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15.09.14

Manchester should lead local authority devolution – ResPublica

Greater Manchester should get total control over all its public spending and an elected mayor as a ‘blueprint’ area for further devolution of budgets and powers, according to a think tank. 

The study, ‘Devo Max - Devo Manc: Place-based public services’, from centre-right think tank ResPublica, argues that the city region should be, as a case in point, given full devolution – similar to what Scotland has been offered if a ‘no’ vote should occur at this week’s independence referendum. 

In particular, ResPublica has suggested that total Manchester public spending should be brought under the control of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, under a new governance structure that includes a local board and relevant secretaries of state. 

Additionally, the authority should be given legal powers to enact local joined up government, eliminating duplication and encouraging multi-agency initiatives; it should also be given powers over property and income taxes; and have the authority to reinvest savings and proceeds locally, while a percentage of overheads remains with Whitehall. 

Phillip Blond, director of ResPublica and an author of the report, said: “For decades we’ve watched England’s cities sliding into decline. This is why England needs devolution. Financial freedom must come to Greater Manchester.

 

“It should have an elected mayor. These plans outlined in today’s report, will allow it to turn its fortunes around, lifting the population out of the doldrums. This is a blueprint for independence for cities in England.”

But local government secretary Eric Pickles said the coalition government had already delivered "significant" devolution of power and finance to local communities. 

“Localism in England should be about devolving power to the lowest appropriate level – down to councils, to neighbourhoods and to individuals,” he said. “Creating new taxes, more politicians and new tiers of local administration is not the answer - the starting point should be increasing local democracy and local accountability.” 

Pickles did argue that there may be some role for combined authorities on a strategic level to promote economic development and transport, but there is a real risk they will suck power upwards, away from local councils and taxpayers. 

Graham Allen MP, chair of the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, stated, though, that what is good for Scotland is good for England too, where councils will be the vehicle for devolution. 

Last week, Cllr David Sparks, the Local Government Association chair, also argued that councils should be given greater devolution and decision making powers, especially if Scotland gets greater devolution by voting ‘no’ on 18 September. 

Lord Peter Smith, chair of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, added that he welcomes the “broad thrust” of the ResPublica analysis, which makes a case for total devolution to city regions. 

“This full devolution model echoes our ambition, and we welcome ResPublica’s view that Greater Manchester would be uniquely placed to pioneer it,” said Lord Smith. 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

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