Opinion: Why I signed up for Devo Manc and a mayor for Greater Manchester

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, ÂŁ300 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.

* Iain Roberts is a Stockport councillor, LGA Peer and consultation, communications and public affairs consultant specialising in the built environment.

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  • we in Manchester Don’t want Mayor we Voted against once its Empire Building and over paid Jobs for the Lads the political click that has stitched this up

  • I was stunned (and jealous) to hear you were getting an Oyster card (and the bus franchising that implies). And I happened to have proposed “an Oyster card for the North” on Saturday in my motion to the Yorkshire and the Humber regional conference on unlocking the economic potential of the north – so I hope we can aim for something that is in due course interoperable over the Manchester-Sheffield-Leeds golden triangle, and more widely.

    Good to hear what you say about the role of the Mayor in the combined authority. I tweeted yesterday

    The main thing missing from this "run Manchester like London" proposal is a proportionally representative elected assembly.— Joe Otten (@ExtraBold) November 3, 2014

    but the GLA is something of a talking shop and if your combined authority retains some powers then that may be a good trade-off.

    I would still argue that proportional representation is more necessary in local government – whether existing councils or combined authorities – than it is even at Westminster, because the basic function of democracy, to be able to throw out useless governments, is broken in all these one-party fiefdoms.

  • James Baker 4th Nov '14 - 12:29pm

    So the democratic participation is to elect a Mayor who can’t form a cabinet and can get outvoted by Council leaders. Leaders which are not directly elected onto the combined authority but rather appointed to the combined authority by virtue of holding a political office within another democratic organisation.

    I don’t think the combined authorities are very democratic at all, they are another tier of local government, but one where the electorate don’t get a direct say which person represents them on it. That might be fine if they are just Councils working together on transport, but If combined authorities are to be vehicle by which we get local devolved powers then those sitting on them must be directly elected (ideally under a proportional system).

    The Yorkshire & Humber regional party has passed a motion that rejects the model of combined authorities explicitly stating “The current City Regions and combined authorities lack democratic legitimacy and accountability.” We have voted to have a regional parliament elected under STV. If Liberal Democrats in Manchester want this model (and the comments I have seen suggest there is not unanimity) that is one thing but I hope it isn’t imposed on the Yorkshire & Humber region that has explicitly said this isn’t the model of devolution we want.

  • What James said.

  • Alisdair McGregor 4th Nov '14 - 1:03pm

    If they try this in Yorkshire we should reject it. Y&H LibDems explicitly rejected City Regions this past weekend.

  • The GLA in London and this idea of a combined authority both seem to be lacking in the democracy and accountability stakes.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Nov '14 - 1:19pm

    Why are the political and media elite in this country OBSESSED with this idea of “Mayor”s, meaning not the old ceremonial mayors but instead someone who is given absolute power all to themselves. From left to right, the Guardian newspaper as much as the right-wing press, the Mayor idea is put forward as the way to …

    Well, let’s put it as the same idea, but used nationally, was put when it was fashionable and tried out in Italy and Germany: “make the trains run in time”.

    The Executive Mayor concept is something we as liberals should instinctively be firmly opposed to.

  • Stephen Hesketh 4th Nov '14 - 1:23pm

    James Baker4th Nov ’14 – 12:29pm

    James, I agree from west of the Pennines also.

    Lib Dems should be looking for Regional Government not metropolitan city-states. Many areas surrounding major cities are intimately linked to them for services such as specialist health care, transport etc.

    Osborne’s plan is to hive off the predominantly labour-led cities leaving the rest of us under a permenant Tory ‘English votes for English laws’ (and rule from Westminster) carve up.

    This is simply not a good enough settlement for our party to support or put our names to.

    Who was supposed to be leading the overview of constitutional change?

  • Stephen: that would be Cleggy, who didn’t even bother to turn up to Y&H regionl conference (his own region, lets not forget) where we voted firmly against this model.

  • I will be putting a motion, if possible, to the South Cambridgeshire constituency to state that the City Regions are unfair to all those regions, particularly the East, which have no large cities to form such entities in their own right. I will also argue this at the Eastern Regional Conference this weekend if I get the opportunity.

    We must have elected regions or nothing at all. It goes grossly against the Lib Dem values of fairness and equality for the cities to be hived off as separate bodies leaving other areas of England with no equivalent devolved powers.

    Not only that, but Eastern England has an economy and population more than twice that of Manchester and indeed a bit larger than that of Scotland, Yet the East will have no devolution whilst Manchester and Scotland get political and financial clout to do their own thing. What mechanims allows Cambridge residents to compete against Mancunians on an equal footing? None.

