Manchester Town Hall
NEXT month, the 2.8 million people of Greater Manchester, will be asked to vote for the first directly elected mayor for Greater Manchester, who will have powers over transport, homes, policing, and skills.
A great deal has been said about the lack of consultation with the public about ‘Devolution for Manchester’, also known as ‘Devo Manc’. Research that has been undertaken, suggests that while some people may have heard about ‘devolution’, most people have virtually no public understanding of what it means.
A 2015 survey, revealed that 88% of people questioned, had never heard of Devo Manc. Indeed, few will be aware, that almost twelve-months ago, Greater Manchester acquired control of the regions £6bn health and social care budget. Similarly, the clear majority of the people of Greater Manchester, will be unaware that the consultation ‘Taking Charge Together’, ever took place and that only 6,000 people out of a population of 2.8 million, have responded.
This lack of a general understanding about Devo Manc by the people of Greater Manchester, seems all the stranger, when it is being claimed that devolution will give power back to the people and let them have greater control over the decisions that affect them. Yet, the devolution deal was signed behind closed doors in Manchester Town Hall and more than two years on, the population of Greater Manchester, remain largely shut out of the conversation. The Labour MP, Lisa Nandy, who represents Wigan, recently wrote:
“The public consultation on these sweeping changes was not properly publicised, ran for just three weeks and received only 12 responses – 10 of them from the same council leaders that signed the deal in the first place. It didn’t even mention the NHS. When the deal was announced by press release from Whitehall, MPs, councillors, and the public had little idea what it was. And as legislation was passed to enable the transfer of powers, it wasn’t even clear who in government was accountable for it.”
Although the MP for Wigan believes that the UK is moving towards a more federal structure, she fears that devolution decision-making in Greater Manchester, will not be pushed down to the people, but leveled up from local communities to Manchester town hall. Nandy points out that the decision to have a directly elected mayor for Greater Manchester, was imposed from Whitehall less than two years after the city of Manchester voted to reject one. Moreover, the current interim mayor, Tony Lloyd, is accountable to only ten people (his cabinet), who put him in into the job and are responsible for delivering his agenda. Seemingly, the minutes of these meetings are not published and “journalists have to do FOI requests to discover who is making the decisions.” Regarding “health devolution” in Greater Manchester, Nandy says:
“Healthier Together”, disrupted collaboration that was already taking place between local areas, took little account of the reality of people’s lives, and pursued hospital closures and centralization of services…asking people to travel long distances on non-existent transport networks when they already struggled to afford fares on low incomes…The risk is that decisions will be made in central Manchester with towns and rural areas just an afterthought.”
Research by the Fabian Society, using focus groups, carried out between September-October 2016, into public attitudes towards health devolution in Greater Manchester, found that people wanted local input into healthcare but not at the expense of equality. Though broadly sympathetic towards the idea of investing in prevention, most participants were keen to avoid a ‘post-code’ lottery of healthcare and some wondered what would happen to healthcare in Greater Manchester, if the money ran out or was mismanaged. Most participants supported uniformity over variability. Few participants had heard of ‘healthcare devolution’ nor understood what devolution meant. All groups considered newly elected mayors as unfit to oversee healthcare and generally felt that decisions about healthcare should be left to experts.
A YouGov survey – “HEALTH LOCALISM: what the English public thinks”, carried in October 2016, found that “Only 9% of people believed that councils and councillors should have the most say on local healthcare.” While evidence from the focus groups, indicated a certain un-enthusiasm about residents having more say in decision-making, the national YouGov poll, wanted residents to have more say.
While the people of Greater Manchester are being asked to vote for a metro-mayor next month, it seems that few really understand what they are voting for or how they got Devo Manc in the first place. Like mushrooms, they have been kept in the dark and fed shit. But as Richard Vize points out in the Fabian policy report, “With a mixture of mayors, combined authorities, councils and health service structures involved, it is hardly surprising that few people have a clear idea of what it all means.”
The secrecy, obfuscation, and lack of transparency, as well as the failure by the political elite of Greater Manchester in their ‘Labour one-party states’, to engage with the public and to spell out what services are going to be delivered and how, only exacerbates the problem.