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Government Plans For Devolution. Do They Go Far Enough?

Devolution was very much the issue, due to the Scottish Referendum and the general election results, until the Labour Party Leadership and the Refugee Crisis pushed it temporarily onto the back burner.

However, this is not a issue that we can allow to go away.

Just before the general election, a deal was struck with George Osborne and ten council leaders from the area know as Greater Manchester that has somehow acquired the rhetorical catch-phrase of ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

Sounds good but what is it?

In the chancellor’s words, this is a 'Revolution In Government'. There has been very little, if any discussion about what it means for everyone living in the country. Discussion has not been encouraged.

As Manchester is the epicentre of activity in this regard, may I suggest you watch this webinar recording on the topic, featuring people on the front-line of the democratic implications.

CLICK HERE 

Your comments would be greatly appreciated.

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Well done Joe, Rashid and David.

I'm sorry I wasn't able to join the webinar on Monday, but I have now had chance to listen to the recording and I was once again very impressed with David and his knowledge and commitment to the campaign around Devo- Manc, with great contributions from Rashid too.

I especially liked David’s take on the need to focus on a balance of Social, Environmental, Economic & Democratic (S.E.E.D) principles. This should be the bedrock for all policy-making.

Whilst I came away from the debate a week last Friday at Friends House thinking ‘yeah OK but what now?’ This webinar was better as it gave some food for thought about what we might be able to do over the next year or two.

I’ve been thinking for a while that the call for a referendum on Devo-Manc is sounding a bit out of touch now. Whilst it was the right way to confront this issue to begin with and it would be nice if one day we do manage to secure a more democratic process around devolution, the fact is that for now, that boat has sailed. We’ve got 5 more years of George Osborne (at least!) and whilst some of the legislation may not yet have gone through, there is an inevitability about it all. We already have a Greater Manchester Agreement, a bill that is working its way through Westminster and an interim mayor in place. It’s unrealistic to think that there won’t be elections for a full mayor in 2017, so where does that leave us?

I was interested therefore in the idea of taking a look at the Priorities for Greater Manchester and coming up with an alternative version – a Peoples’ Plan. If I understood David’s vision correctly, the hope would be to then try and influence the existing main parties / eventual candidates (presumably we’re talking about Labour here) with a view to the new mayor revising the priorities to focus on S.E.E.D and not just economic growth at any cost. That sounds like a great start!

I agree with David that the appointment of Corbyn as leader makes this a possibility when previously our chances would have been limited (after all, most of the council leaders who have signed up to this current agreement and the key priorities are Labour councillors!)

My questions are:

Where can I find a breakdown of the priorities (I’ve heard talk of them, but can’t find them from a quick Google search – I’ve found the agreement document online, but not the list of priorities)?

If we do come up with a Peoples’ Plan, what are the realities of getting it adopted – not necessarily in terms of political will (we can work on that), but in terms of legal governance – what would be the process?

Finally, I would personally very much like to provide input into the Peoples’ Plan, but can’t make the first meeting on 6 Oct – how will this process be made open to those unable to attend meetings at certain times? And in a broader sense, how can we reach the population of Gtr Mcr at large i.e. reach beyond the usual activist bubble in Manchester?

On this last point, do we need people with a diverse skill set to contribute to this project? I’m thinking a social media campaign, press releases etc. Perhaps fundraising / crowd funding is needed to finance advertising and promotional materials?

Jon Crooks
@TheBeardyGuy
23 Sep 2015

Great points Jon. It's been a real pleasure getting to know David and see how much work he's put into looking at this issue. The way he has looked at all the argument, news reporting, dug up reports and attended council meetings to reveal what is going on has been really impressive.

I don't have any better any answers than anyone else to those questions you raise, but I'd like to chuck these views out.

Is it the priorities for the scrutiny panel? I've not been able to get hold of them, I've found the reports from the scrutiny panel, which don't even list them, but I hope we can get them off David.

The idea of a People's Plan has received some support from local members of parties who are willing to advocate it at their party meetings. Other activist groups have also decided they support joint action, on a yet to be decided basis. In terms of the legal position, it isn't looking very strong. I've read through the passing legislation, and sections referring to other sections or knowing what inherited law applies is hard. but my impression is that the current legislation has been wrote to circumvent the need for referenda, that was in the 2011 Localism Act, which covered the past referendum for a Manchester Mayor. My layman's interpretation is that the power to call a referendum will be retained by the Secretary of State, who clearly will only use it when they feel the Combined Authority is acting against what they want, they have no obligation to use that power to ensure the people are consulted. The new law covers accountability, by 4 levels, the Mayor is accountable to the Secretary of State, to the Combined Authority, to the Scrutiny Committee and the Audit Committee. We do need to target this legislation with a campaign to MP's and I'll be joining the group talking to Gerald Kaufman this Friday, but this isn't seen as such controversial legislation, it's opt-in legislation which makes it seem safer.