    I say no to more powers to Manchester unless everyone else gets them too. Fairness dictates that all British citizens shall be citizens of a devolved region or body and that none shall be without such.

    Stockport Lib Dems should be ashamed of themselves for being blackmailed into accepting a Mayor – or rather, it seems, an un-Mayor, as the strings attached to this extra funding. Especially as Manchester people voted against having a Mayor only two years ago.

  • Michael: don’t worry, the bits of what-used-to-be-Lancashire but have been referred to as Greater Manchester for some time (like Stockport, for example) are still in Manchester City Region and therefore will now be called Manchester.

    I am REALLY looking forward to some daft bugger suggesting the equivalent for West Yorkshire. Our combined authority (which actually has an Oyster equivalent already, Joe, I waved it at you on Saturday) used to be called Leeds City Region until my council group leader pointed out that if it became more known publicly that this was the case there would be uproar and they sheepishly changed it to West Yorkshire combined authority.

    I’d LOVE someone to go to Bradford and tell them they are henceforth to be known as Leeds City Region borough 2. I’d also hope they have fast running shoes.

  • Simon McGrath 4th Nov '14 - 1:43pm

    What’s fascinating is how the comments about Iain follow so closely what happens to Clegg. He makes perfectly sensible decision that what’s on offer, while not perfect goes a long way to delivering something that is both Liberal and will be good for the people he represents. Then gets attacked for not having delivered exactly what a pure LD government would have done.

  • Simon: no, if this was presented as a compromise we have reluctantly signed up to then perhaps more of the people who cleave to Liberal Democracy would find it acceptable. Perhaps it is a sensible, reasonable compromise, but that’s not what the post says.

    The reason that the comments are so hostile is that Iain, like Clegg, has presented this miserable fudge as if this is the best thing since sliced bread and we should all be cheering from the rooftops.

    It isn’t, we shouldn’t, and we won’t.

  • In fairness on the “Manchester voted no to a similar proposal” issue: Salford voted yes. You might think they were silly sossidges to do that, but they did.

    The residents of the other 8 boroughs have yet to voice their opinion on elected mayors as an idea, let alone a Mayor for GM rather than M or S.

    In judging what the popular support for an idea is, it’s like calling a close election at 11.15am with no idea what the teatime rush will do to the figures, based on the telling you’ve been doing in the ward next door…

  • Simon, I really don’t how you can consider this City Region nonsense as being a perfectly sensible decision for Nick Clegg to support or why it goes a long way to delivering Liberal ideals.

    City Regions is distinctly unfair and illiberal on so many levels. Firstly it hives off the larger cities from their surrounding counties or regions and concentrates devolved power in those urban area. This is positively prejudicial to the opportunity of those less urban areas both near and far from those cities: they will not be able to form sensible regional authorities in their own right. That is why cities should be empowered from within the context of a regional devolved body: that means Yorkshire not Leeds-alone, and it means the North West not Manchester-alone.

    What Nick Clegg, George Osborne and the Stockport Lib Dems you are suporting, Simon, is a two-tier Britain. Those citizens who will have the luxury of devolved power (all Scots and Mancunians, etc) and those who will not, such as myself in a South Cambridgeshire village and in a region, Eastern England, which has NOT ONE city in the top 20 by population. There will be NO powerful devolved bodies championing Eastern England under this system.

    This is first-come-first-served and last-come-never-served. That’s liberalism, is it?

    In this post-Scottish-referendum world we are witnessing a mad scrabble to offer power to people on an arbitrary basis and in a way which positively damages the prospects for comprehensive devolution elsewhere.

    We have the rest of eternity to enjoy a properly devolved UK settlement when a good solution is arrived at. Instead of taking a year out to consult, think, plan and digest, you’d rather we jumped at the first half-baked, piecemeal, arbitrary notion put forward by politicians simply because it would seem to be going against the grain to reject it?

    This isn’t devolution, it isn’t liberal, it isn’t fair. It’s a bodge and it greatly damages the chance of getting things right later, as we’ll have even more stupid nonsense to unravel when the time comes.

  • Jennie, yeah we’re getting something like that in South Yorks too. It works I think on about 2 buses, but if you acquire a paper counterpart ticket from head office it’ll work on another 4 buses. I think they call this ‘rolling out’.

    In the past I think operators have resisted (as they resisted the London Oystercard) but I guess they see the writing on the wall and this is changing.

