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Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2017

Volume 782: debated on Monday 24 April 2017

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, the draft order that we are considering today, if approved and made, will provide further new powers for Greater Manchester, as agreed in the devolution deals, to support its programme of public sector reform.

The Government have of course already made good progress in delivering their manifesto commitment to implement the historic devolution deal with Greater Manchester. Since agreeing the first deal with Greater Manchester in November 2014, we have passed the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, followed by a considerable amount of secondary legislation in relation to Greater Manchester. In March 2016, we passed legislation to establish the position of an elected mayor, who will also take over the role of the Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner. The first mayor will be elected on 4 May this year and will hold a three-year term of office.

In December 2016, we passed legislation giving Greater Manchester new powers on housing, planning, transport, education and skills, some of which are to be undertaken by the mayor individually and others by the members of the combined authority collectively. On 24 March, following parliamentary approval, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service made two orders which transfer the functions of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority to the mayor on 8 May and the fire and rescue assets and liabilities to the combined authority, as well as abolishing the fire and rescue authority. They also set out the detailed operation of the police and crime commissioner function when it transfers to the mayor on 8 May, and they transfer the assets and liabilities of the police and crime commissioner to the combined authority.

The draft order we are considering today provides a further significant step for Greater Manchester. It gives effect to many of the further proposals for devolution on which Greater Manchester has consulted. If approved and made, it will enable the mayor to designate areas as mayoral development areas, subject to agreement from combined authority members, and require the mayor to prepare local transport policies and plans, subject to agreement from seven of the 10 combined authority members—this is a function currently undertaken by the combined authority collectively. It will enable the mayor to pay grants to local authorities, which is designed to support the mayor’s decisions around the use of the consolidated transport budget, and require the mayor’s vote to be carried in any decision relating to use of the “earn back” infrastructure fund. It will transfer the functions, assets and liabilities of the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority to the combined authority and abolish the waste disposal authority on 1 April 2018. It will also provide the combined authority with the same powers to share information as the constituent authorities have in relation to crime and disorder, education and skills, and environmental issues.

The order also provides for funding and constitutional arrangements to support these functions. It requires committee membership to reflect the political balance of the constituent councils, rather than the combined authority itself; that is, as a whole, as it is the constituent councils that make up the combined authority. It requires a chair of any overview and scrutiny committee to be a local councillor who is not a member of the same political party as the mayor. It also enables a single panel to make recommendations on the remuneration levels of the mayor and other combined authority members.

The statutory origin of this draft order is in the governance reviews and schemes prepared by Greater Manchester, in accordance with the requirements in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. Greater Manchester published two schemes, in March and July last year, which included proposals on the powers in this order. As provided for by the 2009 Act, Greater Manchester consulted on the proposals in these schemes. The first consultation ran from March to May and the second ran throughout July and August. The combined authority led the consultations in conjunction with the 10 local authorities. The consultations were primarily conducted digitally, with an online questionnaire and promotion through social media. Posters and consultation leaflets were available in prime locations across Greater Manchester, and respondents were able to respond in writing.

As statute requires, the combined authority provided to the Secretary of State summaries of the responses to each of the consultations. Before laying this draft order before Parliament, the Secretary of State considered the statutory requirements in the 2009 Act. The Secretary of State considers that conferring these functions on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority would be likely to lead to an improvement in the exercise of the statutory functions. In considering it appropriate to confer local authority powers on the combined authority and make constitutional changes, the Secretary of State has had regard to the impact on local government and communities, as he is required to do. Also as required by statute, the 10 constituent councils and the combined authority have consented to the making of this order. In parallel with this order, we have laid a report before Parliament which sets out the details of the public authority powers we are conferring on Greater Manchester through this order, as required by the 2009 Act.

In conclusion, implementation of the devolution agreements made with Greater Manchester is truly under way. The councils in Greater Manchester have been working closely together for decades, and formally as a combined authority since 2011. The draft order we are considering today is a further significant milestone for Greater Manchester. We will continue to work and devolve more powers to Greater Manchester, contributing to greater prosperity and a more balanced economy, and to economic success across Greater Manchester, the northern powerhouse and the country. I commend this draft order to the House.

My Lords, I thought the Minister might have made a glancing reference to the present editor of the Evening Standard for his contribution in a previous life—well, not quite previous life, but shortly to be so—as the author of what is described as the northern powerhouse. Some of us, however, might regard it as something of a northern poorhouse in large parts of the area where there are very significant social problems.

