Since the devolution deadline passed last month, discussions between government and councils on potential deals have stepped up a gear.
A major reference point for the talks, according to several authorities involved, is the deal between Greater Manchester and ministers.
If GM’s deal is a pattern for others, what exactly has been agreed in the city?
Devolution for GM is a patchwork of arrangements and agreements between Whitehall and Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
Its devolution “deal” was agreed in two stages: the first one sealed last November; the second in February.
In practice, these deals amount to significant decentralisation of funding; agreements to jointly commission some services with Whitehall; and new powers for its elected mayor (see graphic).
Greater Manchester’s mayor will also gain extra powers currently held by the police and crime commissioner and the fire and rescue service.
While there is no new money, Manchester authorities could gain up to £900m over the next three decades if it can link its interventions to economic growth.
This promise of additional resource is a credible pledge. The combined authority has already received £150m in recognition of growth linked to £1bn investment in transport infrastructure.
Further resource will be released in £150m tranches at five yearly intervals, following an assessment of growth by the Treasury. This arrangement, agreed in an earlier growth deal, has been incorporated into its devolution deal.
The most significant budget to be transferred to the combined authority is its ‘consolidated transport budget’.
While subject to reductions in November’s spending review, the GMCA expects a multi-year settlement.
This budget will be held by the mayor, whose plans must be approved by a majority of the combined authority members (see box on governance).
Another devolved budget is Greater Manchester’s £7m share of the ‘national apprenticeship grant for employers’. Nationally, AGE offers grants to businesses with fewer than 50 employees of £1,500 for each apprentice aged between 16 and 24. In Greater Manchester, the scheme has been tweaked: businesses with up to 250 employees can benefit from larger grants of up to £3,500 per apprentice.
The most significant joint commissioning agreement in Manchester is its one with NHS England. This involves £6bn of health and social care across the conurbation and is explained over the page.
Under another joint commissioning arrangement, the combined authority will work with the Department for Work and Pensions to commission jointly the next stage of the work programme.
The level of government involvement in joint arrangements varies. The land commission is arguably the one in which the government has maintained the most involvement. The city’s new land commission will be co-chaired by the mayor and the housing minister and will include several minsters from key land-owning departments.
Devolution for Manchester promises some real new muscle - subject to legislation - in the form of strategic planning powers for the mayor and the ability to compulsory purchase land. The mayor will also gain powers to let bus franchises, subject to the combined authority sanctioning the move.
Some sceptics have queried how much of these extra powers and commissioning responsibilities could be done without devolution and an elected mayor, a position more or less imposed on the conurbation.
Many authorities in Greater Manchester, as elsewhere, were already working with their clinical commissioning groups to pool budgets and integrate services.
Greater Manchester interim mayor Tony Lloyd said devolution had the benefit of creating an “integration of approach” for the 10 local authorities in the combined authority.
“Devolution gives a moral capacity,” he said. “We could develop partnerships in the past but devolution gives us more authority to do that.”
One further crucial aspect of Greater Manchester’s progress on its devolution deal should not go unnoticed: Its authorities have been working together for almost 30 years.
Given this history of collaborative working, it is perhaps unsurprising that civil servants look to Manchester as a pattern for other devolution deals.
Councils in Greater Manchester have agreed to an elected ‘metro-mayor’ in return for a substantial devolution deal but the move has proved controversial.
Despite initial resistance many key figures in Greater Manchester now appear fairly relaxed about the idea as leaders in each authority retain a significant amount of control.
Each leader of the 10 authorities in Greater Manchester are responsible for a range of portfolios, including skills and employment, business support.
All the leaders are also members of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) board. They will collectively form the mayor’s cabinet and each is supported by a borough chief executive.
Two-thirds of the members of this leadership group can reject the mayor’s strategies or spending plans.
And while most issues must be approved by a majority, backing for the mayor’s regional planning blueprint must be unanimous.
Such an arrangement is in stark contrast to London, where council leaders have little influence on the mayor.
While the new powers will be devolved to the mayor, many elements of it remain under the control of the GMCA.
In these areas, which include skills and further education, the mayor and each GMCA member has one vote and decisions will be agreed by a majority.