    So following my call on Saturday, we get this announcement http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-29871381 🙂

    (I should clarify my motion to the regional conference on transport and economy was not the same one as Alisdair’s on devolution)

    There is a difference here between Manchester and Yorkshire. Greater Manchester is a thing. Greater Sheffield and Greater Leeds are not things. We are expecting announcements for the Leeds and Sheffield City regions in the Autumn statement, but I suspect they won’t be as ambitious, not least because I suspect the Sheffield City region authorities have less common ground.

    When Labour unabolished the GLC, after a fashion, they didn’t unabolish the rest: GMCC, SYCC, etc. These things existed for a reason, and were abolished only because they were hopeless Labour fiefdoms. This isn’t an alternative to devolution in England, it is just a matter of getting local government right over large metropolitan areas, and giving Manchester a chance to do some of the things London has got right.

  • matt (Bristol) 4th Nov '14 - 2:22pm

    From chatting to friends and colleagues, I think this is what a lot of people who didn’t actually read the proposal thought we were getting down here in Bristol last year with our mayoral referendum; there’s still some nostalgia for Avon County Council around (people in Bath, feel free to spit)…

  • “….The Greater Manchester devolution deal .,,,,,, ..,, gives the city region more devolved powers than anywhere else in England, London included. ”

    Iain Roberts,
    Any chance of you pointing to any facts that might justify your assertion???
    What power exactly has been “devolved” ???

    ” more devolved powers than anywhere else in England, London included. ” — which powers are those then??

    You list an Oyster Card, a bus service, some money for housing, and some opaque references to training, social welfare and families with complex needs.
    Which of those is a devolved power???

    If you have sold the family cow for half a dozen magic beans, you might at least tell us what those beans are.

    You have not mentioned one single devolved power in your piece. Why is that?

  • Joe: West Yorkshire metro card works on every bus & train in West Yorkshire.

  • paul barker 4th Nov '14 - 3:53pm

    I f we want to know why so few Libdems are standing in Local Byelections the comments on this thread give us a clue. 5 of the 20 comments so far manage to crowbar in yet another attack on Clegg, most of the rest are entirely negative. The point about the City Devolution is that its something that can be done now & that will create an appetite for more powers. We have a brief window of opportunity & we need to grab it while we can.

  • Peter Watson 4th Nov '14 - 4:20pm

    @paul barker “If we want to know why so few Libdems are standing in Local Byelections the comments on this thread give us a clue.”
    Surely it is not because a dozen or so individuals on Lib Dem Voice have demotivated an entire political party numbering tens of thousands. Perhaps this thread reflects that a large number of former and present voters and members have lost faith.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Nov '14 - 4:24pm

    matt (Bristol)

    From chatting to friends and colleagues, I think this is what a lot of people who didn’t actually read the proposal thought we were getting down here in Bristol last year with our mayoral referendum;

    Yes, most people just don’t seem to realise that what an Executive Mayor means is abolishing the voting power of councillors, and the concept that decisions are made collectively, and instead putting it all into the hands of one person. We had the same in LB Lewisham – after the mayor system was introduced, so many times I had to tell constituents “Er, sorry, I no longer have a vote on that, and I don’t even get the detailed information on it I used to get when we had the committee system” and they said “Huh, I never realised having an elected mayor meant that”.

    Westminster Bubble types love to describe the introduction of an Executive Mayor as “devolution”. In reality it is the opposite of that.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Nov '14 - 4:37pm

    Simon McGrath – it’s as Jennie puts it. Defending the compromises that have to be made as part of the Coalition is just made SO MUCH HARDER by the way our leader and the ad-men and spads surrounding him seem to think that it all has to be presented in a “Wow, this is all super-duper” way.

    When we get people coming to this site attacking us, I’ll join in the defence of the party over its compromises. I’ve always accepted that this is how a multi-party system must work. However, when I do so, it feels like I’m hitting my head against a brick wall, that’s why I’ve started to call these people I’m trying to reason with “nah nah nah nah nah” types. It just seems impossible to get the argument across that quite obviously a coalition of 57 LibDem MPs and 307 Conservative MPs is going to put out policies which are pretty much Conservative with a little LibDem influence.

    This was always going to be hard, but it is made so much harder when our leaders make it seem that the compromises made are our ideal, what we always really wanted, super-duper wonderful. How can we get across the line “No, we have not really given in, abandoned our principles and just become me-toos to the Tories” under those conditions?

