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House of Lords Hansard
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Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Fire and Rescue Functions) Order 2017
21 March 2017
Volume 782

Motion to Consider

Moved by

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That the Grand Committee do consider the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Fire and Rescue Functions) Order 2017.

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My Lords, I shall speak also to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions to the Mayor) Order 2017. These orders give effect to the policing and fire elements of the devolution agreements between the Government and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

With the Committee’s permission, I will turn first to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions to the Mayor) Order 2017. The purpose of this order is to make detailed provision in relation to the transfer of responsibility for police and crime commissioner functions in Greater Manchester from the Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner to the directly elected mayor of Greater Manchester.

The transfer of these functions to the elected mayor will preserve the democratic accountability already established under the police and crime commissioner model. It will also join up oversight of a range of local services, including fire and rescue, opening up opportunities for broader collaboration. This is a chance to build on the strengths of the PCC model. The order requires that the elected mayor must personally exercise the core strategic functions of setting the police and crime plan, take decisions on chief constable appointments and set the policing component of the combined authority precept.

To provide additional leadership capacity, the order enables the elected mayor to appoint a deputy mayor for policing and crime, to whom certain police and crime commissioner responsibilities may be delegated. The order also requires that a new police and crime panel be set up. This panel will scrutinise the decisions of the mayor in respect of the exercise of their PCC functions in much the same way as the current panel does in relation to the police and crime commissioner. This order has been developed in consultation with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner, and the combined authority and its constituent councils have given their consent.

I will now turn to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Fire and Rescue Functions) Order 2017. The purpose of this order is to transfer the responsibility for oversight of fire and rescue functions from the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, with these functions to be exercised by the directly elected mayor. Transferring oversight of fire and rescue functions to the mayor will provide direct electoral accountability for the provision of this key public service. It should also facilitate closer working with other local partners, including the police. This is obviously consistent with our desire to encourage greater collaboration between the emergency services.

The order permits the mayor to delegate certain responsibilities to a fire committee, to be formed of members from the constituent councils of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The committee is intended to assist the mayor in carrying out their fire and rescue functions. At the same time, the order identifies a number of fire and rescue functions as strategic to the delivery of fire and rescue. These functions must be personally exercised by the mayor and shall not be delegated. These strategic functions include approving the local risk plan and fire and rescue declaration in accordance with the fire and rescue national framework, and approving contingency plans under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. The elected mayor will also remain personally responsible for decisions relating to the appointment of the chief fire officer. Scrutiny of the mayor’s exercise of fire and rescue functions will be undertaken in line with the arrangements for non-PCC functions.

The changes to be made by this order have been endorsed by the people of Greater Manchester in a public consultation conducted by the combined authority. The order was developed in close consultation with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and has been formally consented to by the combined authority and its constituent councils. I commend these orders to the Committee.

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First, I thank the Minister for her introduction to these orders. I agree with her that there has been wide consultation and that it is appropriate for this Committee to bear that in mind when reaching its decision in what I hope will be only a few minutes’ time. I should declare a residency qualification, in that I live in Greater Manchester and for 18 years I was an MP for one of the 27 constituencies. For eight years, I was a member of one of the 10 constituent borough councils—and, to complete the full set, I was a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government when the combined authority order was set up in 2011. I know that the city deal that flowed from that was widely welcomed across Greater Manchester, along with the steps that have been taken since to ensure that additional resources—funding what has traditionally been central government, Whitehall-directed services—will be put into the hands of the combined authority from the start of the new regime in May.

The progress made so far has been much envied and imitated around England, where a steady stream of visitors from other cities and for that matter rural and shire areas have been received by the combined authority, asking it how the model has been developed and how it can be copied. All that is positive and very much a direction of travel that my parliamentary colleagues and I believe is right, with more decision-making and discretion over the delivery of public services in a given area in the hands of those who live there and are elected from there.

I have a concern about the mayoral model, but that particular ship has left port. A loss in cross-authority representation and accountability flows from that, but these orders do something to combat or respond to that. Certainly, to replace the police and crime commissioner —somebody who, for all his qualities, was elected on a 14% turnout across Greater Manchester—with somebody elected to be mayor of the combined authority, and with a much more significant and wider role in the delivery of public services, is almost bound to increase the visibility and accountability of the person carrying out that role. I welcome that, as do the constituent authorities.

The police and crime panel, to which the Minister referred, is seen as a way of maintaining or improving the police service’s accountability. There is a way to go in that regard; it is to be hoped that a more visible mayor’s being in charge of the police service may lead to the panel having more visibility and capacity to keep control, or a proper oversight of that service. Nevertheless, it is a good thing to see that incorporated in the proposals.

