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Devolution: the long game

Manchester is leading the way

By Richard Leese  


Read a companion piece, “The time has come for Britain’s regions,” here

It is barely two years since the ten Councils in Greater Manchester signed the ground-breaking devolution deal with then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, yet so much has happened since then, not least the subsequent Memorandum of Understanding on health and social care devolution and integration, that it is easy to forget the importance of what had gone before. The content of the deal and the capacity to put it together didn’t come out of thin air but was rooted in the long-term experiences of collaborative working across the city-region.

Choosing to work together, initially through the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities and since 2011 through the Combined Authority (CA), has a history stretching back over decades. It meant that, although we have had to build extra capacity to effectively exercise new powers, there was robust governance already in place, supported by an embryonic executive structure, and this gave us the strong platform essential to moving forward.

The Manchester Independent Economic Review (MIER), completed in 2008, provided a comprehensive evidence base describing the strengths and weaknesses in our economy and pointing the way to what we needed to do to grow our economy and create jobs.  Nothing stands still and the resultant Greater Manchester Strategy has already been revised once to take account of the banking crash and is being revised again because of the very different economic circumstances we now find ourselves in.

Greater Manchester was one of four areas and the only city-region to take part in the last government’s whole place community budget pilot. The work we did there on, for example, tackling worklessness, reducing offending and re-offending, on our new delivery models for early years, convinced us that the old way of delivering public services, particularly large-scale, national, one-size-fits-all programmes based on departmental or professional silos was broken. Services, especially for those people and families with high-levels of complex problems, needed to be organised in a fundamentally different way, built around people, their families and the places they live.

Our devolution “asks” came from this evidence, these experiences, and we still have demands for more, notably in the area of employment and skills. Of course the prospect of further devolution, not only for Manchester but for the rest of the country, could be easily scuppered unless there is demonstrable success with the powers that have already been devolved.

Economic growth is not an end in itself, but the transformation of our economic base is a necessary condition to building a better Manchester. That long history of collaborative working had produced a number of companies and agencies that provided business support, business finance, international marketing, trade and investment services, employment and skills services, and economic strategy and research. Over the last few years we have brought all of those together in the £100m turnover one-stop shop, the Manchester Growth Company. Owned by the CA, the company demonstrates our public private partnership approach with an independent Chair, half the board appointed by the Local Enterprise Partnership, and two-fifths of those nominated by the Chamber of Commerce, and provides a comprehensive range of economic development tools for the city-region.

The company has developed and is the custodian of an international strategy aimed at increasing the Manchester brand’s international profile, securing foreign direct investment, and increasing the number of companies trading internationally, the MIER having demonstrated that these companies tend to be more productive and more profitable.

The company is still a work in progress but is a major element in Greater Manchester’s current success in attracting inward investment and having UK leading growth in the SME sector. It provides the organisational base for showcasing the Manchester offer, whether its major trade fairs like MIPIM or at one-off events like the trade and investment activity that surrounded the rained-off Manchester Derby in Beijing this July. And it provides a base to engage other partners, for example the private sector led Manchester-China Forum.

Economic growth and job creation on its own does not guarantee a fairer and more inclusive society. We need to make sure that all our people have the opportunity to benefit. Although our schools, colleges, universities and other training providers coupled with net migration into the city have given us an increasingly well-educated and highly skilled workforce, that shouldn’t be allowed to mask an industrial legacy of far too many people with no, low, or out-dated skills, and some of the worst health indicators in the country.

One of principle reasons for local authority interest in health devolution was not that we could run hospitals or other clinical services better, but that we could entrench work as a health outcome, and join health services up as an integral part of what we were doing to tackle worklessness. We have demonstrated that through the CA-commissioned Working Well programme, part of the Work Programme, targeted on those people, nearly all with physical or mental health issues, furthest from the Labour Market. Originally aimed at a cohort of 5,000, its success has led to an expansion to 50,000 people. For people of working age, being economically active is good for them, their families, their neighbourhoods, and reduces demand on increasingly stretched services.

Perhaps the other key reason is one that relates to older people with chronic conditions. They are the people who often end up abandoned on hospital wards because we have not found better ways of supporting them in their homes and communities. Health and Social Care integration supported by a substantial transformation fund, part of the devolution deal, allows us to establish new ways of working and enhanced community-based provision, that can give high-quality support at or close to home, improving life-expectancy and quality of life and at the same time reducing unnecessary hospital admissions or prolonged stays in hospital that are not treatment related.

There is one major element of the devolution deal that is still subject to new legislation, the Buses Bill, now passing through Parliament. The MIER, the more recent Northern Independent Economic Review and countless other economic studies all put transport, usually alongside skills, at the top of the hierarchy of things required to underpin economic growth. There are no either/ors here.  Manchester and other northern cities require much better national and international links, better links to each other, and planned and integrated local transport networks. When the Buses Bill becomes law, it will give Greater Manchester the same powers that London has always enjoyed to plan its local transport networks and to introduce the uniform system-wide smart ticketing travellers are looking for.

Manchester may be leading the way, but we are very much still setting out on a long journey.  However, in team Manchester we have the cross-sectoral partnerships, the skills, and the confidence to ensure we continue to put the great into Greater Manchester.


With the support of Legal & General, Prospect will be hosting a private roundtable discussion at the 2016 Labour Party Conference examining how, within the context of devolution, cities can develop in a manner that best contributes to a region’s economic objectives. The discussion will be chaired by Andy Davis, Finance Editor, Prospect. Speakers include: Helen Goodman MP, Member of the Treasury Committee; Tristram Hunt, MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central; Richard Leese, Leader, Manchester City Council; Jim McMahon, MP for Oldham West and Royton; Catherine West MP, APPG on Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution and Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool.


The event will take place inside the conference secure zone and a conference pass will be required in order to gain access. Prospect’s complete conference programme can be found here. For more information, please email:


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