  • matt (Bristol) 4th Nov '14 - 4:47pm

    Matthew, I agree. This is why I voted against the mayoral model in a referendum. It’s also why I think the neighbourhood partnerships (surrogate unelected parish councils) we have here are not particularly a good thing.

    But the other point I was making was that many people living here thought the mayor for Bristol was going to be a mayor for greater Bristol (we have a considerable urban sprawl that is outside the city council of that name) and were genuinely surprised to find out he is not.

    One day, maybe, everyone will read the actual documents or proposals they vote on… maybe not.

  • Stephen Hesketh 4th Nov '14 - 5:09pm

    paul barker4th Nov ’14 – 3:53pm

    Paul, on what basis do you expect us to agree with a proposal which runs counter to agreed party policy, liberal and democratic instincts and, rather than create an appetite for more devolved powers nationally, could easily sabotage the efforts of non-metropolitan areas?

    By the way, Greater Manchester is a metropolitan county not a region. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_and_non-metropolitan_counties_of_England

    Take a look at the political shape of England with the troublesome (mainly/usually) Labour run metros bought off.

    Surely questions as to how and why our leader has been sidelined on this key and very topical constitutional issue are pertinent? Surely constitutional reform was one of the big positives for us in coalition? Surely we are not going to be let down in this area also?

    Supporters of city-exclusive devolution should be asking themselves why did Tory tactician George Osborne move to shape this debate and why are Labour-controlled cities so keen on it to the exclusion of the surrounding (less labourite) regions?

    The answers to these questions in good part explain why Liberal Democrats should and do instinctively oppose this option.

  • Iain Roberts 4th Nov '14 - 5:09pm

    Interesting to see how many people are opposing a massive piece of devolution because it’s not exactly the way they want. Especially interesting to see people attacking devolution in Manchester because “it’s not what we want in Yorkshire”. If that’s the case, don’t have it – but perhaps it isn’t your place to tell other places what sort of devolution they should want.

    John Tilley: impressive use of multiple question marks, have a look at https://www.scribd.com/doc/245508777/GMCA-Devolution-Agreement-FINAL-Summary

    Matthew Huntback: the proposal for Greater Manchester takes no power away from councillors at all. Local councils keep the powers we have, as do local councillors. In addition, GM takes on more powers currently controlled by central government, and those will be jointly exercised by the mayor and the ten councils.

  • Paul Barker, I’m one of the people vehemently opposed to this City Regions plans but I am not just blaming everything on Nick Clegg – I also post on the members’ forum here voicing my disappointment that so much is put at his door when it shouldn’t. But I’m sorry, you can’t use a defence of Nick Clegg – whether justified or not – as a straw man to demonstrate the value of this particular project which he supports. I stand by everything I said about the arbitrary, damaging and thorough illiberal policy here debated.

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Nov '14 - 5:56pm

    This devo manc decision is the wrong move, but it’s becoming difficult to keep track of all them all.

  • Iain Roberts 4th Nov ’14 – 5:09pm
    Interesting to see how many people are opposing a massive piece of devolution 

    I am not opposing “a massive piece of devolution”, I am asking for specifics of what that devolution might be.

    You provided this link, which I urge everyone in this thread to read

    It is not clear what specific powers will be devolved to Manchester.

    There is confusion in the language between handing over responsibility for service delivery and devolution of powers.   Is this devolution of power or is this making Manchester Town Hall little more than a “Branch Office” of Whitehall?

    There is a specific reference in your document  to “appointment” of a “Mayor”.  

    There is no clarity as to the powers of this “Mayor”.

    There is no line of accountability from Mayor or GMCA Cabinet to the people.

    The concept seems to be a continuation of the existing Combined Authority in which each council leader has one vote and this “mayor” has one vote.   

    There is  a line at the very end which says the GMCA Cabinet and the Mayor will be held to account by the Scrutiny Pool.

    The “Scrutiny Pool” may be something that everybody in Cheadle knows all about but I am afraid it is a new one to me.  Who is in the Scrutiny Pool?   How do the voters in your patch exercise any influence over the Scrutiny Pool?

    You seem a bit irritated that your agreement to this deal has not been greeted with acclaim by all Liberal Democrats.   To help you understand why that might be the following words might help.   They are from the Preamble to the Liberal Democrat Constitution —

    “…..We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people. 
    We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs and commit ourselves to the promotion of a democratic federal framework within which as much power as feasible is exercised by the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. 
    We similarly commit ourselves to the promotion of a flourishing system of democratic local government ….”

