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Greater Manchester Combined Authority Order 2011

Volume 726: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2011

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Order 2011.

Relevant document: 16th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, the order would establish a combined authority covering the area of the 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester. The establishment of the new combined authority will leave Greater Manchester better placed to tackle its economic challenges and improve public service delivery.

Part 6 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 enables the creation of economic prosperity boards and combined authorities. These are designed for groups of local authorities that wish to work closely together to deliver improvements in economic development, regeneration and, in relation to combined authorities, transport. They are corporate bodies with their own governance structures. They can be given local authority functions relating to economic development and regeneration and the transport functions available to integrated transport authorities. I should stress that whether to establish a combined authority is a voluntary decision for the local authorities concerned and that Ministers cannot impose combined authorities on areas.

The 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester have a long history of collaboration. For more than 20 years, the voluntary partnership known as the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) has successfully co-ordinated cross-boundary collaboration between the 10 local authorities on a wide range of issues.

The previous Government consulted in March last year on AGMA’s proposal to establish a combined authority. The consultation showed strong support for the combined authority from a range of private sector and public sector partners across Greater Manchester. The combined authority has strong support within the business community and has the support of all 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester. In November, we confirmed our intention to support the establishment of the combined authority and to proceed with the order establishing the new authority.

Membership of the combined authority would consist of the 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester. Under the order, each constituent local authority is required to appoint one of its elected members as a member of the authority. The combined authority would be funded through appropriate contributions from each of the 10 local authorities and through the transport levy.

The order would transfer the functions of the integrated transport authority to the combined authority, which would also assume some existing transport functions held by the Greater Manchester local authorities. The order would also devolve to the combined authority certain local authority functions relating to economic development and regeneration. This should ensure more effective alignment between decision-making on transport and that on other areas of policy such as land use, economic development and wider regeneration. In particular, the same authority would determine Greater Manchester’s sustainable community strategy and its local transport plan.

The Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority has a good history of delivering and improving transport in Greater Manchester. For example, it manages a concessionary fares scheme for senior, blind, disabled, and young permit holders and organises about 7.5 million school journeys each year. It has masterminded the expansion of the Manchester Metrolink, including important extensions to East Didsbury, Ashton, Rochdale, Oldham and Manchester Airport. However, with the establishment of the combined authority we would see a greater concentration of transport functions across Greater Manchester within one authority. This would help to deliver transport benefits beyond those which the existing integrated transport authority structure can provide.

The new arrangements will allow the combined authority to have much greater influence over the full range of transport infrastructure and services across Greater Manchester. In view of their decision to establish a combined authority, the Government are committed to working with Manchester on a forward-looking programme to examine how Greater Manchester can assume greater responsibilities and influence, comparable to those enjoyed by Transport for London. This agenda will be taken forward through a protocol on heavy rail that facilitates closer working between Greater Manchester and the Department for Transport, and a similar protocol on highways which will facilitate closer working between Greater Manchester and the Highways Agency.

The protocols will provide the basis for the combined authority to plan and develop its transport strategy in full awareness of programmes on national rail networks and the strategic road network in and around Greater Manchester. They will also enable the combined authority to be able to have a real influence on those national programmes, bringing to bear the authority’s knowledge of what is needed from transport to facilitate the authority’s strategy for promoting economic growth in Greater Manchester.

In October last year, the civic and business leaders of Greater Manchester were invited to proceed with the establishment of their proposed local enterprise partnership. They hope to have their new local enterprise partnership up and running next month. The Greater Manchester combined authority will work in close partnership with the local enterprise partnership to drive economic growth across Greater Manchester. Under Greater Manchester’s proposals, the local enterprise partnership will provide strategic direction and leadership in delivering on Greater Manchester’s economic priorities. The combined authority will act as the primary accountable body for Greater Manchester and as a repository of certain statutory functions, including those of the integrated transport authority.

We do not anticipate that establishing the combined authority will involve increased costs for the 10 local authorities within Greater Manchester, as a lot of the infrastructure to support the authority is already in place. Indeed, our expectation is that the combined authority will lead to considerable efficiency savings through sharing and avoiding the duplication of services. This is important at a time when public resources are so stretched.

In conclusion, I believe that the new combined authority will leave the local authorities of Greater Manchester better placed to support the delivery of economic improvements across Greater Manchester and to support the ambitions of its local enterprise partnership.

My Lords, I should first declare a number of interests in this matter. I am leader of one of the 10 Greater Manchester authorities and chairman of the AGMA executive board. Last month, I was appointed chair of the shadow combined authority, because we anticipate the success of the order. We are well into planning for it.

I thank the Minister for the clear and thorough way in which he introduced the order and through him thank the Government for the way in which they reviewed the application for the combined authority for Greater Manchester and for agreeing to it.

