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Greater Manchester

Volume 757: debated on Thursday 27 November 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to develop the economy of Greater Manchester.

My Lords, this Government are committed to rebalancing the economy and to supporting growth in Greater Manchester through a growth deal, city deal and enterprise zone. Earlier this month the Government and councils in Greater Manchester agreed to create a directly elected mayor for Greater Manchester with wide powers over economic development, housing, policing and planning.

My Lords, I welcome the decision to establish a Greater Manchester Combined Authority, but does my noble friend agree that there must be effective scrutiny of the decision-making of such a body, so that local people and businesses know who is deciding what and how? Will the Government, therefore, encourage these councils to make sure that that happens, so that there is transparency and clear accountability?

My Lords, I absolutely agree that clear accountability is vital. That is why the Government and councils have agreed that there will be a democratically elected mayor to oversee the new powers and funding. Indeed, beyond 2016-17 these new powers will be conditional on the elected mayor being in place.

Does the Minister not recall that—rather alarmingly, I thought—at the beginning of this Parliament there seemed to be complete agreement between the leadership of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party that the people of the big cities in England would relish the prospect of establishing a system of directly elected mayors? Rather unwisely, from their perspective, they put that proposal to 10 cities in Britain in the form of rather expensive referendums, and the people of these great cities—very wisely, in my view—decided that they did not want this expensive innovation, which had not worked nearly so well in London as some people were suggesting. At the very least, can the Minister assure us that the views of the people in these cities will in future be respected, and that should there be any change in the structure of local government in the direction of directly elected mayors it would be put to the people in a referendum?

My Lords, some cities—notably Bristol—have decided to have an elected mayor, and the elected mayor in London, of whatever colour, has proved an effective spokesperson and advocate for London. There are no plans for a referendum for a directly elected mayor for Greater Manchester.

My Lords, the prime driver of the success story that is Manchester has been the growth of the airport. It now sustains 40,000 jobs and has flights to more than 200 destinations, which is actually rather more than Heathrow. With the onward development of Airport City and, in the longer term, the siting of the HS2 terminal adjacent to the airport, is my noble friend satisfied that the road network in that area will be able to cope with the increased traffic, particularly the A538 which at present, frankly, is in places rather quaint?

My Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend that the airport has been a huge success. Transport links to the airport have been greatly enhanced and it now has one of the best intermodal hubs of any airport in the UK. Further funding is going in for roads—the A6 Manchester Airport relief road is being funded by the Department for Transport via the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Any funding of the kind that my noble friend seeks for the A538 would most likely come from the growth deal process, which is now under way.

My Lords, I declare an interest as I used to represent a part of Greater Manchester, namely Oldham, a town of which I am inordinately proud and eager to assist. However, how does the Minister think that the Chancellor can sustain the pretence of being a champion of the north when he has cut local government funding for northern cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool more than he has the wealthier areas of southern England?

My Lords, we have to look at what has been happening to the Greater Manchester economy and the north-west more generally, where there has been a massive increase in the number of apprenticeships, for example, and a dramatic fall in unemployment. There is specific funding in terms of hundreds of millions of pounds of additional funding for rail developments and to innovative new world-leading developments in the Manchester area, such as the National Graphene Institute.

My Lords, in continuing this process of development in Greater Manchester, does the Minister not agree that it is the training and development of the people that are so important? In that regard, will he draw the attention of the leadership of Manchester to the report of my noble friend Lady Howarth on family learning, which was supported by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education? It highlights the effectiveness of family learning for developing skills in the workforce.

My Lords, one of the key things about the devolution of powers to Manchester is that it covers some of these areas. For example, services in terms of targeted employment support for vulnerable people have already been devolved to Manchester, and there are others. The “Working Well” pilot is also doing extremely well in that area and other plans on integrating health and social care have been devolved down to Manchester, so what the noble Earl is seeking is all part of that process.

My Lords, a key part of the Greater Manchester deal is public bus franchising, which is a good Labour Party policy. Can the Minister confirm that this has been a huge success in London, where it has led to a doubling in bus passenger numbers over the last 10 years? We confidently expect that it will do the same in Manchester, so will he confirm that the same offer will be available to other cities that request it of the Government?

My Lords, I can, certainly in terms of franchised bus services and for integrated smart ticketing across all modes of transport in Greater Manchester, which has been a success in London. The Government have made it clear that if other cities wish to follow the Manchester model, requests to do so will be sympathetically received.

My Lords, first, I declare an interest in that I am chair of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. While I welcome the deal that we have with the Government on devolution, can the Minister confirm that the mayoral offer in Manchester is not like the Mayor of London? It is a Manchester model built on working with the combined authority, which has been successful in the past.

My Lords, I can, and the key difference between the Manchester and London models is the very tight integration between this proposed new post and the local council, so that they will all work together to deliver policy that will result from the new mayor being put in place.