11th December 2015
In a public talk at Manchester Town Hall on Wednesday the 2nd of December, Sir Richard Leese asked the question:‘’What do we really know about the devolution of powers to Greater Manchester?’’ For most people living or working in Manchester, talk of the 'Northern Powerhouse’ and the ever increasing buzz about the City might be apparent, but what is it all about?
In the aftermath of the Scottish referendum in 2014, Manchester signed its first devolution deal with the ambition to drive productivity and provide sustainable conditions for growth. Leese explained that this marked the first significant shift of power from central government to a local area in about 100 years. He stressed that the devolution of powers to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority does not take away any power from smaller local authorities, but reaffirms that ‘’there should be no great decisions about GM, without GM.’’
This has become a very real debate thanks to a large push from George Osborne. Osborne believes that the devolution of powers to Greater Manchester will rebalance the UK’s economy away from London and the South-East, giving way to the very real prospect of 'The Northern Powerhouse.’
So, what is actually being devolved? Manchester is now on its fourth subsequent devolution deal, the most significant being in 2015 when Manchester was given control over 75% of health and social care bodies and its £6bn budget. Leese’s ambition is for Greater Manchester to become a net contributor to the national economy and to avoid cutbacks on essential public services. To achieve this, Leese argued it is crucial to provide sustainable conditions for growth in the region, which was certainly encouraged by last week’s announcement to establish a life science enterprise zone in the Corridor Manchester innovation district.
Leese, as ever, was passionate about Greater Manchester’s strength lying in its status as an important centre for science and innovation. He explained that the devolution of the health and social care budget would see competition between hospitals being replaced with collaboration—a great way to ensure that knowledge and resources are shared in order to work together for the benefit of Greater Manchester’s citizens.
Leese also spoke of his ideas for a smart ticketing system to be used on public transport that would compare with London’s Oyster card system, as well as promising to continue investment in its infrastructure—which, for a commuter like myself who has to deal with the mad morning trains is a very exciting prospect.
To cement these plans together, Leese vowed to train people with skills to fit the economy’s needs, tackle inequality in some of Manchester’s lower income neighbourhoods by encouraging further education and apprenticeships, as well as a strategic housing plan which would see the control of a £300m housing investment fund.
Leese’s confidence in Greater Manchester’s growth and success, together with his passion for Manchester as a vibrant and creative city, is particularly exciting for a graduate like me who has just started with Manchester Science Partnerships (MSP). Since starting a month ago, I have seen plans for a £400m Northern Powerhouse investment fund, a rise in the UK’s Science budget, the awarding of a life science enterprise zone, £4m investment for Alderley Park to lead cutting edge research in AMR and a huge win to be at the centre of a £10m investment in a ‘Internet of Things’ smart city demonstrator project. The only thing left to ask is, what’s next?