In strategy terms it means a people's plan would either be protest, communicating to councillors - who don't seem to have much influence even if they don't like the way its being handled, organising a political response - a People's Candidate - which is a big endeavour, and / or look through the detail of the legislation for the openings for public access and transparency, and target those like the Scrutiny Committees.

I think these are either / or options at this time, maybe more like a flow chart, an if this then that response. I don't have any illusions, this legislation is meant to derail any awkward asks on devolution, such as democracy, and open up more rapid planning permissions and an easier environment for large investors and developers. Part of this is a very deliberate plan for local authorities to use public money as investment rather than spending. If it was the case that new money was there that would still be contentious but not something to attack per se. It would be a case of we want ethical and local investment rules and priorities, not subsidies for land and property developers or frackers etc. But in the atmosphere of cuts and austerity, the problem is clear.

How we can reach more people is always the big question and all of the diverse skills you mention are going to be needed, we also need ideas that are appealing to the media and non political people, creative, fun and unusual ideas that can break out of the activist bubble. A serious note on that side, is that the activist bubble tends to have strong political and democratic ideas, that aren't in the mainstream concerns, we have to be careful and consider this when deciding how to communicate.

These are notes taken from Discussing Democracy: Manchester 6 October 2015

The meeting was organised by a coalition of local groups concerned about DevoManc

(see Notes 1).

Two hundred people booked via Eventbrite. About two hundred attended the meeting.

A straw poll of participants showed that about 25% where pensioners and that about 25% were under twenty-five.

The first part of the meeting took the form of a panel discussion followed by small group discussions and then voting by a show of hands on propositions from the small groups.

The event was chaired by David Fernandez, Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign for Democratic Devolution, who briefly set the context. He said that a poll by Manchester Evening News reported that over 85% of people were opposed or wanted a referendum. Over 80% of people asked in a street poll by the members of the Campaign did not know about the devolution plans. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority Strategic Framework has seventeen strategic priorities, of which fifeteen are economic, two are social and none are about democracy

(see Notes 2).

The panel members were invited to address the impact of the devolution deal on one of four dimensions: society, economy, environment and democracy (SEED).

Neil McInroy, Chief Executive of CLES and Chair of Greater Manchester Poverty Action Group, said that devolution was an opportunity and a rare chance to reverse 100 years of economic centralism. However, the proposals were based on a narrow economic theory of new spatial economics and heavily controlled by the Treasury. Members of the local state were doing their best and needed help and support to build on and fashion an even better deal. It is clear that it would be possible to get an even bigger dividend by putting greater emphasis on social aspects and community wealth building. Greater Manchester should be aiming to build a progressive new local social contract.

Estephanie Dunn, North West Regional Director, Royal College of Nursing, said there was a lot at stake in Devo Manc if they failed to get right, but it presented an opportunity. She welcomed the proposals aims for health improvement and primary prevention and argues for key indicators to identify what will be achieved, but questioned whether they had the plans or means to deliver, particularly as austerity had reduced public health budgets and staff numbers. Alongside that, years of pay restraint and doing more with less had affected staff morale. She said that a major issue across communities was low levels of trust, which evidence shows leads to a lack of empathy and willingness to cooperate. Inequality in the region left a legacy of serious health problems, particularly mental health, including alcohol and drug abuse, and depression, which was linked to eating unhealthy comfort foods, leading to obesity and diseases such as diabetes, whilst poverty forced people to survive on foods that were less healthy and cheaper to purchase.

Natalie Bennett, Leader, Green Party, said that Manchester was leading the way for the whole UK and that other regions had much less time to come up with plans. She called for “no more secrets” and greater consultation, which led to prolonged applause. She welcomed the proposals to re-regulated buses in a united service but questioned the lack of links to rail. She also questioned HS2, which would benefit London more than the North West, and said the idea that air traffic would decarbonise in 25 years was impossible. However, the elections for Mayor would be in 2017, giving people time to assert a bottom-up devolution.

Andrew Mycock, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Huddersfield University, said the DevoManc proposal came from a British tradition of elite-to-elite based negotiation which ignored local residents. It was centralised decentralisation for economic regeneration without political devolution. Missing from the plans is a sense of purpose, a coherent holistic vision of the UK as a result of devolution and a process for getting there. There was also a failure to connect the two constitutional changes - English Votes for English Laws and DevoManc. This created a new version of the West Lothian Question, the Manchester Withington Question, which meant that the local MP could not vote on services for his constituency of Manchester Withington which had been devolved to Greater Manchester, but he could vote on them for the rest of England!

