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Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Functions and Amendment) Order 2016

Volume 777: debated on Wednesday 21 December 2016

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Order laid before the House on 21 November be approved.

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, the draft order which we are considering, if approved and made, will provide Greater Manchester with new, devolved powers on: planning, land acquisition and housing; transport; education and skills; and cultural events and entertainment. It also provides for constitutional and funding arrangements.

The Government have, of course, already made significant progress in delivering their manifesto commitment to implement the historic devolution deal with Greater Manchester. Since the first devolution deal with Greater Manchester was agreed in November 2014 we have passed the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, which provides new powers for the Secretary of State, by order, to devolve to a combined authority a Secretary of State function and confer on a combined authority any function of a public authority. The 2016 Act also enables there to be strengthened accountability and governance for combined authorities, through enhanced overview and scrutiny arrangements and through new powers to establish, by order, the position of elected mayor.

In March 2015 we legislated to enable Greater Manchester to appoint an interim mayor, who is helping to provide additional leadership capacity and prepare for the further devolution of powers. Noble Lords will recall that in March this year we passed legislation to establish the position of elected mayor for Greater Manchester. The mayor will be elected in May 2017 and will also take on the role of the police and crime commissioner, with the separate elected position of PCC being abolished.

In the order we are considering today, we are for the first time conferring significant new powers on Greater Manchester. Some of these new functions are to be undertaken by the mayor individually and others will be undertaken jointly by the members of the combined authority. This is the first time that we are using the powers Parliament gave us in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 to devolve Secretary of State and other public authority functions, and it will not be the last such order. More draft orders are already being developed to confer powers on Greater Manchester for planning, transport, policing and other issues. Implementation of the four devolution agreements made with Greater Manchester is truly under way.

For Greater Manchester, these agreements are a natural continuation of the devolution journey. Councils in Greater Manchester have been working closely together for decades, and through the combined authority established in 2011, Greater Manchester authorities have been working together formally on the interconnected issues of transport, economic development and regeneration. It was with Greater Manchester that the Government made the first devolution agreement in November 2014. The four deals now agreed between the Government and Greater Manchester mean that it will receive: a devolved transport budget and transport powers to help provide a more modern, better-connected network; new planning and housing powers, with a £300 million housing investment fund to provide up to 15,000 new homes over 10 years; new functions over skills and education, funding, incentives and support to get up to 50,000 people back into work; and an infrastructure fund of £30 million a year for 30 years.

Noble Lords will want to know that the statutory origin of the draft order before us today is in the governance review and scheme prepared by Greater Manchester in accordance with the requirement in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. Greater Manchester published this scheme in March this year and, as provided for by the 2009 Act, the combined authority consulted on proposals in the scheme.

The combined authority ran the consultation from March 2016 to May 2016, in conjunction with the 10 local authorities. The consultation was primarily conducted digitally, including promotion through social media. In addition, of course, respondents were able to provide responses on paper, and posters and consultation leaflets were available in prime locations across Greater Manchester. As statute also requires, the combined authority provided to the Secretary of State in June a summary of the responses to the consultation.

Before laying this draft order before Parliament, the Secretary of State has 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, and, in considering it appropriate to confer local authority powers on the combined authority and to 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. As required by the 2016 Act, we have, in parallel with this order, laid a report before Parliament which sets out the details of the public authority powers we are conferring on Greater Manchester through this order. Noble Lords may recall that the requirement for this report was one of the additions that this House made to the 2016 Act during its passage.

This draft order now gives effect to many of the proposals in Greater Manchester’s March scheme. If approved and made, it will place a duty on the mayor to prepare a Greater Manchester spatial development strategy, enabling an integrated approach to spatial planning in the same way as in London. Councils will continue to prepare local plans and will remain responsible for local planning decisions. It will confer land acquisition, disposal and housing powers, including a compulsory purchase power for the mayor—the same powers as those held by the Homes and Communities Agency and councils. No powers are being taken away from councils. These powers will enable Greater Manchester to take a strategic approach to driving development and regeneration and stimulating economic growth, support effective use of the £300 million devolved budget and deliver up to 15,000 new homes.

The order will build on Greater Manchester’s current transport function, recognising that efficient transport is fundamental to securing economic, social and environmental objectives. The order provides powers on road safety promotion, road improvement and maintenance and for the mayor to pay grants to bus operators ahead of bus franchising as envisaged in the Bus Services Bill. It will confer new powers to reshape and restructure skills provision and support Greater Manchester to support young people to participate in education and training and to tackle its most important labour market challenge, which is youth unemployment. It will promote cultural events and entertainment and provide for constitutional and funding arrangements.

In conclusion, the Government are making great progress in implementing devolution to Greater Manchester. The draft order we are considering today is a further significant milestone that will contribute to greater prosperity in Greater Manchester and will open the door to a more balanced economy and economic success across Greater Manchester, the northern powerhouse and the country. I commend this draft order to the House.

