It is a well-worn aphorism that 'what Manchester thinks today, the rest of England thinks tomorrow', but today's news certainly provides justification for it. The devolution deal announced for Greater Manchester is hugely significant. Major new powers are to be devolved – over transport, strategic planning, housing capital, apprenticeships and skills, welfare-to-work and more. It opens up a major front in the English devolution debate, with other city- and county-regions certain to want to follow in Greater Manchester's footsteps.
This is a deal very much made in Manchester. The model differs from the London mayor in some critical respects. It is based on an existing Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), which brings together the 10 local authorities of the city region. This means that local authorities are embedded in the new structure, unlike in Greater London, for which a higher, regional tier was recreated. This is reflected in the proposed governance arrangements: the directly elected Greater Manchester mayor will be answerable to a board of the other local authority leaders, not an elected assembly.
This, in turn, will have important implications for key public services. For example, the deal says that the GMCA and Greater Manchester clinical commissioning groups will be invited to develop a business plan for the integration of health and social care across Greater Manchester, based on control of existing health and social care budgets. This is only possible because local authorities have statutory responsibility for social care; in London, the mayor hasn't got power over either health or social care. The same is true of the proposals to jointly commission the Work Programme with the Department for Work and Pensions. If the elected mayor in Manchester takes over responsibility for policing and crime from the Commissioner, then he or she will have the full suite of powers available in London, but with a different and potentially more productive relationship with local government.
There are concerns, of course. If a referendum was good enough for London, shouldn't one be held in Greater Manchester to endorse the metro mayor model? And why not devolve schools commissioning too? Education is notable by its absence in this deal. Nonetheless, these issues should not detract from the significance of Greater Manchester's deal. 'Devo-more' for England started in earnest today.
Note: for further reading on devolution in England, Northern economic policy, and 'metro mayors' see IPPR North's many publications.
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