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03.02.16

Date for first Greater Manchester mayoral election confirmed

The first-ever mayor of Greater Manchester – the region which agreed the first devolution deal with the government – will be elected on 4 May 2017, Northern Powerhouse minister James Wharton has confirmed.

The mayor, who will chair the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), will be tasked with providing the local accountability needed with new powers across government and health spheres being devolved.

As advocated by Whitehall, this means residents will be able to hold mayors to account through the ballot box.

He or she will also have responsibility for the region’s police as the new police and crime commissioner, meaning elections to that post previously scheduled for this May are now cancelled.

Wharton commented: “Building a Northern Powerhouse is central to our plans to rebalance the economy – key to that is handing powers back to local areas.

“Greater Manchester are leading the way and on 4 May 2017 local people will have a direct say over who they want to run their city-region. Six other areas have already signed devolution deals, and with our change in the law to devolve even more powers from Westminster, I’m confident many other areas will soon follow suit.”

The mayoral date was the first move made under the government’s new Cities and Local Government Devolution Act, given royal assent just last week in the Commons.

In Greater Manchester specifically, the mayor will be able to control a £300m housing investment fund as well as exercise powers over strategic planning, including by creating a statutory spatial framework for the region subject to unanimous approval by the mayor’s cabinet.

The mayor will also oversee a devolved and consolidated transport budget with a multi-year settlement set to be defined at the next Spending Review, as well as duties for franchised bus services and integrated smart ticketing across all modes of travelling.

Whitehall also hopes that the £30m it will get every year for 30 years will give Greater Manchester the certainty it needs to carry projects forward, including extending the Metrolink to Trafford Park.

Similarly, the GMCA will be made responsible for securing integrated business support services, controlling the apprenticeship grant for employers and overseeing an expanded ‘Working Well’ pilot.

The authority will also have the chance to be a joint commissioner with the Department for Work and Pensions for the next phase of the Work Programme.

Along with the region’s clinical commissioning groups, GMCA will also be invited to develop a business plan for the integration of health and social care across the region based on existing budgets for both sectors.

Although a devolved mayor is one of the centrepieces of the government’s devolution drive, many officials consider the move retrogressive. Lord Kerslake, for example, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution, said imposing metro-mayors is not always the correct choice for all areas.

“I think it is hard to see how one size is going to fit all here,” he said in December. “It might almost be retrogressive if you impose the mayoral model on a place where it clearly isn’t going to work.”

And today, the Communities and Local Government Committee said health devolution – which half of the 38 devo bidders have applied for – may also not be appropriate everywhere, recommending that areas with already fruitful initiatives dodge this option entirely – as reported by PSE’s sister title, National Health Executive.

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