Devo what? Referendum needed as ‘most Mancs don’t know what devolution is’

The majority of Greater Manchester residents are oblivious to the city’s devolution agreement so a referendum is needed, a trade union leader has said.

Stephen Hall, President at Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils, spoke out following the shocking results of a recent survey carried out in Crumpsall regarding the plans.

Statistics revealed that one in five people (80%) had not heard of ‘Devo-Manc’, and 98% of those questioned believed that the scheme should not be imposed without any form of public scrutiny or consultation.

“Most people don’t have a clue what [Devo-Manc] is and have never heard of it,” Stephen told MM.

“Wherever we’ve been around Manchester, we’ve generally had a similar type of view.

“Originally we were surprised by the results when we kicked off with the campaign, but it’s what we’ve found everywhere.”

The devolution plans promise Greater Manchester its own directly-elected mayor and £1billion worth of discretion over transport, housing, planning and policing in return.

Stephen explained that a huge amount of people living in the region were unaware of this, and that a referendum needed to be introduced before Devo-Manc was imposed.

“Unless you’re in the political bubble as such, I would imagine you’d think ‘what’s that about?’,” he said.

 “It has been covered in the media obviously, but ordinary people haven’t received any information or been told what’s happening.

 “They’ve [the council] told us devolution is being imposed and we’re not getting any say in it – which I think is scandalous.

 “We just want a right to have a say. If it’s such a good deal, what is the council worrying about putting it to people for?”

The union leader believed that the City Council should have handed out leaflets to residents and ensured they were thoroughly educated about the plans before they were announced by Chancellor George Osborne last November.

But he still believed it would be ‘handy’ to issue leaflets in the run up to a potential referendum to raise public awareness and explained that he would be holding a series of talks to educate people.

Stephen, who is based in Atherton, near Wigan, believed that the plans don’t benefit people in the wider parts of the region.

“The reality of the [devolution] package doesn’t look very good at all,” he said.

 “For quite some time in Atherton, people have been pissed off about a lot of changes in local government.

“The people I know want to go back to their own council where they could walk to the town hall and talk to their councillors – they’re coming into something where they’re not going to have really any say.”

A major devolution summit involving 10 of the UK’s core cities took place in Glasgow last week, with the summary report suggesting that all the main political parties will support city and region type devolution ahead of May’s general election.

However, Stephen believed this could potentially be a bad move.

“They [city leaders] want the devolution plans going in everyone’s manifesto and delivered within 100 days of the general election,” he said.

“Is that really sufficient time when most people in Greater Manchester don’t know that’s it happening to them now?

“People only might become aware of it so many years down the line when they think: ‘hang on, how did we end up here?’”

Image courtesy of Sue Langford, with thanks.

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