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Interview: Andy Burnham reveals 'shopping list' of more powers

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The mayor of Greater Manchester has called on the Labour labourship to support his personal vision for devolution in an interview with LGC, while also outlining what further powers he would like to get control of.

Andy Burnham (Lab) said he wanted the Labour party to “set out a deeper commitment” to the decentralisation of political power.

Mr Burnham said an improved position “lies in having much greater control over our transport system and more financial freedom to borrow and collaborate with other cities - to do things without waiting for the say-so from Whitehall. At the moment if we do anything we always have to get some sort of sign-off from the Treasury.”

The shopping list

In describing his personal shopping list for devolved powers, Mr Burnham said that transport stood at “number one” - the “biggest thing that’s holding Greater Manchester back” - while skills and training were “not far behind”.

On transport powers, Mr Burnham said he wanted “more control” of the railways franchise and the roads controlled by Highways England, in addition to enforcement powers on the roads for measures such as box junctions and red routes.

“With the buses, we have that legislation but it’s not been fully triggered yet,” he said, referring to the Bus Services Act which received royal assent last year.

In a speech in Westminster, Mr Burnham said he wanted to “get on with reforming our bus system”, but added he was “still waiting for the government to pass an order” that would allow him to do so. The mayor’s speech had addressed the need for a “common-sense Brexit deal” with a worst-case contingency plan.

The mayor told LGC that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had said he would push the government to approve changes that would allow the combined authority to take control of the city’s bus network franchise.

Skills

The issue of skills devolution is a key point for many local government leaders which the mayor said he wanted “much more control” of. Mr Burnham said Greater Manchester CA is getting “an element of adult skills devolution but we need much more.”

In describing an ideal position on skills devolution, Mr Burnham said: “I would hope I’d have much more ability to support our industrial strategy with a skills strategy. I would also hope I’d have much more ability to use the DWP budget to support public service reform and develop services that break out of the silos and deal with people and not targets.”

When asked why devolution was proving more difficult on skills than other policy areas, the mayor said he found the Department for Education to be “the least engaged on devolution”.

“They seem to instinctively have the least the affinity for the whole agenda. Maybe they fear that if you let skills have more local control then that might weaken their schools policy and there seems to be an article of faith that there can be no devolution over schools,” he said.

Unexpected praise

Mr Burnham also paid tribute to the Conservative party for its “success” on devolution, adding that the party had “done more than anybody” to decentralise power.

“I paid tribute to them [the Conservative party] at the end [of my speech]. I said: ‘This is your policy and this is your success we’re celebrating’. I wish a Labour government had done as much on devolution as this, but it didn’t.”

 

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