Manchester gets its Bo-Jo?

3 November 2014, Blog

Manchester gets its Bo-Jo?

Today, George Osborne reached an agreement with the ten leaders of regional councils of Greater Manchester to have a directly-elected mayor for the area. This will be the first metro-wide elected mayor outside of London and will provide Greater Manchester with more control over the region’s transport policies, social care and housing.  The first Mayor, due to be elected in 2017, will lead the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – which is made up of the ten leaders.

The agreement, which will give the second most populous area of the UK a directly-elected mayor, comes on the back of the recent Scottish referendum and the consequent debate about further devolution of powers away from Westminster.

Labelled by Osborne as “one of the biggest changes to civic government in the country’s history”, the move for a mayor of Greater Manchester will give local politicians greater control over billions of pounds of public money. Presently, councils in Greater Manchester control £5 billion of public money each year, contributing to a larger economy than Wales. The deal would give them control over a further £2 billion.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles thinks that that the deal “shows how serious [the government] are about moving powers from Whitehall and reinforces the significant authority and finance already given to local communities.”

Apparently a major stumbling block, and concern of the leaders of Greater Manchester, was the idea of a Mayor who could hold too much power – therefore in order to introduce any major changes the new Mayor will need the support of two thirds of the Combined Authority. 

The agreement comes only two years after Manchester voters rejected the idea of an elected mayor, but Osborne believes it is a “big step towards creating a northern powerhouse.” It remains to be seen whether this deal will set a precedent for other cities in the UK and whether it will be successful in closing the gap between north and south.

The North-South Divide?

On the face of it, a directly-elected mayor for Greater Manchester is an exciting opportunity to rebalance UK decision-making. This is obviously an attempt at bridging the North-South divide and could, if implemented correctly, create another large metropolitan city region designed to counter balance London.

It will be fascinating to observe the impact of this on other northern cities. How will they respond to the increased power and funding that will be coming Manchester’s way. The Mayor of Liverpool has already come out and criticised the move.  Last week’s announcement around HS3 was a deliberate attempt by the Government to bring Manchester and Leeds closer together. It would be an irony if this announcement today drives a wedge between the great northern powerhouses.

Only time will tell if this is a desperate plea by the Conservatives for voters in the North before the General Election or a well thought-out Government initiative that will bring about the kind of changes that all politicians, across the divide, claim they want to see.

Nicola Beech is an Associate Director at JBP

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