My Lords, the Minister is right to say that the Government are devolving significant new powers to Greater Manchester and perhaps to some other authorities as the process rolls forward. However, what they are not doing is accompanying the devolution of powers with anything like sufficient additional resources. The 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester will receive £30 million a year for 30 years for infrastructure projects. That is £900 million over 30 years. At the moment, these councils have suffered a loss of £1.7 billion a year in respect of their budgets. That is likely to rise to £2 billion a year across the Greater Manchester area by 2020. Far from meeting the needs of these authorities, £900 million over 30 years is really a flea bite in comparison with what those councils are having to contend with in terms of providing services.

There is also a question in my mind about the figures the Minister referred to in relation to the number of houses to be built. It is suggested that £30 million will build 15,000 houses. I just do not see how the arithmetic adds up. If the cost of building a new house is, say, £150,000, which is probably about right, you would get only 2,000 houses for the amount of money that the Government are apparently putting in. How is the figure of 15,000 justified?

In addition to these significant financial issues, one has to welcome the approach to health and social care. This is going to be something of a pilot project to bring together these two crucial areas of public service, particularly given the enormous pressures they are being subjected to through the National Health Service and local government. It is not yet clear how this will work out. One wishes Manchester well. If I were in an area which was going ahead with devolution—and, alas, I am not at the moment—I would be a bit cautious about rushing in to follow where Manchester is currently treading. I think it will be very difficult to bring together those two services at any level, particularly at that sort of level. I wish it success but, again, without adequate financing it is difficult to see how that can be sustained. A degree of caution needs to be exercised before other authorities plunge down that route.

There is also a question about the degree of public support for this. The Minister referred to the consultation exercise that has taken place, as did the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, whose report on the matter can be described only as dripping with scepticism about the nature of the process, because out of the huge number of people living in that area—1.9 million people, apparently—all of 169 individuals contributed to the consultation process. Rather more participated in the previous consultation, which took the form of a referendum about having an elected mayor for Manchester. I cannot remember the turnout but I remember the result, which was that 60% rejected that proposal, and I am sure the turnout was rather higher than is represented by 169 out of 1.9 million voters. That looks rather like Old Sarum’s last election in 1830 when I think there were 11 electors. I am not quite sure what the turnout was, but it is not a very impressive figure, and it is hardly better in terms of Greater Manchester.

When it comes to voting, I was caught today by a report in the Times. I wonder whether the Minister can help me about this, because apparently there are to be new requirements for people to prove their identity as they go to vote. This will apparently require photographic evidence of their identity, which could include producing a passport, a driving licence or a utility bill. Apparently this is to be piloted. I do not know where, but perhaps the Minister can tell us. This is a very serious matter. It assumes that people have one or more of these items. If you are a young person, you are unlikely to have a utility Bill and you may well not have a passport or a driving licence. How then are you to prove your ability to vote? There is apparently to be some sort of application that you can fill in, in addition to the electoral register, which may facilitate the outcome. Surely these changes are likely to lead to a reduction in the number of people voting.

I suspect that that is perhaps an underlying motive for those who have advocated this, and I think the finger then points at Sir Eric Pickles, who not surprisingly and not for the first time has entered into controversial areas such as this in a way that is likely to benefit the Conservative Party. All I can ask the Minister today about this is whether he can confirm that Greater Manchester’s election of a mayor will not include voting on the basis of the proposals to which I have referred and which are mentioned in the Times today. It would be extremely unsatisfactory if a somewhat questionable process anyway were to be affected by a change of that kind. I hope he can give an assurance at the very least that Greater Manchester will not be one of the pilot areas for this potentially controversial process, which I take it will at some point require parliamentary approval. I do not know whether the Minister is up to speed on this—I would not blame him if he is not—but if he is not, he will of course no doubt write to me and to other Members of the House.

My Lords, I welcome the order. It is a final step in the devolution of powers to an elected mayor and combined authority in Greater Manchester, and should fulfil its basic aim of providing those local leaders with the levers they need to boost economic growth, which is the Government’s intention. We should congratulate the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and all the leaders and councillors in Greater Manchester for the leadership that they have shown to the country as a whole.

One of the things that is particularly impressive about the order today is that if you look carefully at the checks and balances for the local authorities, the combined authority and the elected mayor, and how they relate to each other, those checks and balances seem appropriate. I think they will help give legitimacy to decisions so that neither the elected mayor nor the combined authority is overly exposed to a decision, and local authorities will still be able to maintain the necessary powers and influence that they want to maintain.

Of course devolution will work only where there is trust and public support. There is evidence that both are available in Greater Manchester, and for that reason it is particularly good to see in paragraph 9.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum that “No guidance is necessary” from the Government on the order. It is one of the few occasions that I can recall where central government has not felt it necessary to issue guidance. However, I have one caveat to that, which is about the guidance that was promised in the passing of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act a few months ago about openness and transparency in decision-making, by which I mean access to meetings for the public, the press and the media. Will the Government be very clear that all these will happen, as was promised at that stage?