The noble Lord referred to the consultation process, and it is certainly true that there was a process. I am not sure whether he is delighted with the response because, out of the 2.16 million people resident in the area, a grand total of 511 responded to the consultation—that is to say that there were 511 responses, although that does not necessarily mean 511 different people, since some of them may have replied to more than one of the propositions. It is not a matter that has apparently elicited any great enthusiasm in the area, although that does not necessarily disqualify the substance of the regulations from approval.

I would welcome comment on a specific issue. Paragraph 2.6 of the report that accompanies the order states that the Act will be amended to,

“provide that the Secretary of State may by order make provision for any function of a mayoral combined authority to be a function exercisable only by the Mayor and such an order may confer ancillary powers on the Mayor for the purposes of the exercise of general functions”.

On the face of it, that appears to give the Government the right to prescribe extra powers to the mayor without the agreement of the combined authority. Will the Minister say whether that is the case or, if not, assure the House and indeed the local authorities that that power is not to be exercised by the mayor without the consent of the combined authority?

My Lords, I have raised this question before, but I do so again in the hope that this time the Government will listen. If one investigates these orders, in every case local authorities are being given powers that devolve to them choices and decisions that are more suitable for people living in the area. However, the other characteristic is that they enable local authorities to think in a much more holistic way to bring together housing, transport and planning. Yet as far as I can see the Government themselves are not learning their own lesson about how they do things in the centre. We still do things in the centre in precisely the siloed way that we are trying to avoid when it comes to devolution. We are about to have a general election, and this is an ideal moment for the Conservative Party, as represented by the Minister, to say that in future it will reorganise government so that government thinks in a non-siloed way.

I was rather unhappy with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, which were a little curmudgeonly. After all, many of us have been looking for devolution for a long time. We thought that that was the essential way to reconnect politics with people; what they see in their locality matters a great deal. However, when we started to think about it we recognised that there was not much point in doing that if we merely replicated the siloed system at the centre. If in this most recent essay in better democracy we come to the conclusion that holistic thinking is the answer, should we not learn that lesson ourselves at the centre?

I hope that my noble friend will be able to say that he will take from this House the message to those concerned with the production of election manifestos—I hope the party opposite will do the same—that we all ought to be concerned with holistic government. If we have started to think in that way in relation to local authorities, we should do it at the centre was well.

Does the noble Lord agree that restoring the regional offices of local government, which the previous Conservative Government instituted, would be a helpful way of achieving the objectives to which he referred and with which I concur?

I do not really want to politicise what is, I think, a generally accepted view about one successful and agreed part of the devolution proposals that we have at the moment. Let us keep to where we can be united and seek to get this Government and this Opposition in their various forms at least to agree on this simple concept. Let us have holistic government and not divided government.

We on this side support much of what is in the order. The extension of powers and functions to the mayoral authority in Manchester is to be applauded, especially as it moves some way towards those that are enjoyed in London. However, even in London, the decisions made by the mayor can be called to account by an elected body, the London Assembly. Manchester will have the leaders of the constituent councils, and a scrutiny committee will be formed from those constituent councils—that is all. No specific body will be elected for the purpose of calling the mayor and his decisions to account, but the more powers that are given to the mayoral function the more important that calling to account becomes.

The Minister has listed the significant powers that the mayor of Manchester is to have. They include policing, fire, strategic planning, transport and housing, and waste disposal is now added to that list. The only way in which the constituent members of the combined authority can call the mayor to account on the decisions and choices that he makes is via either the council leaders or a small scrutiny committee. I for one think that is inadequate, and I envisage a point further down the line when the mayor will make a controversial decision and local residents will ask themselves, “How did this happen? Who made the decision and why were we not involved?”.

That is the danger, which I would urge the Minister to consider and rectify at some point in the future, particularly as money is now involved. This has already been pointed out, but I will quote from Part 5 of the order, which relates to funding. It states that,

“the constituent councils must meet the costs of the expenditure reasonably”—

whatever that means—

“incurred by the Mayor in, or in connection with, the exercise of the functions specified”.

That, it goes on to describe, is regardless of whether the constituent councils agree, because there only has to be a majority decision among the leaders of those councils, which means of course that local taxpayers in one of the constituent councils could be asked to contribute to a scheme with which their leader does not agree. I find that quite disturbing. There ought to be a mechanism for reaching difficult decisions that enables all local councils to agree to them. That in my view means the kind of set-up that we have in London with the London Assembly.

Obviously there is much in the order about devolution that I agree with and that is right, because we will have a body with a strategic vision for the conurbation of Manchester. What is not acceptable in my view is the lack of democracy that attaches to that, and the dangers of investing all those powers in one person. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to these concerns.

My Lords, I shall start with my usual declaration and refer the House to my interests in the register. I declare that I am an elected councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority order before us brings into force what I hope is the final part of the agreement. I feel that we always seem to be discussing the Greater Manchester Combined Authority in various forms and I hope that this is the last time we will need to consider it before the election itself.

