Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) responded last week to the Prime Minister’s reference to greater devolution for England’s larger cities in the wake of the Scottish referendum results.
The Prime Minister said, “it is important that we have wider civic engagement about how to improve governance in our United Kingdom, including how to empower our great cities. And we will say more about this in the coming days.”
Lord Peter Smith, Chair of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, said “We welcome the Prime Minister’s words about the need to empower our great cities… Greater Manchester has the experience and capability to move quickly.
“Greater Manchester has a bigger economy than Wales or Northern Ireland, and a population of almost three million, yet we have considerably less freedom over our funding and spending priorities.”
ResPublica, an independent public policy think tank published a report prior to the Scottish referendum outlining a blue print for full devolution for English cities, using Greater Manchester as the case in point.
The report ‘Devo Max – Devo Manc’ outlines the case that the GMCA with an elected major and assembly, as is the model in London, could have control over such things as property and income taxes.
“We put forward Greater Manchester for full place-based integration of public sector spend because with its well evidenced growth potential and mature governance structures, it is one of the few places in the UK that could pilot devolution on this scale.”
According to Scott Fletcher MBE, of ANS group, the report by ResPublica makes perfect sense. In a recent statement he said, “Manchester is in a commanding position at the moment. High tech companies and aspiring entrepreneurs aren’t confined solely to London and, indeed, often find more fertile ground elsewhere, such as Manchester and the North West.”
He added “Manchester is a vibrant and growing city and if we get the devolution of power that appears to now be politically possible then our great city and the wider North West can only benefit, giving us powers over a wide range of issues such as health, education and business support. I say bring it on, viva the Republic of Mancunia.”
Lord Smith added that he believes Manchester is “uniquely well-placed to demonstrate the benefits of greater freedom to make decisions and funding allocations which will help the region realise its full potential.”
We need the freedom to make decisions on funding and priorities based on the area’s needs, not the ‘one size fits all’ approaches handed down from Westminster and Whitehall.”
Ed Miliband proposes, as outlined in his speech at last week’s Labour conference in Manchester, “devolving power to local government, bringing power closer to people right across England” adding “It’s got to be led by the people. It can’t be a Westminster stitch-up.”
At the Labour party conference last week, ten city leaders signed a letter to the first Secretary of State William Hague asking for speedy devolution to cities across the UK.
The eight English Core Cities—Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield—have recently been joined by Cardiff and Glasgow, forming ‘Core Cities UK’.
The leaders welcome the Prime Ministers recent promises of more ‘empowered’ UK cities. But they say ‘our communities, our voters, will not accept delay based on constitutional wrangles, or half measure delivered through political compromise.”
In the letter issued to Hague the leaders outline that the “ten Core Cities deliver 28% of the English Welsh and Scottish economy.”
By 2030, the original eight English Core Cities alone could put 1.16 million jobs and £222 billion extra into the economy.” which they added is “like adding the entire economy of Demark to the UK—with Glasgow and Cardiff onside it will be even more.”
However these improvements they say “cannot be met by our heavily centralised and overly bureaucratic systems of investment.”
The leaders added that the “timing should not restrict the promises to Scotland being delivered” but that the “the people of Scotland have decided that devolution and Union are not incompatible, and neither is local freedom and national growth.”
Manchester Evening News reported that Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central thinks “we are ready” for devolution but that we must first tackle the problem of poor election turnouts.
The report highlighted that Ms. Powell was elected after a turnout of just 18 per cent in 2012. However she believes that the referendum with an 84.6 per cent turnout demonstrated people will engage in politics if they feel they have control over the places they live.
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