As for the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority, there is no equivalent commissioner but rather control by representatives of the 10 local authorities, and there is no doubt that the new arrangements will give more visibility to the leadership of that service. In the longer term, bringing the police and fire services under common management must be a better way to provide a coherent and integrated service. Indeed, my one question to the Minister relates to that. Today, the Care Quality Commission has produced a report on independent ambulance services. The ambulance service in Greater Manchester is provided by an independent body based in Blackpool. Bearing in mind that these orders bring together two of the blue light services in Greater Manchester—and particularly in view of the critical nature of that report, but more generally in any case—have the Government looked at ways the blue light services in Greater Manchester could be brought together? Again, I remind the Minister that the combined authority in Greater Manchester will be taking over a significant amount of NHS commissioning for future years—a step that I very much favour.

With that sole question to the Minister—I dare say she is not equipped to answer it off the top of her head; perhaps she would like to write to us about bringing together the three blue light services—I am certainly happy to support these orders.

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My Lords, I declare my interest not merely as a member of the combined authority and leader of Wigan Council; I am in a position to answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, on ambulance services because I chair the Greater Manchester health partnership board. The orders are very interesting. I have yet to see in the manifestos of either of the two main mayoral candidates what their policies are on the docking of working dogs’ tails. That obviously is an important consideration.

I not only thank the Minister for introducing the orders, but welcome the fact that the Government have put them together. To add to the points she raised, it is not just about bringing together the blue light services, which is important. We need to see police and fire as part of general public service reform. Many of the issues the services face are related to the fact that people have problems across their lives. We need to get the police and fire services engaged in the work we are doing in Greater Manchester across a wider range of public services, not just in blue light services.

The answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, is that the arrangements are currently handled through Blackpool but they are coming back to Greater Manchester. We asked for ambulance service commissioning to come back to Greater Manchester because, as we are now a devolved health area, we need to do this rather than working through CCGs in Blackpool, for example.

There are actually two panels that look after the PCC in Greater Manchester: the scrutiny panel, made up of members of the authorities, and the combined authority itself. We will need to find a mechanism to continue that work, because it is important that the work of the police and crime commissioner, whether exercised by the mayor or anybody else, has consent across the whole of Greater Manchester on major issues.

It may be my ignorance, but the documentation does not make clear the deputy’s role. I would hope that the mayor would appoint a deputy. He or she will have a lot to do generally and we need to supervise what is going on in the police service. A day-to-day role in running the police service would be too much for anybody, and the same is true for the fire service. I hope we will set up the committee to run that, but we need to understand the role of the deputy and how answerable they will be to various public bodies.

As the Minister is probably aware, I regret that the PCC can implement the Greater Manchester precept without really consulting the 10 authorities. That needs to be changed. Unfortunately these orders do not do that; they roll it on. It is also not clear in the fire order whether the fire precept will need to go to the combined authority for approval, or the mayor will simply make a recommendation and we will not have any control over it. There has been a little dispute this year about how much the fire precept should go up by. With the representative of Trafford, I was on the losing side of that argument but we need to do that.

As the Minister said, we consulted on this across Greater Manchester. We welcome the changes. It will be an interesting challenge to have a mayor with the combined authority but I am sure we can all make it work to ensure proper devolution across Greater Manchester.

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My Lords, I am sure the mayoral system will be interesting—possibly in the Chinese sense—but if it is likely to work anywhere, it will undoubtedly be Manchester. I want to raise a couple of issues with the Minister.

First, of course the Government would like to see combined police and fire authorities. There are places where that might be suitable. But I take it that where there is a different view locally—as there would be in the north-east, for example, where we have different boundaries for the different services—there will not be any compulsion on authorities to go in that direction.

I am sorry to say that, having been spending my time on the next statutory instrument, I have forgotten what my second point was. Perhaps I will approach the Minister afterwards.

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My Lords, first, I make my usual declaration of interests as in the register; specifically that I am a local councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The two orders before us I have no issue with, and my comments will be correspondingly brief. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh, who is a member of the authority, are the experts here.

As we have heard, the orders transfer fire and rescue functions and police and crime commissioner functions to the mayor for Greater Manchester. I am pleased that we are having an election for this position on the first Thursday in May. These functions will then be transferred to this new elected person to be accountable for the delivery of these very important services to people living in the Greater Manchester area. At the same time, the office of police and crime commissioner and the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority will both be abolished.