There are some familiar faces here. We were in this very Room discussing the Committee stage of the wonderful Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill. That lasted a long time and, in one session, I rather surprised the Minister at the time by saying that, if you want this sort of thing to work, you have to give it some real teeth and real powers; otherwise, what is the point of going through all these processes? Fortunately, the Minister listened and, as a result, the combined authority is a more effective and more accountable form of government.

As the Minister described, with wonderful timing we entered the consultation phase in March last year, which of course straddled the general election. Therefore, there was an impasse before the election but, as I said, we were extremely pleased that the Government listened, and there was overwhelming support for the combined authority from partners in Greater Manchester. The authority shares with the Government the desire to improve the economy of Greater Manchester, and it does so in a number of innovative ways, particularly working with the private sector. We have no quarrels with that. We have a long history in Manchester of working with the private sector. We recently set up the Business Leadership Council, which is a fairly free-flying body. It can criticise AGMA if it does not think that it is responding to the needs of business across the conurbation.

As the Minister said, we have now been working together in AGMA since the abolition of the old met counties in 1986. That means that we have been working together for 25 years. I think that we have become more effective because we have realised that there is more to do. The tyranny of some local boundaries means that, when trying to achieve something locally, you need to think bigger, particularly on economic matters. With the support of the previous Government, there was an independent economic review for Manchester. A group of distinguished economists was able to come and say what was good about the Greater Manchester economy and, perhaps more importantly for all of us, what was not good and what we needed to do. One thing that the economists said we needed to do was to improve the governance, making it stronger, and integrate decisions on transport with other economic decisions. That is what the combined authority will allow us to do.

I want to comment on one thing that the Minister said which was not quite correct. In the wake of a very painful experience concerning the congestion charge, in which a referendum was broken, AGMA agreed to set up a Greater Manchester transport fund. It increased the levy from each local authority by 3 per cent above the demands of the service and put it into a transport fund, which was able to pay for the extensions to Metrolink, as the Minister evidenced. Therefore, although it went through the CA, the CA did not pay for it; the AGMA leaders agreed to do that. That is the kind of thing that we will do in the future. Despite the current pressures on local government, we are sustaining that going forward.

We also want to work with the Government on reforming public services, as the Minister said. In particular, we are a pilot for community budgets. We understand the need for work to be done regarding families with complex needs and the great costs that arise for local authorities and government. Often, we just manage a problem; we do not cure it. Therefore, we hope that we will be able to do better work on that.

The Minister is absolutely right: we have no intention of setting up a bureaucracy to run the combined authority. We see it as a way of saving in the long term by combining work. A lot of work is going from local authorities’ highways services into the new combined authority, and that will produce savings across the board, apart from the general work that we are doing in that regard.

Finally, again, I thank the Government for their foresight. We believe that we can work together with the Government and achieve a lot on this matter.

My Lords, I have been Bishop of Manchester for eight and a half years now. During that time, I have been increasingly impressed with the way in which the different local authorities in Greater Manchester work together. The further co-ordination that the order will provide in terms of economic regeneration, development and transport is something that is not only a natural progression from all that has previously happened but something that I know will be enormously and widely welcomed within Greater Manchester.

I want to take this opportunity in Committee to pay a public tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, for the considerable work that he has personally done with this co-ordination over the years. He is held in very high regard across the local authorities and his wise guidance is a considerable reason why the different local authorities work so positively together.

I notice that at the end of the Explanatory Memorandum for the draft order it says:

“The impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies is expected to be negligible”.

I entirely understand why that is said, but I want to add that many people, not least in the churches, will feel that the greater coherence that the order will provide will enhance the work of the voluntary sector. I very much hope that the order will be passed.

I obviously support the order. It seems very sensible. In earlier legislation under the Labour Government, I moved amendments to allow the then PTEs to be joint signatories of railway franchises in their areas. I had a lot of support from the PTEs but faced an absolute stone wall from the Minister at the time. There will be huge railway development in Manchester, particularly the northern hub at the centre. It will require great work in Manchester. The Minister mentioned that there would be close working with the DfT, but I would like him to say what that means. In the past, people with experience in Liverpool and Leeds found that that close working led to very expensive delays and people feeling that they were not being helped by the department so much as throttled.

Going forward, when there are large developments, will the department bring itself to treat these large organisations that they are creating as partners rather than servants of the department? I am sorry if that sounds rather unpleasant, but I met several leaders of these authorities at the weekend and they were strong about that. There is an old saying, “I'm from the council: I'm here to help you”. But it almost seems to be, “I'm from the department and I'm here to curse you”. I would like the Minister to expand on how these freedoms will be exercised.

