising for Stockport’s Lib Dem leader Sue Derbyshire, joined in Manchester Town Hall by the leaders of the other nine Greater Manchester authorities along with George Osborne.
The Greater Manchester devolution deal came out of months of negotiation with the government, and it gives the city region more devolved powers than anywhere else in England, London included. I was surprised at how much we got. To give one example, I was assured just weeks ago that a regulated bus network for Greater Manchester was quite impossible: the DfT would never allow it. Yet there it is, in the deal.
There are so many spending areas where we in Greater Manchester can do a better job than any government down in Westminster, and we want to get on and do them.
Regulated buses, an equivalent of London’s Oyster card, £300 million to invest in housing (more than ten times what we have at the moment), the power to get our residents trained in the right skills to get local jobs, closer working between health and social care, more money to help families with complex needs (a big GM success story we’re keen to expand) and more besides – the package totals over a billion pounds of spending being transferred from central to local government.
So far, so good, but devolution has come with a big string attached: an elected mayor. The Greater Manchester leaders haven’t been at all keen on an elected mayor for Greater Manchester up to now, but there are good reasons why this one isn’t such a bad idea.
I’ve never wanted a London-style two-tier city. Speak to any London council and they’ll tell you how they spend a lot of time arguing with the mayor. That’s not what’s being proposed here. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has been up and running for a few years. It allows the ten councils to work together and covers areas including transport and business investment. The council leaders sit on the authority and take the decisions and, despite having councils run by all three parties, it works very well.
The mayor that’s being proposed is not another tier of government, nor will he or she have unfettered power. Instead, the mayor will be the eleventh member of the Combined Authority. The mayor won’t be able to choose his or her own cabinet: the council leaders will form it. Those leaders also counter the mayor’s power. On many issues, the mayor will simply have one vote from eleven. On some the mayor can be overruled by seven of the ten councils and on spatial planning all the local authorities much be unanimous in agreement.
Imagine that for London. OK, 32 council leaders around a cabinet table might be a bit much but think about no GLA, no appointed deputy mayors and Boris having to get the agreement of London council leaders on his plans.
More devolved powers than London, and a Greater Manchester Mayor working hand-in-hand with the ten councils to deliver for my area – that’s a prize worth having.
* Councillor Iain Roberts is the Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council