  • Stephen Hesketh 4th Nov '14 - 6:50pm

    Iain Roberts 4th Nov ’14 – 5:09pm

    Hi Iain
    I live in Merseyside within Lancashire and in all likelihood would eventually be automatically in another metropolitan county outside Yorkshire. I just happen to believe that Manchester, Liverpool and the historic counties of Lancashire and Cheshire would form the basis of an excellent socially and economically coherent region.

    Osborne agreeing a carve up with Manchester Labour slows the pace and significantly reduces the likelihood of devolution in the rest of the North West region and is little different to what Westminster government and London assembly have inflicted upon the rest of the country to date.

  • Iain Roberts – this is not a massive piece of devolution. It’s a privilege for 2.7 million people out of the total 50-odd million people in England. When it gets extended to Leeds, Sheffield and others it will still remain a privilege for those city-dwellers and the 5.5 million people who live in the Eastern England region – which has NO cities of any size above 180,000, will remain devoid of any devolution of a size and structure which would allow the East to compete on a level playing field with Manchester.

    Massive mess, massive bodge, massive disparity. Not massive devolution.

  • Mick taylor 4th Nov '14 - 8:49pm

    Itb appears that certain Liberal Democrats think that devolution is being given responsibility for adminsitering services. It isn’t.

    Devolution is taking power away from the central government in London and giving it to democratic, elected authorities in the regions,and also Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland. It means smaller government in London with power being exercised nearer the people not constrained by government dictat in London,

    Whatever else the Manchester deal is, it’s not devolution of power, because there’s no powers to change anything affecting Manchester that doesn’t have the agreement of London. It’s not a bit like Scotland or Wales where there is real devolved power coupled with freedom from London interference in a whole range of policy areas.

    As others have pointed out Liberal Democrats favour democracy and accountability in our politics. Extended city regions or combined authorities are not democratically elected or accountable. It is wholly disengenuous for Nick Clegg or Iain Donaldson to claim that this Tory distraction is any any sense devolution. Putting the power to spend billions of pounds into the hands of one person – an elected Mayor – is elected dictatorship not democracy. Since the decisions can only be made with the agreement of central government it isn’t freedom of decision making and can be withdrawn at any time.

    I – and many Liberal Democrats – want a smaller central government dealing with truly national issues – and devolved assemblies or parliaments in the regions and nations of the UK along the lines of devo max in Soctland. Why Nick Clegg can’t or won’t grasp this idea is truly baffling as it has been our party and its predecessor party’s policy since at least 1912.

  • What bunch of miserable comments! It might not be perfect but it represents a significant transfer of power and importantly budget from Westminster to the Greater Manchester region and for that reason I support it, warts and all. Good luck with it Iain 🙂

  • James Baker 4th Nov '14 - 9:26pm

    Iain i’m not critical and skeptical because it’s not what we want in Yorkshire, but because it doesn’t appear to conform to the democratic principles I recognize as Liberal. John Locke, one of the fathers of liberalism, famously said civil government requires the consent of those which are governed to govern. That is the philosophical maxim and root of the section in the preamble“…..We believe that sovereignty rests with the people and that authority in a democracy derives from the people.
    We therefore acknowledge their right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs ”

    So the question is where did the people consent to this form of combined authority? How did over greater Manchester Liberal Democrat Councilors get consulted on the plans? How did local parties in the boroughs that make up the area debate it? How does it tally with Clegg’s previous calls for a citizen’s jury to determine the model of devolution for England.

    If this is the model of devolution you have all agreed as your regional party policy then that’s fine. I’d also by sympathetic to an argument that it was the best compromise you could achieve, if the vision of what you really wanted was also articulated. Is what you have got what you would want in an ideal world? Or will you be campaigning to try and make it more democratic and representative?

  • James Baker 4th Nov '14 - 9:30pm


    What is similar to Clegg is that the decision is presented as a great and wonderful thing when often it’s not in-line with party policy or what a pure Liberal Democrat government would do. Therefore a real Liberal Democrat vision is never articulated, and it appears to Joe public we have no real principles or values. I’m sure Liberal Democrats in offices of power are doing the best to deliver what they can, I just wish sometimes we were clearer about what we wanted, is not what we have manged to always get.

  • “perhaps it isn’t your place to tell other places what sort of devolution they should want.”

    I’m not telling anyone what they should or should not want. I’m saying this is not democracy.

