Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A Greater Manchester mayor?

Being old. I can remember things (at the same time as forgetting things). In 1974, England had a major reorganisation of local government. In Greater Manchester, a hotchpotch of smaller and larger local councils were coalesced into 10 metropolitan borough councils with a Greater Manchester council having responsibility for county wide strategic issues. The churches even responded by setting up the Greater Manchester County Ecumenical Council to coordinate their work across the county and to engage with local government.

Mrs Thatcher abolished metropolitan county councils in 1986 - they tended to be Labour and she didn't like local government anyway. Some of the Greater Manchester county council's responsibilities were given to the 10 boroughts, others had to be fulfilled by several ad hoc coordinating committees. Some of these have been reasonably successful - the development of the Metrolink tram system and support for the arts, for example. However, their success was only possible because they built on what had already been set up under the Greater Manchester Council.

Now, 40 years on, the current government has had an idea - Greater Manchester would flourish (economically, of course, what else matters) if there was proper strategic planning and direction. Their answer is an elected Mayor with those responsibilities. This does have the benefit of democratic appointment but not the checks and balances of accountability between mayoral elections. A region like Greater Manchester does need some strategic authority with resources. So far so good. Better a sinner that repents!

However, I can't help but wonder why a government facing economic problems should decide to give £1 billion to Greater Manchester. Of course, there is great merit in spending decisions being taken at as local a level as possible rather than by people in London. For a government, though, there is the happy position of being able to say, when people complain about lack of funding,that decisions were taken by your Mayor not by us. The reality is that the government's generosity is an illusion. Local government is being systematically starved of funding with ongoing cuts to their budgets with front line services on which many depend being destroyed. Is the appointment of a mayor a way of deflecting anger?

A Greater Manchester mayor as Trojan horse? Beware Greeks (or governments in this case) bearing gifts!

No comments:

Post a Comment