This morning saw the first in a series of three encounters between the members of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce (GMCC) and Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council having as their subject the very topical issue of the devolution of powers to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) or “Devo Manc” for short.
Given that the General Election is only just over two weeks away Sir Richard was commendably forthrightand direct in exppressing his views. The session took the form of an introduction by Sir Richard, followed by a discussion with CLive Memmott (CHair of GMCC) and was rounded off by a series of questions from the floor.
Sir Richard touched on the three key areas in which powers are to be devolved to GMCA (Transport, Housing and Health) and also touched on the role of Interim (ie appointed) Mayor.
He opened by reasserting the accepted fact that Cities are the drivers of growth. To delliver that growth, however, Cities need to have a deep resource of skilled, healthy workers. Those workers need to be able to travel conveniently from good quallity homes to their workplace. What they produce, be it things or ideas needs to be able to get from where it is produced to where it is needed quickly and effectively.
Transport – is not only about ensuring the delivery of investment but it is also about holistic control of the way the systems work. Devo Manc will permit that. An exampple in play at present is the progress towards the rail franchises across the North being run jointly by the Department of Transport and the Northern Local Authorities and being run from the North. The expectation is that they will be run wholly from the North by 2020 with the Department for Transport dropping out of the picture.
Housing – supporting this must be an acceptable quality of life. This embraces housing, at every level. ADevolution allows a new strategic level planning agreement which will give certainty to the property development and construction sectors.
Health – joined up healthcare allows well housed peoople to enjoy that quality of life and to be productive.
Turning to the question of the Mayor, Sir Richard was clear that the London model is thw wrong one. We do need more political capacity to achieve all thhat has to be done, but the Mayor – albeit elected – does need to be answerable to and controlled by GMCA.
The Interim Mayor will have no executive power but is to be the work horse to deliver the democratic structures and to secure buy in at all levels. No power is being removed from AGMA members, because what is actually happening is that the powers which are being transferred take the form of moving decision making processes from Whitehall in terms of civil services decisions. The candidates will be shortlisted on Friday with the appointment being announced one month after that.
During the lively Q&A Session, when asked what he thoughtt of Ed Miliband’s view that Devo Manc was no more than “outsourcing a funding crisis” Sir Richard said that if that was the case (which he didn’t necessarily accept, he’d rather have it dealt with in Manchester than in Westminster.
Sir Richard also put the whole proocess in context when answering the question, “how would you like to see Devolution from the perspeective of your eventual retirement from Public Life?” Sir Richard quoted a statistic aboout the reduction in child povery in the GMCA region since 2007 and said that if it generated results liike that then Devo Manc would have worked for him.
The next event is on 21 May 2015 at 2:00pm (again at the GMCC offices in Elliot House) and the concluding element would be the keynote speech by Sir Richard at the GMCC Annual Dinner.