    Of course, I am also articulating the fact that of the authorities involved, we only know what two of them wanted, and one of those two didn’t want this. It’s wholly disingenuous to suggest that *I* am the one dictating to the people of the Greater Manchester region, when you are the one pictured smiling while carving the up with George Osborne and without a jot of consultation with the people, Iain, and I’m disappointed that you even think it’s worth a try.

  • Nigel Cheeseman 4th Nov '14 - 9:45pm

    Mick Taylor makes a very good point about the difference between devolution and being given responsibility for administering services. Another word for it is delegation. It’s similar to giving your children a little pocket money and telling them that they are now responsible for buying their own clothes and toiletries. A far cry from autonomy.

  • Michael Kilpatrick – Whilst understand your viewpoint, myself being a resident and contributor to the East Midlands economy, I wonder whether the Manchester style of devolution is available to any grouping of local authorities that oversee a contiguous area – hence whether key authorities in the East Midlands should band together and form their own Combined Authority…

  • Tony Dawson 4th Nov '14 - 10:17pm

    @paul barker:

    “I f we want to know why so few Libdems are standing in Local Byelections the comments on this thread give us a clue.”

    Paul, I think it is fair to say from your comment that you haven’t yet been given a clue about anything relevant. To suggest that people all over the country are refusing to stand in council by-elections is due to attacks on Nick Clegg on a forum read by a few thousand people is akin to saying that a car engine blows up because of a pigeon feather underneath the windscreen wiper.

    This proposal has been an effective form of blackmail to help Mr Pickles to get his way on his ludicrous ‘elected mayor’ idea which is rejected by the vast majority of the people who do not wish to see power concentrated in the hands of one person. Once a mayor is in place, there will be nothing to stop the next Minister pushing through extra powers for him/her. The ‘devolution’ that these dozen leaders have voted for is devolution to their own little private unaccountable club with no effective transparency or accountability processes.

    Besides those areas which do not get a ‘devolution deal’, other areas which is badly-affected by such a move are those adjoining the artificial ‘City Region’ which are excluded from these processes. There are a number of areas which surround Greater Manchester, for instance, which arguably should be included in any genuine region.

  • Stevan Rose 4th Nov '14 - 10:25pm

    I live in Greater Manchester. I don’t know the details of what’s on offer. Nothing should be imposed on the people of Greater Manchester without our consent via a referendum. I’m very happy with my council and how it works; it ain’t broke and doesn’t need fixing.

    What does need fixing is the abysmal state of trains and buses compared to London. Overpriced. Old. Late. Overcrowded. Non-existant after 7pm in many parts. An Oyster card system, and why not the actual Oyster card to avoid reinventing wheels, is a no brainer but doesn’t solve the real problem. It is such a pleasure to travel around London in comparison. I know Londoners still complain but they’ve not been wedged onto a 2 carriage nodding donkey bus on train bogies for twice the price. Followed by a bus journey that costs more than a cab and only runs hourly after 7pm.

  • Stephen Donnelly 4th Nov '14 - 10:52pm

    I think Iain’s comments sound quite sensible. I work in Manchester, but live just outside the boundary. Somehow the local authorities that make up the old county of greater Manchester seem to have been able to co-operate constructively. An elected Mayor may be a useful step forward and would command widespread local support. Why not try out this arrangement ?

    Other areas should be encouraged to step forward with their own plans, and let’s hope they receive government support outside of election year.

    Let’s see what works best.

  • I still don’t know how this proposal is to be put into effect. Will there be legislation before the general election? If not then it is at best a manifesto idea which I assume Osbourne is pushing for the Tories.
    The reporting of this imply that Osbourne has established the whole proposal by decree.
    Iain you may understand that the “mayor” may have limited power but unless Osbourne does have the power to decree the solution how do you know given the Tories, and Labour belief in having “strong men” to run things that the proposal won’t get amended to give executive power to the mayor?

  • What Gareth said. Devolution is a good liberal principle, of course it’s not perfect (we have to compromise with Tories in westminster and Labour in Manchester…) but the comments from others here makes me slightly depressed to be a libdem…

  • Stephen Hesketh 5th Nov '14 - 9:34am

    Paraphrasing Gareth Epps,

    It’s really very simple. Yes to devolution. No to the grotesque over-concentration of power that is the [simple merging of the metropolitan city county and] executive mayor systems.

