The ten leaders of the Greater Manchester authorities have signed up for Devo Manc - an unprecedented devolution from Westminster to local government that will see Greater Manchester take on more powers than anywhere else in England, London included.
I don't lead a Greater Manchester council, but I was very pleased to be at Manchester Town Hall and put my signature to the agreement, deputising for Stockport Leader Sue Derbyshire. For those of us who think we'll get better results if decisions about Greater Manchester are made in the city region, not two hundred miles away in Whitehall and Westminster, this is a big prize: over a billion pounds of spending decisions heading north with improvements to transport, business, skills and much more besides. Hopefully we can go even further in the future, but this is more than any government has offered in decades.
And yet it is just the start of the process. Among our challenges is to explain what Devo Manc really means to people, what difference it will make to their lives. On the same day that the latest branch of Manchester's metrolink tram system opened (a year ahead of schedule!) we need to sell this.
The article by Michael Dawson, campaigns director for the Campaign for the North, shows how much work there is to do as he makes a number of mistakes in his attack on Devo Manc and it's important to correct them.
First, Michael claims that this proposal, which includes an elected mayor for Greater Manchester, overturns the democratic will of the people who voted against a mayor for Manchester City Council two years ago. That's just wrong. Two years ago several places had referendums on whether or not to move to an elected mayor. Manchester City voted no and over the river Salford voted yes. But these are just two councils out of ten. The mayor being proposed for Devo Manc is a totally different position: it's someone who will not lead any of the ten councils, but will be the Chair of the Combined Authority. Manchester Council will keep its leader model just as people voted.
Then Michael compounds his misunderstanding by describing Devo Manc as a "London-fits-all model". That's just what it isn't. In London the mayor forms a separate tier of government, sitting above the local councils and scrutinised by the GLA. About the only thing the Manchester proposals have in common is the use of the word "mayor". The Greater Manchester mayor will lead the Combined Authority, not form a new tier of government. The mayor's cabinet will be made up of the ten council leaders. Those leaders will be able to block the mayor if they disagree with what he or she proposes.
Michael's article suggests Devo Manc is a government gimmick foisted on Greater Manchester - again, simply untrue. It's the result of months of negotiation between the Combined Authority and the government, in which the Greater Manchester councils secured more than they expected.
With an elected mayor not expected until 2017, the coming months and years will rightly see lively debate about the future of Greater Manchester and no doubt there will be many differing opinions. Let's base that debate on the reality of what's actually being proposed.
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