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Greater Manchester: New Deal

Volume 762: debated on Monday 8 June 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the anticipated timescale of the new deal for Greater Manchester.

My Lords, the Greater Manchester devolution deal states that legislation will be passed to enable the first Greater Manchester city region mayor elections to take place in early 2017. The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, which was introduced into this House on 28 May, provides the necessary primary legislation framework to deliver the Greater Manchester deal and other future deals.

I congratulate Her Majesty’s Government on introducing the Bill. Is the Minister aware that one of the benefits of electioneering is that it gives Peers the opportunity to see the real world? I canvassed in Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, each of which is really vibrant and active economically. Against that background, can Her Majesty’s Government, and the Minister in particular, look at these counties and similar counties and ensure that they can benefit from initiatives similar to those powers that are being given to Greater Manchester?

I thank my noble friend for his kind words. Like him, I canvassed and campaigned up and down the country. It was good to see the real world of the north of England. I take his point about our counties and what they have to offer. Each county is different, and each group of counties will be different, and the Government are certainly open to listening to any suggestions that they bring forward.

My Lords, we support the Greater Manchester devolution deal. In a recent speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked about conversations of a serious nature for the devolution of powers and budgets for any city that wants an elected mayor. Are there any other conversations about serious devolution going on at the moment with those who do not want an elected mayor?

My Lords, there are certainly lots of conversations going on at the moment. There is no one common deal to suit everyone. The Government are very keen to hear from cities, counties and rural areas and any combination of the above.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that such deals should be subject to a local referendum to give legitimacy to the new structures which are being introduced?

The noble Lord will recall that, back in 2007, the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act provided for resolutions of councils, not referenda, when going to a mayoral model for single authorities. This replicates that provision so, no, I do not.

My Lords, in the real world of the north to which the Minister referred, and I add the Midlands and various other parts of the country, a decision was made by the previous Government to hold referendums in 10 cities—this is further to the two previous questions on a very similar theme—against the wishes of many of us who thought the referendums were a costly waste of time. The results were quite spectacularly clear: in nine of the 10 cities, the idea of a directly elected mayor was resoundingly defeated. With the Government so concerned and interested in referendums, democracy and consulting the people, can the Minister confirm what seems to me to be the Government’s position that they regard the results of those referendums as of no significance whatever?

The noble Lord is absolutely right on one measure: referenda were held for city mayors and in the main they were rejected. They were an entirely different proposition from what we have now, which involves real transfer of powers.

If the Government’s commitment to Greater Manchester and its constituent parts is to be meaningful, are they about to reverse the 40% budget cuts inflicted upon Manchester and the surrounding areas?

My Lords, Greater Manchester has come forward with a proposal that is fiscally neutral; the plan uses the money that government currently puts into certain services, and Greater Manchester plans to use that money more efficiently and to engender growth in the process. Greater Manchester has not asked for additional money.

My Lords, was the Minister’s answer to my noble friend Lord Kinnock that, yes, the 40% cut that is already in place will stay and that those who come in will have to manage within it?

My Lords, my answer to the noble Lord was that Greater Manchester has not asked for any additional public funding. This proposition between government and the combined authority has nothing to do with council budgets; it is an entirely different thing.

On the same theme, does the Minister recall that, in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, Manchester, along with many other local authorities, asked the Government to devolve to the local level the right to set licensing for alcohol? The Government gave an undertaking to do that. In 2014, they reversed their decision. Now that we have this change before us, when will Manchester get the right to take its own decisions locally on licensing amounts?

My Lords, in terms of the devolution deal, Manchester has not requested licensing as one of the devolved powers, but I can write to the noble Lord with further details on licensing locally.

My Lords, the Government have made it absolutely clear that these deals are fiscally neutral, and that has been understood by Greater Manchester.

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Grocott points out, the city of Manchester rejected the idea of an elected mayor and now has a non-elected mayor. While I am second to none in my admiration for Mr Tony Lloyd, democracy can hardly be said to have prevailed in and around that great city. How soon will it be before the city of Birmingham, which also rejected the idea of a directly elected mayor, has a non-elected mayor to cover the rest of Birmingham and the West Midlands? What guarantees will Her Majesty’s Government give that mayors, whether elected or non-elected, will be provided with adequate resources to meet the demands of the facilities that are being devolved from Her Majesty’s Government?

My Lords, the Birmingham city region has not yet reached an agreement with government on a mayor. I am sorry, but I have forgotten the second part of the noble Lord’s question.