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Devolved powers to Manchester are first step to "northern powerhouse"

Words: Laura Edgar
Salford Quays

Chancellor George Osborne has announced that Manchester is to have a directly elected mayor alongside greater devolved powers.

The agreement between the leaders of the region’s 10 councils and Osborne is intended to increase opportunities for economic growth within Manchester by allowing local control over certain budgets and powers.

The chancellor expressed that this is “a massive moment for the North of England and our plan to build the northern powerhouse,” giving the people of Manchester a powerful voice, adding that he is keen for other cities to follow Manchester’s lead but that no model of local power will be the same.

The powers that have been devolved to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), include:

-       Responsibility for local transport. If supported by the public, there will be a franchise of bus services with Greater Manchester controlling routes, frequency and price while an Oyster card-style system will be introduced alongside an overall more co-ordinated transport strategy.

-       Planning; a statutory spatial strategy to guide investment and development across the region, which will be voted on.

-       The control of a new Housing Investment Fund of up to £300 million, which aims to deliver 15,000 homes over 10 years.

The elected mayor will lead GMCA, chairing its meetings as well as allocating responsibilities to its cabinet, which will be made up of the leaders of the 10 local authorities. He or she will consult the GMCA cabinet on their strategies, which can be rejected. Additionally the Police and Crime Commissioner’s role will be merged with the role of the mayor.

The first elections for mayor are set to take place in 2017, with further work required on the implementation and legislation of these changes.

Lord Peter Smith, chair of GMCA, said: “Make no mistake, this devolution settlement is a momentous day for Greater Manchester. It gives us greater control over our own destiny in several key areas and the ability to base decisions on local priorities and needs rather than on ‘one size fits all’ dictates from Westminster.

“This isn’t about taking powers from individual Greater Manchester authorities. It’s about powers coming down from central government to a more localised level.” 

Acting chief executive of Centre for Cities Andrew Carter has explained that devolved powers will empower “Manchester to target and deliver jobs, housing, skills and infrastructure its local community needs is a critical first step to enabling the city to fulfil its potential.”

Dan Mitchell, partner at Barton Willmore’s Manchester office, said that a mayor “will provide the central political support that is needed to get major development projects off the ground, especially in cross boundary locations. Giving the region control of its own transport infrastructure is another major step that will allow development to be planned in a much more strategic and co-ordinated approach.”