My Lords, I, too, join in the general welcome for this order. I give it our warm and enthusiastic support. It must be as near to perfection as any Government order can achieve. It is enabled by an Act of Parliament passed under a Labour Government. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, recorded the many happy hours we spent on the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill as it then was. I am hugely reassured to know that something good has at last come out of the many hours that we spent on it.

The order is supported by 10 local authorities and all the political parties, by business and now we hear that it has the blessing of the church as well. What more could any Government ever seek to achieve? Furthermore, we know that this is happening, quite rightly, by voluntary means rather than being imposed from above, and there is a strong lesson in that. We hear, too, that not only is it not going to cost more but there is an expectation of savings and that it can all be implemented without any great bureaucracy. This must be as near to perfection as we can ever hope from any government order, and I am sure that there will be nobody who would wish it ill or wish to oppose it on that basis. We give it our enthusiastic support, and I hope that it will show that this is the way of the future and this will be the first but not the last of a move in this direction. We wish it well.

My Lords, I join the right reverend Prelate in paying tribute to my noble, and indeed personal, friend Lord Smith. George Orwell would recognise him as an exemplary Wigan Peer if he were to rewrite his book. I also congratulate the Minister and the Government on proceeding with reasonable alacrity to bring forward this order. I have not checked, so I am not sure whether it meets the requirement of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, of being printed on recycled paper. If not, that is the only defect one could possibly find with it. However, although this was the first order of this kind and there was a change of Government, it is nearly a year since the proposal was made. One would hope that on the basis of the experience of this order, if further applications are made—and I certainly hope that they are—the process will be a little swifter. Otherwise, particularly if there are a number of such applications, it will be quite a long time before they can be dealt with. However, presumably now that government departments have the experience of dealing with the process, it will be speedier.

I must also pay tribute not only to my noble friend but to his colleagues across the political divide in the authorities in Greater Manchester. They had their differences over the congestion charge, as he reminded us, but generally speaking they have worked very well together. I am sure that that will be the case after the pending local elections in May, although whether there will still be the same number of councillors of different political colours remains to be seen. In any event, it is clear that, not for the first time, Greater Manchester has blazed a trail for metropolitan governance in this country. The councils have, of course, a very strong municipal history. Now that they have come together and formed, in effect, a sub-region, those of us who are concerned with other areas of that kind need to watch carefully and learn from that.

I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I strike a slightly partisan note, but it is regrettable that the Secretary of State has seen fit to single out Manchester City Council for, in my view, excessive criticism—not in relation to this proposition but in more general terms. One hopes that the spirit animating the Government in reaching this satisfactory conclusion to the approach from Greater Manchester will be reflected in more measured language in looking at the problems encountered by all the authorities in that area. But of course they have worked successfully for many years, as the Minister and other noble Lords have said. There has been a very striking urban renaissance in Manchester itself and in Salford, which is welcoming hordes of reluctant BBC employees with open arms as the headquarters move there but also in other parts of the conurbation. As an LGA study some time ago demonstrated, the scale of sub-regional governance is a key factor in bringing together the requirements for the development of the local economy and some of the infrastructure that goes with that, although there are other issues which transcend those boundaries and which need to be considered on a regional basis. In that regard, the structures that have existed will unfortunately no longer exist, and that may slightly impede the success of a very promising venture. Of course, it has to be borne in mind that this takes place against a background of a very difficult financial situation for the authorities.

My noble friend referred to Community Budgeting, or Total Place, as it was known before it was rebranded after the election. There is certainly potential here to look at problems across the range of public services that might be tackled more effectively, given the fairly cohesive nature of the area, although each borough has its own distinctive character. In the local health economy, for example, the issues of skills and further and higher education are not confined by boundaries. Like my noble friend, I hope that the new organisation will be able to influence developments there. Equally, I hope the Minister will persuade the relevant government departments that they must look outside the traditional silos and co-operate fully in the development of such an approach.

I join all those who have spoken in warmly welcoming this critical development. I hope that others will seek to follow it. I have but one question for the Minister, which relates to the constitution. Manchester city is to be visited with the novel creation of a shadow mayor, assuming the proposal is accepted under the Localism Bill. It is an interesting concept: the shadow mayor has to be appointed and there then has to be confirmation of the position in a referendum, perhaps the following year. However, that applies only to the city of Manchester, which is extremely well led by Sir Richard Leese. He will not be the mayor of Greater Manchester—the surrounding boroughs will not quite accept that proposition, although I have no doubt that the press will try to portray him in that capacity—nor will anybody who might be elected to that position, if the referendum goes in favour of an elected mayor.

