It’s Not Who it’s What

This week has been dominated by the news that Manchester is to get a metro mayor, devolved powers and £1billion!

Immediately Liverpool is lobbying hard and screaming ‘us too’, although it is proving challenging for city mayor Joe Anderson to convince his district colleagues to create a ‘Boris for Merseyside’.

Part of the problem, a huge part, is that personalities are getting in the way of progress. The discussion and debate about devolution to Liverpool is fast turning into a conversation about ‘who’ those powers will go to rather than the far more important question of ‘what will those powers be’.

It is recognised by all the council leaders that devolution to the city region level is a good thing. Let’s start with transport, planning, health, social care and housing. More resources, yes please. If we need to agree to have an elected mayor for the region to get this prize, that should be agreed too.

The argument that there is some kind of ‘democratic deficit’ going on with the ‘imposition’ of a new structure of local governance would only hold water if the existing system was not totally broken. Turnouts for Parliamentary seats in this part of the world are poor – for local council elections they are embarrassing.

What is more ‘undemocratic’? A leader for the city region elected by six council leaders between them, behind closed doors – or a directly elected mayor who we all get the chance to vote in, and crucially, vote out if necessary as well.

It is a no brainer, and it is why the leaders of the Greater Manchester authorities took the pragmatic decision to sigh such a deal with Chancellor George Osborne this week, and ensure that their region will continue to be seen as the exemplar of local government.

The window of opportunity for this massive devolution offer will not be open forever. The leaders of our six councils have an absolute duty to get their act together quickly – before that window slams shut.