    We should surely be very wary of something being so enthusiatically promoted by George Osborne! This is a moment to pause and consider the wider implications, the wishes and needs of other communities and existing Liberal Democrat policies on regionalism and devolution.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Nov '14 - 9:54am

    Iain Roberts

    Matthew Huntback: the proposal for Greater Manchester takes no power away from councillors at all. Local councils keep the powers we have, as do local councillors. In addition, GM takes on more powers currently controlled by central government, and those will be jointly exercised by the mayor and the ten councils.

    Sure, and actually yes your original article does make it quite clear that the Mayor idea was something you accepted rather reluctantly as a necessary compromise in order to get the devolution of powers to the region you wanted. Oh, and by the way, the last letter of my surname is ‘h’, not ‘k’, it comes from a place name with the “bach” part being the same as is in the town of Sandbach not that far from you.

    However, the point remains, there is this Westminster Bubble obsession with the idea of executive mayors and the idea that somehow executive mayors are an intrinsic aspect of devolution to regions. I am asking where does it come from and why? As you have had to agree to it here, and you make clear it was reluctantly, perhaps you can answer it. Without actually spelling out the word, I have made clear that I regard the Mayor idea as a weak form of that ideology that came to power in the 1920s in Italy, and I am deeply opposed to that. Yet it seems to be impossible to get this message across, the Guardian newspaper, supposedly the voice of the liberal left, has been one of the keenest advocates of this mayor idea, published many comment articles in favour of it or mentioning it favourably, and never anything putting the other side.

    I note that in their coverage of the Tower Hamlets issue today, the Guardian rather plays down that part of the problem is that Tower Hamlets has the Executive Mayor system. Lutfur Rahman is just doing what the advocates of executive mayors say is so good about the idea: making all the decisions himself, by-passing the idea that it needs collective discussion, pushing forward a very personal and distinctive view of how his borough should be in a very dynamic way. If the Guardian, and all others who have pushed and pushed the idea of executive mayors, were honest about what they have said in the past they’d be cheering Lutfur Rahman on now for being such an excellent illustration of what they said would revitalise local government and get things going by having a personality in charge who does it all his own way.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Nov '14 - 10:15am

    James Baker

    What is similar to Clegg is that the decision is presented as a great and wonderful thing when often it’s not in-line with party policy or what a pure Liberal Democrat government would do. Therefore a real Liberal Democrat vision is never articulated, and it appears to Joe public we have no real principles or values

    Yes, and this has been happening throughout, ever since the coalition began. All of us who have thought seriously for a long time about how multi-party politics would work (i.e. many Liberal Democrats, but no-one in the Westminster Bubble, because until it happened it was too much for their little minds to be able to contemplate given that it was a bit different from what they were used to) realised it would be like this: we would have to agree to compromises that were far from our ideal, and we would have to explain that is how democratic politics of a non-Leninist sort actually works. However, instead it is getting reported as if the compromises are have suddenly become what all Liberal Democrats passionately want, as if we are a Leninist party, so when the leader changes the party line we all jump up and obey.

    Joel and others describe the negative points being made here as “depressing”. Well, sorry, but I find it thoroughly depressing that the political party I’ve spent my life building up looks like it is getting destroyed because people who used to vote for us and might have voted for us in the past just don’t seem to have got that idea about how multi-party politics would work, and so really do suppose that when we have to agree to a compromise that is not our ideal somehow we have “betrayed our principles” or secretly believed in something else when we were seeking votes, and now our true beliefs are coming out.

    So, I have accepted and defended the compromises, even tried a brave attempt, many times, to put across the line that the student loans and tuition fees system while not our ideal was actually quite a clever compromise that underneath works more like what we really wanted than it seems at first and actually saved us from worse things (like wholesale closures of universities). But it’s just not working. One of the reasons why it’s not working is that those at the top of our party also seem stuck with the Leninist idea of a political party being all about its leader pushing down the party line from on top, so that we have to cheer it on and pretend it’s what it always was when it veers this way and that way to meet circumstances.

    How else are those of us on the ground seeing the damage that has been done to our party by the way it’s being presented at the top to get our message across if we can’t do it here?

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Nov '14 - 10:24am

    James Baker

    How does it tally with Clegg’s previous calls for a citizen’s jury to determine the model of devolution for England.

