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A long and winding road

Source: PSE Jun/Jul 16

Greater Manchester’s police and crime commissioner and interim mayor, Tony Lloyd, writes for PSE about the region’s long devolution journey and the benefits it is starting to deliver at the local level.

Greater Manchester (GM) took control of health and social care in our city-region on 1 April 2016. This is the first time a city-region in England has done this. More than £6bn of combined health and social care budgets will now be tailored to the specific needs of our citizens. Our top priority is to tackle some of the worst health outcomes in the country and improve life for the people of GM in doing so. 

This moment was a major milestone on a journey that has lasted more than 30 years, and isn’t over yet.

Devolution is not new 

Contrary to what some have said recently, our move towards better local decision-making is not something that began as part of the current chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse initiative. GM has always understood the benefits of working together and our 10 local authorities have a track record of joint successes that lead us to be trailblazers in the current devolution revolution. 

When the metropolitan county councils were abolished, our 10 GM authorities decided that on issues like public transport, policing, fire and rescue and waste disposal there was a need for co-ordination across the city-region. The authorities formed the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA), the forerunner to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) which I now chair as mayor. This body helped establish the UK’s first modern street running rail system, Metrolink, and helped create the country’s largest UK-owned airport operator, Manchester Airports Group. 

Throughout the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and in this decade, we have been clear that, in GM, we want to continue our shared success by growing our economy and making our public services the best they can be. To make this vision a reality, a range of powers that have traditionally been held in Whitehall had to come north into the hands of local leaders and their communities. 

Since 2009, progress had been made in ensuring that GM had the tools to achieve our vision. The establishment of the GMCA, as the first combined authority in the country, helped us improve the way we make decisions by bringing together the leaders of the 10 authorities within a statutory body at a GM level. While the GMCA built on the foundations of voluntary joint working through AGMA, the formation of the GMCA made this official and represented a step change in local leaders’ powers at city-region level. 

Since 2014, our four devolution deals with the government have been our most significant steps forward. Regardless of the colour of government, I have consistently challenged ministers to devolve power to communities, but to little success. This government gave us the opportunity to make better local decisions to benefit our citizens, and in GM we were determined not to let this moment pass us by. We know that local leaders understand their communities better than any Whitehall mandarin could. But the proof is in the results and the work we’re doing is already making a difference. 

Manchester town hall edit

Place-based integration 

Innovative and effective new ways of working are emerging, thanks to more decisions being made locally. 

In Wigan, the council, Greater Manchester Police and NHS colleagues have been trialling new ways of working with partners in Platt Bridge in what’s called a place-based integration programme. We have brought police, health, children and adults social care, early intervention, restorative solutions, anti-social behaviour, housing and drugs and alcohol staff into a single team.   Staff work together to understand how barriers between agencies impact on their ability to support citizens. Instead of one agency dealing with one issue and dealing with a related but slightly different problem, the teams are taking a place-based approach that addresses the underlying causes of issues. 

This work is already making a difference to the lives of local people. Colleagues at Wigan described to me a case of a woman in her sixties, referred to the team as a victim of anti-social behaviour from children leaving the local high school. The team visited the woman’s home and quickly established that the woman was provoking the children’s behaviour. The woman often became bored and would drink during the afternoon and shout at children walking home. Now the team fully understood the issues, not just the issues that presented to them as part of their single agency approach, they were able to support this resident  to reduce her drinking and helped her to engage in community groups.  The result is a much happier and healthier resident who has cut down on her drinking and, crucially, there have been no further incidents of anti-social behaviour. We’re now moving to roll-out this successful approach to reforming public services across the whole city-region.    

In GM we also understand that economic growth goes hand in hand with the reform of public services. If people are not well enough or properly skilled to take up the new jobs that are being created, then our economy will not grow. Our vision is one where services enable people to contribute and benefit from the growth that’s happening in our city-region.  

Working Well 

The Working Well programme is one of the ways we’re making our vision for GM a reality. The scheme was developed to help tackle an historic legacy of unemployment and underemployment in GM. Today, there are more than 225,000 people who are on out-of-work benefits here. The cost to the taxpayer of worklessness and low paid work is around £2bn. 

Working Well aims to turn this around by giving people the right support, from the right service, at the right time. Each person taking part in the scheme receives an individually-tailored package of support, ensuring that the issues holding them back from work are tackled effectively. 

The initial pilot scheme is set to hit its targets for getting people into work and is likely to be significantly more effective than the government’s Work Programme. This is the benefit of decisions being made by local leaders who understand the needs of their areas.  

As a former colleague of mine said, ‘devolution is a process, not an event’. In GM, we continue to look ahead as we gain more control of local decisions and next year elect a mayor for the first time. 

In the coming years, we will gain full control of adult skills delivery and take on a greater role in the delivery of criminal justice services. Business rates devolution will also take effect as a step on the road towards our goal of fully devolved local public spending. 

The journey we have been on for some time continues, and I’m confident. We’re GM, and the prize of our citizens’ lives being improved through a growing economy and transformed services is now well within our grasp.

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