Devolution - power coming from Whitehall back to Town Halls, power moving from national to local - is very much on the agenda. A few weeks ago respected think-tank ResPublica publish a report recommending that all of the public expenditure in Greater Manchester should be decided upon in GM, DevoMax, DevoManc. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority ( CA ) and its ten constituent Councils are currently discussing how we might need to change our governance and management arrangements to deal with very much greater powers and resources.
These discussions centre around a proposal for an eleventh member of the CA, a directly elected Leader, who would work full-time on CA business. This is not a London-style Mayor, nor as the press have suggested a Boris-lite. The differences are important.
London under its current structures can't do what Greater Manchester can do which is not only to support job-creating growth but also reorganise public services around people, their families and the places they live rather than in traditional service silos. London's problem is that it has a two tier structure. The Mayor is responsible for economic development, transport, police and not a lot else if you exclude self-promotion. The thirty two London boroughs and the City of London Corporation are responsible for all the other things a council like Manchester does.
In contrast, Manchester only has a single tier of government as the CA, although it is itself a local authority, belongs to all the ten districts. This voluntary coming together in a shared statutory body gives us a very powerful tool, one four other city-regions have already copied, and many other areas are seeking to, including London councils. In comparison, nobody has sought to imitate the rather peculiar governance structure London currently has, one that is different to local government structures not only here but also most of the rest of the world.
We have a model for how we want to run public services in Manchester that was designed in Manchester and that works. If we are successful in taking more power from central government, we will undoubtedly need more capacity, both political and executive, to manage that. But the only sensible way of providing that capacity is by building on what we have already achieved, not throwing all of that away for a flawed model from elsewhere.
The proposal we are discussing, that of the eleventh member of the CA ( with one vote out of eleven ), does that, avoids too much power in the hands of one person, maintains a unitary structure, and would introduce an element of direct accountability to the electorate. Far from Boris-lite, this is GM strong.