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Manchester devolution deal: Other northern cities question mayoral model

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Greater Manchester is to get its own directly elected mayor with powers over transport, housing, planning and policing, chancellor George Osborne has announced.

The combined authority will also get further powers relating to business growth and skills, including the opportunity to be a joint commissioner with the Department for Work & Pensions for the next phase of the work programme. It will also help to join up health and social care budgets.

A Treasury statement said the Greater Manchester mayor would have greater powers than “current mayoralties”.

It said the government would prepare legislation to enable these changes, with the potential for the mayoral election to take place in 2017.

It comes after LGC reported in September that the city’s leaders were giving serious consideration to adopting the mayoral model, in return for greater devolution.

Mr Osborne said in a statement that he hoped other cities would follow in Manchester’s footsteps and take advantage of greater devolution of powers. He indicated there would be room for negotiation over the model of governance used in other areas.

“After several months of private discussions with local representatives from all three parties, I have reached agreement with the civic leaders of Greater Manchester to create the first metro-wide elected mayor outside of London,” he said.

“This will give Mancunians a powerful voice and bring practical improvements for local people, with better transport links, an Oyster-style travelcard, and more investment in skills and the city’s economy.”

Other cities

Mr Osborne said today: “I want to talk to other cities that are keen to follow Manchester’s lead – every city is different, and no model of local power will be the same.”

Several other city leaders told LGC they were not keen on the elected mayoral model.

Simon Henig (Lab), chair of the North East Combined Authority, said he opposed tying devolution to acceptance of the elected mayor model of governance.

“I strongly believe that it is now the time for powers and control over spending to be devolved out of Whitehall throughout [the UK], not just to Manchester,” he said.

“It is very positive that all the main parties are now talking about devolution within England, however my own view is that devolution should not be made conditional on accepting an elected mayor, which was rejected by the public in referendums in several major cities in 2012.”

West Yorkshire Combined Authority chair Peter Box (Lab) agreed, pointing out that his region was “polycentric” including the cities of Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, all of which had rejected the idea of an elected mayor.

“The combined authority will look at this in detail, but we have three cities in this region where the public has made it very clear that they support the leader and cabinet model,” he said.

“There is no public appetite for creating another layer of politician with a mayor, but there is an appetite for giving more powers to the combined authorities we have and that should not be tied to the model Greater Manchester has chosen, we need to look at what is right for each area.”

There was no interest in the idea of a ‘metro mayor’ in the Greater Bristol area, Bath and North East Somerset Council, leader Paul Crossley (Lib Dem) said.

He said Bath, Bristol City Council and North Somerset and South Gloucestershire councils had long collaborated successfully.

“We don’t need to go down the metro mayor route,” Cllr Crossley told LGC. “The strategic leaders’ board is where the three leaders and the mayor [of Bristol] meet to make decisions about the west of England economy. This governance mechanism was welcomed by government, does not incur extra costs and gives us pretty much the same powers as a combined authority.”

He said there was “no public appetite” for anything that would in effect recreate Avon CC, which existed from 1974-96 before being replaced by the present four unitaries.

Governance

The GMCA said the elected mayor would chair meetings and “allocate responsibilities to its cabinet”, which would be made up of the leaders of each of Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities.

The mayor will be required to consult the GMCA cabinet on strategies, and the cabinet can reject those strategies if two-thirds of members agree on such a move. 

The GMCA said that before new legislation was passed to enable transport and planning powers to be transferred to the mayor, there would be “a transitional arrangement of an appointed mayor who will assume some of the responsibilities of an elected mayor”.

Lord Peter Smith, chair of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), said the announcement was “a momentous moment” for the area.

“It gives us greater control over [our] own destiny in several key areas and the ability to base decisions on local priorities and needs rather than on ‘one-size-fits-all’ dictates [sic] from Westminster,” he said. “This isn’t about taking powers from individual Greater Manchester authorities. It’s about powers coming down from central government to a more localised level.”

The new, directly elected mayor of Greater Manchester will have control of a £300m housing investment fund, as well as powers over strategic planning. This will include the power to create a statutory spatial framework for Greater Manchester, but it would need to be approved by a unanimous vote of the mayor’s cabinet.

On transport, the mayor will have responsibility for a “devolved and consolidated transport budget”, with a multi-year settlement to be agreed at the next spending review. Subject to consultation, they will also have responsibility for regulated bus services and an integrated smart ticketing system across all local modes of transport. The mayor will receive £30m a year over 30 years, which will see them take control of “a reformed earn back deal”.

The mayor will also take on the role currently covered by the police and crime commissioner.

Sir Richard Leese, vice chair of the GMCA, said: “We are extremely pleased that we can now demonstrate what a city region with greater freedoms can achieve and contribute further to the growth of the UK.

“Our ultimate ambition is for full devolution of all public spending in Greater Manchester, currently around £22bn a year, so that we either influence or control the whole amount.

“We recognise that this cannot happen overnight and there needs to be a staged approach based on evidence that devolution delivers increased economic growth and better public services. But today’s settlement is a huge move forwards and a road map for the future.”

Mr Osborne said it was “a massive moment for the north of England” and the government’s plan to build a “northern powerhouse”.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles called it a “landmark agreement” and added: “Greater power for local government must always come with greater local accountability so people can challenge their council to do better and hold them to account about services they provide.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • No talk of local taxation so the whole enterprise will still be largely dependent on central government grants. Constituent councils retain their identity and ability to 'second guess' the mayor with potential for factionalism within the GMCA 'cabinet. This is not the model of London where there is a directly elected assembly and mayor with a clear working distinction of roles and powers between the boroughs and the mayor.

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