I have no particular issue to raise on the order. My noble friend Lord Beecham raised an important point on consultation. We have now had a number of these orders and I think that it is fair to say that, for each one, the consultation responses, while I will not say they have been derisory, have not been overwhelming coming through the door. At some point the Government might need to look at how we are consulting people. These are quite big changes that are taking place and, if no one is engaging with the discussion on that, it will be something we shall all regret.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, made some important points on the devolution of power. I support the devolution of power. If the noble Lord and I were agreeing the manifestos of our respective parties we would be absolutely fine and we would probably agree. But I have no role at all in the Labour manifesto this time, so we will have to see what comes up. The noble Lord and I would probably agree on many things.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, made some important points on scrutiny. Effective scrutiny is important. I have an example of effective scrutiny. Many Members may know that I support Millwall Football Club and have done since I was a very young lad. It is fair to say that my council got into some difficulties earlier this year over the development there—but, thanks to some very effective scrutiny undertaken by the town hall and the scrutiny committee, we were able to get behind that and show that the proposal was not right. It has now been abandoned. So that was effective scrutiny. When the mayor makes decisions, it is important that there is a mechanism for scrutiny. The noble Baroness was right to make those points.

In conclusion, I pay tribute to Tony Lloyd, who is the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester. He served as a Member of Parliament for just short of 30 years, for two Manchester seats. He was elected in 1983 and stood down from Parliament in October 2012. He served his city with great distinction as a Minister. He was also chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party for six years. It is no mean feat to last six years in that job. He went on to be the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester and has been there since November 2012. We owe him a debt of gratitude for all the work that he has done for Manchester and Greater Manchester. With that, I am very happy to agree to the order.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate on this order on Greater Manchester. I will pick up first on the fulsome tribute paid by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, to George Osborne—equalled only by the fulsome tribute made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to Tony Lloyd. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, it is absolutely right that George Osborne has been very firmly behind these proposals, particularly in relation to the northern powerhouse.

On the points the noble Lord made in relation to consultation, I appreciate the need for consultation and strongly support it. However, he will be aware that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which looked at this draft order, was content that every effort had been made in relation to consultation. I agree that it is a shame that more people did not respond: nevertheless, it is important to put that in context. Those who did respond, responded favourably in every single area that the consultation looked at, as the noble Lord is very generously indicating.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is right about paragraph 2.6 of the report accompanying the order. It is not anticipated that we will use this power to upset the balance of power within the authority. Perhaps I could write him more fully on that point.

On a general point made by many noble Lords on overview and scrutiny—the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, stressed the importance of this—it is important to note that, in fairness to the authority here, all the deals are bespoke: each one is somewhat different. Greater Manchester has gone further on independence of members by ensuring that a member represents the constituent authority. The chair of any overview and scrutiny committee has to be of a party different from that of the mayor. That does not necessarily apply to the audit committee. That must have an independent member, but they need not necessarily be the chair. I applaud the authority for pushing for that—and the Government were of course very keen to accept it.

My noble friend Lord Deben spoke graphically and eloquently of the silo system of government. I have much sympathy with him on that point and will take it forward. He may have other avenues open to him—perhaps even further up the food chain than me—where he can perhaps convey that message to ensure that it is taken on board. It is a message that is heard loud and clear.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for her general welcome for the draft order and the programme of devolution. I agree with her on the need for balance between the different parts of the devolution deal; that is, the councils represented by individuals on the combined authority, and the mayor. On expenditure, while I appreciate that the phrase “reasonably incurred” perhaps lacks a certain substance, the courts are familiar with dealing with it. However, I take the general point that the noble Baroness makes; it is a very fair one. I also take her point about the need to take everybody with you in so far as you can. I am sure that any mayor of Greater Manchester, whatever their party or whether or not they are independent, will want to ensure that that is the case, so that it is not simply a question of counting heads for majority rule.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, once again for his constructive approach, as always, on this issue and for the vignette on Millwall. No debate is complete without a vignette from the noble Lord’s borough, and I am very pleased to hear the news on that in any event. I agree with him on the importance of scrutiny and look forward, as he does, to the elections and to taking this important step forward in the way that we govern our country. With that, I commend the draft order to the House.

I have a final question for the Minister; it is not a problem if he writes to me on it. Police and crime commissioners are limited to two terms. I assume that the mayor is not term-limited. Perhaps he could look at that and write to me, because it would obviously be a slightly different case when it came to looking at mayors of combined authorities, police functions and police and crime commissioners.

Motion agreed.