    Would that be like the Citizens’ Jury that New Labour in the London Borough of Lewisham used as part of their plan to push the Executive Mayor system? They recruited a bunch of people who not having political experience weren’t always skilled at looking behind surface arguments, and gave them a whole load of biased material in favour of executive mayors and nothing against. Was I, as Leader of the Opposition, invited to speak to them to put the other side? No. Then for ever after, when I tried to put the case against as New Labour pushed the mayor idea through the council, I was shut up, and on one occasion literally barred from speaking, with the line “the people have spoken on this issue through the Citizens’ Jury, how dare you speak against them?”. And Clegg, while a backbench MP, wrote a pamphlet for Centre Forum praising New Labour in Lewisham and the way it did this thing without even bothering to consult with members of his own party there to get a more balanced picture.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Nov '14 - 12:07pm

    The idea of a Mayor and power in the hands of a single personality (even with some checks and balances), is an appalling idea. Lib Dems should have no truck with it. I hope the people of Manchester let the Government know once again that they reject this proposal outright.

  • Iain Roberts 5th Nov '14 - 1:01pm

    Helen/Gareth/Joel – I agree that putting all that power into the hands of a single person would be a bad idea, and I’m very glad there are no proposals to do that in Greater Manchester.

    Mike – the plan is for the 10 leaders to appoint an interim mayor before the General Election with an elected mayor in 2017 once the necessary legislation has been passed.

    Stevan – you make the point well. Your council won’t change – it will have the same model, the same people and the same powers. One thing that will change is the ability to sort out the transport system with London-style bus regulation among other things.

    Roland & others – having spoken to senior Lib Dems about this, the phrase being bandied about is “Devolution on Demand” – in other words, areas deciding what will work best for them and pulling those powers down from Central Government. Clearly we’re not quite there yet, but it seems like a good approach to me.

    Jennie – this is the very first step, with consultation to follow (yes, we need to have something to consult on first). Manchester City has never voted on this – people voted on whether to have an elected mayor for Manchester City Council instead of a leader. They voted “no” to that and that’s what they’ll continue to get: MCC will continue to have a leader, not a mayor (and Salford, where people voted “yes” will continue to have a mayor).

    John Tilley – I’m sorry that you’re not finding the information you want – more details will come out in different formats. However, I will say that this is not about Greater Manchester administering spending, it’s about Greater Manchester making spending decisions and doing things differently, so very happy to correct that one.

    James Baker – it’s a really interesting point: you start off with a very general statement of principle and then say, in effect “this is how I interpret it, and as you’ve interpreted it differently, you’re wrong and I’m right.” Fair enough, and probably challenging to have a sensible debate about, though maybe we should try sometime. I was interested in your suggestion that there should be a referendum whenever councils wanted to work together…or was that not what you meant?

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Nov '14 - 1:20pm

    Iain Roberts

    What is democratic about putting an executive on a council of other council leaders to take decisions? Since when have we as a party been in favour of this top-down way of ‘devolving power’?

    The truth is this party is not favourable to the imposition of mayors even in this convoluted sense ie: putting an elected mayor on a committee of council leaders to make decisions on behalf of the people. This is a centralising move. Please let’s not fall for authoritarian solutions to real devolution in the interests of a short or even medium term improvements. We have to think long term too.

  • Iain Roberts,

    Sorry to come back for a third time,  but are you saying that Mick Taylor was  wrong ? when he said —

    Mick taylor 4th Nov ’14 – 8:49pm
    Whatever else the Manchester deal is, it’s not devolution of power, because there’s no powers to change anything affecting Manchester that doesn’t have the agreement of London.
    It’s not a bit like Scotland or Wales where there is real devolved power coupled with freedom from London interference in a whole range of policy areas.

    Iain,   It seems from the information that you provided a link to that Mick Taylor is correct.

    If anyone is in any doubt about the dangers of  “strong Mayors” — just read up on what is happening in Tower Hamlets.   
     It is not the only example of the “strong Mayor” idea going bad in practice, it just happens to be in the news today.
    This is from The Daily Mirror report —
    Tower Hamlets : “Rotten borough riddled with cronyism and corruption” 

    A hit squad has been sent in to a “rotten borough” a minister accused of being “riddled with cronyism and corruption”…….

    Mr Pickles likened mayor Lutfur Rahman to a “mediaeval monarch” and said the council was “at best dysfunctional and at worst riddled with cronyism and corruption”.

    He said the way money was handed out was “a disgrace.”

    ………  a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers found taxpayers’ money given out “with no apparent rationale”, with “no objectives” or “proper monitoring”. 

    He added: “Executive power is unchecked and executive power has been misused.”


  • The good thing about that John Tilley is that the Devo Manc Mayor will be nothing like Tower Hamlets which is a world away from Greater Manchester.

    But keep on comparing apples with pears and we’ll forge ahead taking on more responsibility with public money and electing Lib Dem council in Stockport.

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