Devolution to Greater Manchester should happen before new powers are handed out to the rest of the United Kingdom, town hall chiefs across the region have demanded.
In a joint letter, published in yesterday’s Guardian, the council leaders of all ten Greater Manchester boroughs called for greater autonomy to be granted to Manchester saying ‘economic devolution should come before any constitutional agreement on a constitutional settlement for the UK’.
They are appealing for greater power to make decisions on issues including benefits, skills and training, transport and health and social care in the wake of the Scottish independence vote which resulted in the country remaining part of the UK.
Presenting Manchester as equally important to the United Kingdom as Wales and Northern Ireland, the letter states: “Greater Manchester has a bigger economy than Wales or Northern Ireland yet has considerably less freedom over its strategic economic priorities.
“As more powers and new ways of working are devolved to other parts of the union, this position becomes untenable.
“Moreover, it is clear that funding and spending decisions currently taken in Westminster are hampering our economic performance to the tune of £5bn a year.”
The leaders argue that Manchester could be a ‘trailblazer’ for city devolution, and that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority [GMCA] would be the ‘logical level’ to make decisions rather than Westminster.
They also claim more localised planning could both reduce public spending and help stimulate the regional economy.
Speaking to Mancunian Matters, Lord Peter Smith, the leader of Wigan Council, was hopefully powers could developed relatively quickly and easily. Lord Smith said:
“I think it’s perfectly possible to distinguish between large constitutional changes needed for Scotland, and simply transferring functions currently performed by civil servants to Manchester, where we already have ten councils working well together.
“The wider debate around devolution is more complex but our view in Manchester is let’s just get on with it.
Lord Smith was not so enthusiastic about suggestions of introducing a directly elected Manchester Mayor explaining:
“Personally I wouldn’t support a Mayor for Manchester, as I think we’ve got a better system than that.
“In London you’ve got a Mayor who announces what he’s going to do from the centre but then he often doesn’t have the support of the London boroughs. In Manchester we’ve got a more unified system where we get ten authorities working in combination.”
Lord Smith is confident increased powers for the existing Combined Authority could happen soon, and that cross party support is ‘quite likely’ to be secured.
He added: “We want to work to a rapid timescale. The Scottish referendum has shown it’s not just Scotland that feels quite isolated.
“I don’t think the devolution cat is going to be getting back inside the bag anytime soon.”
Picture courtesy of Sue Langford, with thanks.