I record my thanks to Tony Lloyd, who has been the PCC for Greater Manchester since 2012. Before that he was a Member of the other place for 29 years, for both Stretford and Manchester Central. In that time, he also served as the chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is an interesting job to hold down, and he managed to hold it for six years until he left this place to become the PCC.

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Escaped.

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Escaped, yes. Anyway, it is important to put that on record. For both policing and fire and rescue services, specific functions can be exercised only by the mayor, although they will be able to appoint a deputy mayor for policing and crime.

The issue I have with these devolution deals in general—not this one specifically—is that I sometimes feel they are a little unclear and you get a sort of patchwork. I accept the point that areas can work with what they think they can cope with. Certainly, in this area, the Greater Manchester mayor will have considerable powers, in many respects similar to those of the Mayor of London. They will also have powers in respect of the health service.

I am sure the three noble Lords present today fully understand all the functions the mayor will take over, but I am not convinced that every Member of your Lordships’ House is fully aware, or members of the general public living in Greater Manchester and other places. We need to have a much wider discussion about where we are going with local government and all these functions. It is time for the Government to consider producing a Green Paper to enable proper debate about these functions in England. I have approved a number of these orders in recent weeks in this Room and the Chamber. They are all different and sometimes you cannot work out why. We need a discussion about where we are going with local government. All these positions are important, and it is important to have democratic control. Let us not forget that the individuals involved will be spending huge sums of council tax payers’ and taxpayers’ money. We must be clear who is there, why they are doing it and how we engage with them. But that is a discussion for another time.

As I said, I support the orders and I certainly wish the new Manchester mayor—whoever it is, although I hope, of course, that the Labour candidate gets elected—the very best in their new role.

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My Lords, I have overcome my senior moment. I wanted to ask whether any consideration had been given to ambulance trusts, which are fairly unaccountable bodies but are, of course, part of the emergency services. Has there been any discussion with either trusts or local authorities about a different relationship—keeping that phrase fairly neutral—as regards the future of that service?

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I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I too must declare an interest as a former councillor and resident of Greater Manchester. I pay tribute to Tony Lloyd who has held the fort very well over the last couple of years in his role as interim mayor, and in all the roles he has held previously in government and local government. We have here three people who will be voting in the mayoral elections in May, so that is very good. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, mentioned turnout. I recall an experience I had in Greater Manchester of probably the worst turnout in history: the Benchill by-election back in November or December 2001, where turnout was 8%. That was a depressing low. Looking forward to the mayoral elections, I was quite sceptical about the Mayor of London, but that is not a position for which any political party is scraping round for candidates. It is very sought-after and has gained a profile over the years, and I fully expect that will happen in Greater Manchester and elsewhere. As it does, visibility will grow and accountability will become a lot more obvious.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith—I was going to call him my noble friend, but he is really—talked about blue light services being brought back down to GM. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked about ambulance trusts. It is within the gift of whichever combined authority to request collaboration in that regard, or that those matters be part of the devolved model. There are no limits to what the model may look at. That brings in the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy: that the different devolution deals are a bit of a patchwork. This is necessarily a patchwork because every area is different. For example, rural areas look very different from urban areas; they have different needs and different proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is smiling at me slightly but I said that on the then devolution Bill, and I firmly believe it. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that the Liberal Democrats grilled me on accountability and scrutiny during the passage of that Bill. We have very rigorous structures in place, certainly in Greater Manchester and, I hope, elsewhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked about the compulsion to combine police and fire authority areas, particularly where they are not contiguous. There is absolutely no compulsion to do that. If they are not contiguous, such a move would require structural change anyway.

I think I have answered all the questions, but if not I will certainly come back to noble Lords.

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I accept entirely that different areas have different needs and may want to tackle this issue in different ways. The point I was making is that the Government have not made it clear where we are going. That is not to say that different areas cannot tackle this issue in different ways; of course they can; they have different needs. However, the Government have never set out clearly in a document where they are going with this, which is why the situation is confusing. The West Midlands is a similar conurbation to others, with similar problems and similar areas, but the deal that was arrived at and the powers that were transferred are vastly different from those in other similar areas. Why? That information is missing. There is no difficulty with having different arrangements, but we need to know how the Government have arrived at the present position.

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As the noble Lord, Lord Smith, mentioned, we left it up to local areas to say what their version of public service reform looked like—what did public service efficiency look like going forward and what was their plan for growth? Therefore, that might look slightly different in different areas, which is why I explained it in the way I did. However, there will be similarities: transport is a huge issue in Greater Manchester and the solution to that will be huge in terms of growth, as it will be for other areas.

Motion agreed.