He warned that asymmetric, short-term constitutional fixes created tensions and risked destabilising the union, as in Scotland. This was in contrast to the federal systems of Australia, the US and elsewhere which had clear, negotiated relationships between cities and regions, which were therefore stable. Regional and local elites have been too timid in their dealings with the centre, which left many issues unresolved. Democratisation was not part of the agenda and people’s views were of no interest to the elites negotiating the deals. No account was being taken of the fact that voters had rejected mayors in recent referenda. The evidence from the US was that Mayors were not so effective, which has been confirmed by London, where turnout was just 38%, about the same as local elections.

The plans raised several other questions:

  • What steps are being taken to change Westminster and Whitehall: none are evident so far;
  • What’s going to happen to counties outside the city regions?
  • Where is the parity between regions and the centre, so that regions can plan ahead?
  • Where is the link between devolution and changes to constituency boundaries?

He thought there would be a growth in regional parties, like Yorkshire First. The fact that there will be two years until the mayor is elected meant that there is time for people in Greater Manchester to organise.

He said we need a written constitution, drawn up by a people’s assembly, which drew loud applause.

The second part of the meeting was in small groups, which discussed the issues raised and came up with proposals that were voted on by the meeting:

1. There should be a ‘Social Charter’ including proposals such as transparency, a living wage, housing
- strong support, 2 reluctant
2. Local accountability to monitor spending of money from central government
- strong support from under half, general support over half
3. Transparency, people involved and a regional assembly
- strong support from most, general support from a few
4. Constitutional convention
- strong support from a large majority, general support from a few
5. Electoral reform / single transferable vote as for Scottish local government
- strong support from a big majority
6. All regions / nations of devolved UK should have equal power, like Australian states
- strong support from about 75%, general support from just under 25%,
7. Private health and social care providers should be obliged to work together with the NHS, particularly on training (given that they are employed staff trained by the NHS).
- strong support from about 75%, general support 20%, against under 5%
8. Local authorities should run local banks
- strong support from 90%, general support 10%, 1 against
9. 38 Degrees Manchester should campaign to have ‘Improving Democracy’ included as one of the priorities for the GMCA Strategic Framework.
- strong support 100%

Closing Statments.

Andy: if you don’t have democracy and a vision of the end goal there is a risk of the UK breaking up. There needs to be communication, understanding of aims, process, the end goals and transparency. The media do not see what is happening to our politics because they are focusing too much on the parties. In Scotland the SNP is not leading, but responding to demand created by people organising in communities.

Natalie: boycotting the mayoral vote is not an effective strategy – just 15% voted for Police and Crime Commissioners and they still went ahead. We need a constitutional convention – for example, there is a Northern Citizens Convention. The ERS is organising two pilot citizens conventions, so we should see what they come up with. She questioned the idea of local authorities running banks and suggested strengthening credit unions instead.

Estephanie said there is a need for democracy, empowerment and listening to people’s voices. She urged people to become engaged in the process and not be the passive recipients of care.

Neil said devolution is here and coming, no matter what. Economic and social issues are live right now in Manchester, which even more devolution could help to solve. There are economic, social and environmental gains to be had and we need to grab them. He expressed a frustration, in that debate amongst activists and civil society for the past year had been dominated by what was wrong with devolution deal. He made a call for a need to focus on what needs to be done to make devolution even better. He said many of the ideas expressed to night were a great start to that. In particular many of the ideas could be wrapped into the idea for a social charter. This could be produced as a ‘peoples plan, which was a list of priorities, which could be put to candidates for the mayoral election in 2017.

Notes 1

Event details

DEVOLUTION REVOLUTION - THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING
18:30 - 20:30 Central Hall Manchester, Oldham Street, M1

With interactive questions, debate, voting, challenging food for thought, proposals for action and more, this promises to be a very lively, thought-and-action-provoking public event.

Architects of the recent Greater Manchester DEVOLUTION deals and NORTHERN POWERHOUSE plans, described as “a REVOLUTION in government” by George Osborne, intend to change our lives.

But the overwhelming majority of our citizens don’t even know it’s happening.

Our immediate context includes:

• The most unrepresentative election result in UK Parliament’s history
• Unprecedented austerity cuts to public funding of services and social support
• An escalating housing crisis
• Massive changes to our NHS under increasing pressure

So who decides our future & what are we going to do?
What is the best way forward from where we are?

