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Eve Holt: Away from the cameras, women have been driving devo

Eve Holt
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From Greater Manchester  to the West Midlands, Merseyside to Yorkshire, we are seeing woman-led action in devolution and it is both collaborative and compelling. 

In September I travelled to Birmingham with Donna Hall, chief executive of Wigan MBC and Theresa Grant, chief executive of Trafford MBC. We had been invited by the new West Midlands Women’s Voice to share our learning from DivaManc and woman-led change in Greater Manchester devolution. We were joined by Deborah Cadman, the new chief executive for West Midlands Combined Authority, and an array of women from across WMCA and local councils, businesses and community groups. It made for an insightful and inspirational trip.

The lack of female visibility in devolution to date has been stark and the case for change powerful, as most recently laid bare in the reports by the Fawcett Society with the Local Govenrment Information Unit and the Institute for Public Policy Research. For devolution to return power to the people and to help address economic inequality, it must design for diversity of people, of strengths and of needs across our communities. This isn’t possible if 51% of the local population immediately feels excluded.

Increasing the visibility of women and other underrepresented groups at the top table is a shared priority across the regions. ’Equal gender representation and leadership across Greater Manchester’ is the first of our five DivaManc calls to action, which has already met with some success in - the welcome addition of Joanne Roney as chief executive of Manchester City Council, the positive and purposeful appointment by Andy Burnham of Beverley Hughes as deputy mayor for police and crime and the ratification, at the mayor’s first Greater Manchester Combined Authority meeting, of a change to ensure gender balance at GMCA meetings. Lobbying for similar steps is growing elsewhere, including demands for change in the Liverpool City Region from the Women’s Leadership Group, led by Tabitha Morton, who stood against Steve Rotheram in the mayoral elections for the Women’s Equality party, and from local female councillors.

The woman-led People’s Powerhouse event in July provided a further platform for collaboration between female leaders including Jo Miller, chief executive of Doncaster MBC, and opportunity to showcase the work and thinking of many women (and men) across the statutory, community, voluntary and business sectors in the North. This was followed in the summer by a collaborative and compelling joint statement and a transport summit in Leeds led by Judith Blake (Lab), leader of Leeds City Council, Julie Dore (Lab), leader of Sheffield City Council, Joyce McCarty (Lab), deputy leader of Newcastle City Council, along with Andy Burnham, Richard Leese (Lab), leader of Manchester City Council and Steve Rotheram (Lab), mayor of Liverpool City Region.

Listening to Theresa Grant and Donna Hall talk at the WMCA event, it was clear they had long been key drivers for change in the devolution agenda in Greater Manchester. Theresa, Trafford chief for more than eight years and a leading public servant in Greater Manchester for 20, has played a key role in the Greater Manchester Working Well programme and continues to lead on employment, apprenticeships and skills for the combined authority. Voted the most inspiring woman in the public sector in the national Inspiring Women Awards in 2009, Donna has been instrumental in the transformation of Wigan Council and in leading public sector reform across the combined authority as well as GMCA portfolio lead for culture, arts and leisure.

They are by no means on their own. Carolyn Wilkins, Oldham MBC chief exec and GMCA lead for green city region and Jean Stretton (Lab), leader of Oldham and GMCA lead for equality, fairness and inclusion, have been quietly working towards their ambition to be a living and breathing co-operative council.

The divas of devolution have long been demonstrating how it’s done. Away from the cameras, women were working away, ears close to the ground, sleeves rolled up and a clear vision in sight. They’ve been building the foundations for a brighter devolution that works for all and now we are all getting a glimpse of what that can look like.

Our session in Birmingham finished with a rallying cry from Deborah Cadman for us to work together to make women’s voices “louder, bolder, clearer”. Women are driving change across our communities, businesses and public services. By supporting each other and working in collaboration we can accelerate that change.

As we look at how we grow and sustain DivaManc as a social movement, there are lessons to be learnt from WMWV, which has already attracted some core resources and funding from WMCA to facilitate their activities. I look forward to us working together and demonstrating what can be done to deliver a better devolution for all.

Eve Holt, co-founder, DivaManc

DivaManc is now celebrating its one year anniversary having held its first public event on 22 September 2016. The next event will be looking at how to better design for diversity. Connect via or @divamanc

West Midlands Womens Voice will be launching its website soon. You can follow them on twitter @WMWV_

Northern Power Women has just launched its website, and nominations for the NPW Awards @NorthPowerWomen

Peoples Powerhouse @Peoplespowerhse

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