A question arises from the constitution, on which the noble Lord can perhaps help me. The membership is described as being based on each constituent council appointing one of its elected members to be a member of the new body. Maybe I am being even more pedantic than usual but it is not clear whether a mayor is an elected member of the council. The shadow mayor will be in place for the duration of that year; he is, by definition, a member of that council. If there is an elected mayor, the question then arises of whether he is to be regarded for the purposes of this order as an elected member of the council. He is not an elected member in the way that every other member is an elected member. It may be that this is a point with no substance to it but it might need to be considered. If it is not clear, perhaps some thought might be given to dealing with the situation. If it is clear, that is wonderful—we can all go away happy.

It is quite clear that we all arrived happy. It is very nice, as a Minister standing in for a colleague, to get such a warm and congenial reception across the board for a statutory instrument. Perhaps I should volunteer to do this more often. It is a very pleasant experience. It has been interesting, too. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, for his involvement in Manchester and for the way in which he welcomed this measure. I acknowledge the work of AGMA in serving as a nursery for this. What is so useful about it is the way in which both AGMA and Whitehall have worked together to make a success of the opportunity that the GMCA represents. I hope that that can be built on. During the debate, various noble Lords have suggested ways in which it can be built on. In many ways, it forms a model and is very much the pioneer. Of course, Manchester would say that it is always the pioneer.

I stand corrected on the history. In the hope that we could make the debate run a little faster, I rather recklessly threw away a small portion of my speech on the grounds that it covered a bit of the history. Therefore, I stand corrected, and the record will note the correction made by the noble Lord, Lord Smith.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester for his tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and the concept of voluntary sector involvement across the Greater Manchester area. In fact, we had a debate in the dinner hour last night on the voluntary sector and the big society bank. The debate highlighted the importance of voluntary and community action. Co-ordinating that with the professional services that local authorities are providing is also very important. As I see it, there are opportunities for a number of functions to work together and form a platform. The authority’s powers are of course limited to transport, economic development and sustainable development, but inevitably that will lead to the co-ordination of planning activities and of the location of services. I hope that the local authorities will find that working together creates not only efficiencies but strategic purpose which they can share.

My noble friend Lord Bradshaw, with his enthusiasm for the railways, hit upon the importance of railway development and, in particular, the northern hub. I think that I can reassure him on that point. The protocols to which I referred will cover that. We are also determined that the local enterprise partnership’s involvement will mean that there is proper co-ordination between the investment by Whitehall and the interests of the local community expressed through the local enterprise partnership and the GMCA.

My noble friend Lord Tope got quite carried away with the perfection of the order. It is most unusual to hear a noble Lord refer to perfection when you are presenting a statutory instrument, but I thank him for his support. He, too, has great experience of local government and I think that he recognises the potential of this model.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for welcoming the measure. It has taken a while but this was the first combined authority to be established under the legislation. Ministers wanted to consider the case for it and see how it fitted in with the new local enterprise partnership policy, and that, probably above all, accounts for the delay. However, I do not think that it has delayed the way in which those on the ground have been getting together, and I am pleased that that is the case.

We do not object at all to local authorities considering how they can operate across boundaries. We hope that co-operation can be, as it has been in this case, on a bottom-up basis. It has worked well here, and where a community of interests exists, I hope that local authorities will not hesitate to work together for the efficiency and economic prosperity of the areas they represent. That is one of the most important things to come out of this development, which I agree has a cross-party basis to it. There are differences of politics, and I would not share all the views of either the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, or the noble Lord, Lord Smith, but I think that we all recognise that in areas of policy such as this the priority should be to give democratically elected councillors the opportunity, through the services and economic opportunities they offer, to improve the lives of the communities they represent.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked me about a city mayor. As he will know, there are no powers in the order to elect a mayor. Currently, a mayor can be directly elected only for a single authority and on the basis of a referendum. The noble Lord may have been talking about a primus inter pares. I doubt that that would necessarily be appropriate in this area. Any councillor who was at the same time mayor—as the noble Lord will know, you have to be an elected councillor in order to be an elected mayor—

I apologise if I have got it wrong. My briefing states that mayors would be elected members of the constituent councils and can sit on the combined authority. The mayor would be an elected member of the authority. However, I stand corrected if I am wrong.

My question was whether the mayor would count for the purposes of the instrument as an elected member of a council in order to serve on the GMCA. That appears to be position. If it is, I accept it, but the mayor is not for other purposes a councillor.

I take that point. I am sorry to show my ignorance. I am grateful to the noble Lord. Paragraph 1(8) of Schedule 1 to the order states:

“For the purposes of this paragraph, an elected mayor of a constituent council is to be treated as a member of the constituent council”.

At least the noble Lord has taught me an interesting lesson. I am grateful to him, and I hope that he is grateful to me.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 6.39 pm.