Hosted/supported by:
Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign for Democratic Devolution, Manchester People’s Assembly, 38 degrees Manchester, Equality North West, Manchester Assemblies for Democracy, Manchester Trades Council, Unlock Democracy Manchester and others.

Notes 2

17 Priorities of the Greater Manchester Manchester Strategic Framework

CREATING THE CONDITIONS FOR GROWTH

(GMS 1) Reshaping our economy to meet new global demands
(GMS 2) Delivering an investment strategy based on market needs
(GMS 3) Revitalising our town centres
(GMS 4) Creating the spaces and places that will nurture success
(GMS 5) Stimulating and reshaping our housing market

(GMS 6) Crafting a plan for growth and infrastructure
(GMS 7) Improving connectivity locally, nationally and internationally
(GMS 8) Placing our city region at the leading edge of science and technology
(GMS 9) Building our global brand

SUPPORTING BUSINESS

(GMS 10) Supporting business growth with strong, integrated support
(GMS 11) Improving our international competitiveness
(GMS 12) Seizing the growth potential of a low carbon economy

WORKLESSNESS AND SKILLS

(GMS13) Delivering an employer-led skills programme
(GMS14) Preventing and reducing youth unemployment
(GMS15) Delivering an integrated approach to employment and skills

BUILDING INDEDPENDENCE AND RAISING EXPECTATIONS THROUGH PUBLIC SECTOR REFORM

(GMS16) Encouraging self-reliance and reducing demand through public service reform.
•Working with troubled families
•Improving early years
•Transforming the justice system
(GMS17) Reforming health and social care

Sounds like an excellent and inspiring event. Thanks, Joe for the report and congratulations for co-organising it.

Important to learn that only 20 per cent of those polled even knew about the devolution plans and that 80% of those polled by the Manchester Evening News were OPPOSED to it!

And, how did you squeeze all that discussion into two hours? 

Corinna

Assemblies for Democracy London

See this short video interview with David Fernandez taken after the DevoManc conference.

Click Here

If you can give it some air-play please do.

See this article in the local press regarding democracy and the devolution deal

http://www.salfordstar.com/article.asp?id=2982

Hello Joe, 

What a plethora of posts to start the new week, a sign of the ills of the time I suppose!

I want to talk about one item which I feel would go a long way towards resolving or at least helping to resolve some of those problems. Devolution , the northern powerhouse, inequality, the north south divide among them.

We learnt recently that the Palace of Westminster is in need of a makeover at a cost to the taxpayer of £4BN.(Which will inevitably rise to 7 or 8 BN once it starts), and that all our elected members will have to move for six years to enable that. Where to? well to another building in London of course!

But Why?

One Labour MP has already suggested that it should move to Manchester for the duration and that in itself may prove something, but I would go much further, (And have already written to my MP on the subject).

In short, there is an obvious need to bring government to the people and regional powerhouses may go some way to providing that but this is not the USA. we didn't evolve as a nation of independent states or counties each with its own laws, taxes and state government. The uk is not big enough for one thing and I don't want a new set of taxes to meet for another.

What I feel we really need to do is to move the Seat of Government permanently, to a new administrative centre / capital, much further north than London.

The fact that the Palace of Westminster is not fit for purpose, (And never will be however much money is spent on it), could / should be the perfect initiator for such a move.

A long time ago (1980's) I developed my own idea which I named 'The Hartington Project' (With apologies to the residents of that small Derbyshire Village), which was to get parliament moved to somewhere much more central in the country. The aim being to spread the warmth over the whole country not just the south east. To bring the great cities of the Midlands and the North back into play.

(At the time there was a great need to get the country back to work, back into prosperity by building - investing - in this country. What better way than building a new capital).

Business would undoubtedly follow government, because they know on which side their bread is buttered, house prices and wages would equalise across most of the country, bringing at least an illusion of increased prosperity, and there would be a huge shift in investment across the country towards the places that most need it. More importantly. many of our elected representatives would learn that the world is not encompassed by the M25, its much bigger than that. 

London would survive as a ceremonial capital and the palace of Westminster as a museum, (Once all the current exhibits are removed). It should be handed over to some 'body' such as English Heritage and as such would probably host more members of the public in one month than it has over the last six hundred years.

The way would then be open to meaningful discussions on exactly how this United Kingdom is governed, what legislative bodies are required, how they should be made up and how the regions can be properly represented. 

I know I am getting old now, but we cannot live in the past, we should learn from it, certainly, but build for the future.

Regards

Peter

Hi Peter

Where do you reckon the new seat of Government should be? Hartington, or have you not got anywhere specific in mind?

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