Greater Manchester leaders have indicated they would be willing to accept an elected mayoral model if it guaranteed the transfer of significant powers and funding to the area.
Their comments come in the wake of a report, commissioned by Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Manchester City Council and published by thinktank ResPublica on Monday, that called for the entire allocation of public spending in Greater Manchester – currently £22.5bn a year – to be devolved by 2020. It advocated an elected mayor as its preferred approach to governance once this responsibility was devolved.
Councils in the area have been resistant to the idea of an elected mayor, preferring a cabinet-style system in which the leaders of Greater Manchester’s 10 councils each hold a portfolio across the area and decisions are taken following talks between all of the authorities involved.
But Kieran Quinn (Lab), leader of Tameside MBC, said he believed there was “an inevitability about the elected mayor model” due to political will in Westminster.
“We have a model that works but I’m not foolish; I understand the pressure,” he said.
“There is significant opinion that Greater Manchester needs its own Boris or Ken…What will convince us to move for the elected mayor model is the transfer of significant powers.”
Sue Derbyshire (Lib Dem), leader of Stockport MBC, said her preference was not for the elected mayoral model but added: “If there really was that devolution of public sector control to the Greater Manchester combined authority and the price was we had to have the mechanism central government imposed and that was an elected mayor, then I might find that price worth paying.”
Lord Peter Smith (Lab), chair of the Greater Manchester combined authority and leader of Wigan MBC, told LGC he was still not convinced that “the traditional elected mayoral model” was “the best option for Greater Manchester”.
However, he said: “I’m not ruling the elected mayoral model out, but at this stage I think it’s a move too far given public opinion and understanding in Greater Manchester.
“We need to bring the public along with us and we are beginning to do that but it’s a slow process,” he said.
Donna Hall, chief executive of Wigan MBC, said there were “differences of opinion between the leaders” about the mayoral model, but added that “things have changed since we last had the debate”.
However, Sean Anstee (Con), leader of Trafford Council, told LGC he was not backing the elected mayoral model and would prefer an alternative form of governance.
He said: “I don’t particularly think it’s an effective form of governance. It creates a huge amount of power for one individual, and it’s another layer of governance and bureaucracy when we already have a combined authority that is working very well.”
The move comes amid growing signs that, in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum, Greater Manchester could also receive greater devolved powers.
LGC understands that chancellor George Osborne is considering a plan to devolve full control of the skills budget to the combined authority. Senior figures in Greater Manchester are expecting details of this to be announced in the autumn statement, due in December.
Mr Osborne announced in June that cities in the north of England could have “serious devolution of powers and budgets” in return for adopting elected mayors.
Meanwhile, the Greater Manchester combined authority is also in talks about an alternative new governance structure to an elected mayor.
Lord Smith told LGC the current model, in which council leaders also have a Greater Manchester-wide role, was placing heavy demands on leaders’ time.
An alternative model could see leaders being asked to decide between their local authority and combined authority duties, although Lord Smith said proposals for this approach were in their very early stages.
The County Councils Network has also this week published a report calling for a package of devolved powers based on the concept of ‘one place, one budget’.
Chair David Hodge (Con) told LGC: “We do need a fairer funding settlement and that is critical.”
Cllr Hodge said while it seems all of the talk is about devolving funding and power to cities, he said county councils also have the ability to run some services better and more efficiently.
“I see no reason why we cannot take on more responsibility,” he said.