Some of the context of the order and the areas that it covers—housing, planning, transport, education, training and culture—is new, while some is not. There used to be regional spatial strategies when we had regional development agencies; and of course the Bus Services Bill will give a range of transport powers to a combined authority that will exist in future. So not everything that is going to be devolved actually has to be part of this, but the powers have been extended. That is welcome, but an acid test of the success of devolution will lie in further education and skills training, and whether there is an increase in vocational training and a reduction in the number of those not in education, employment or training—NEETs. It is very important that this model produces success. There have been so many models for skills policy over recent years, and I hope that the combined authority will take very great care to ensure that this will improve skills outcomes.

I have two final points. In terms of the powers that are being conferred, there is no mention in the order of social care—yet, at the end of November, Greater Manchester asked for an extra £214 million to cover social care costs. The Financial Times reported that it had appealed to the Treasury for the extra money, saying that,

“the ‘financial pressures in social care pose a real threat’ to Manchester’s ability to deliver devolution because of the resulting strain on the city’s NHS budget”.

That was three weeks ago. Could the Minister update us on that situation, because there is no mention in the order of adult social care?

My final question is as follows. The Minister kindly responded to a Written Question I tabled on 9 November about which other combined authorities would have mayoral elections in May 2017. He replied that they would take place in Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, Tees Valley and the West Midlands. He indicated that there might well be others in addition. It is now 21 December, those elections are due to take place next May, and yet this order for Greater Manchester is the first. What timetable are the Government working to for all the other orders that will be coming to your Lordships’ House?

My Lords, the order before us today is one of a number of orders in respect of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and puts powers in place so that when we get the mayor elected next May, they can hit the ground running. The powers here include the power to prepare a spatial development strategy, which will of course enable the authority and the mayor to improve growth in the conurbation. As we have heard, the powers are similar to those already exercised by the Mayor of London and will be exercisable only by the mayor. Compulsory purchase powers will be exercised by the mayor with the agreement of the combined authority. I am supportive of the powers.

Greater Manchester is growing, with jobs being created, enabling the conurbation to increase in prosperity, so these powers are very welcome. The delivery of more housing and housing development is important, as is ensuring that we have transport that meets those growing housing needs and works well. I was pleased to hear about the additional powers in respect of bus franchising in advance of the buses Bill, and that again is very welcome.

However, perhaps the noble Lord could just comment on the court case involving Sheffield and the consultation there. There will be other devolution deals around the country, and it would be helpful to know what is being decided about the action by Derbyshire County Council. I agree with many of my noble friend Lord Beecham’s comments in respect of Greater Manchester. We obviously wish the authority very well next year in the elections, but equally it highlights how much money the authority has lost recently and going forward. The noble Lord mentioned the northern powerhouse, but we need to address the fact that billions of pounds are being taken away from Greater Manchester areas, and other areas as well. It is important to note that we risk ending up with a northern poorhouse rather than a northern powerhouse.

I also have a brief comment about the report in the Times today on voting that my noble friend Lord Beecham mentioned. It is only speculation in a newspaper, and it may not be true, but if it is true, I assume at some point next year we will have some legislation on what you need when you go and vote, such as passport, driving licence or utility bill. As my noble friend said, if you are 18, you may not have any of those three documents in your possession at all. We need to know a bit more about that. I accept that the Minister may not be able to tell us today, but we need to find out about it urgently.

It is disappointing that we get reports of these things in the media when I and other noble Lords have talked about the underregistration problem in this country. Millions of people should be on the register today but are not; the Government have done next to nothing on registration in recent years. That is a real shame. Whatever comes from the Government must be proportionate and not an overreaction. I would be interested to know how many court cases there have been for voter fraud in this country—I think there have been very few—and how many convictions; I think it is even fewer.

I remember that when I worked for the Labour Party, I brought a case against the Conservative Party in Slough. We won the case and the councillors concerned were all kicked out of office. That involved multiple applications to register to vote. I remember the official showing me the pictures of these houses. They were burnt-out shells, but dozens of people were registered as living there. In court, it was quickly shown what was going on; people were quite rightly kicked out of office and some went to prison. I would be interested to know how many people the Minister thinks such court cases involve, but we must work on registration; that is the most important thing. With that, I am content with the order.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate very much indeed and will seek to deal with the points that they raised. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, raised some points about funding which I will try to deal with. First, in relation to housing, he will appreciate that the £300 million fund for housing is to kick-start housing projects that would otherwise be difficult to fund. Much of the money will be recycled in so far as it is money for rent to buy, for example; that is part of the answer. The money within the order—the £30 million per year for 30 years—is of course not the sum total that is being spent on the northern powerhouse. For example, £500 million of investment has gone into infrastructure projects such as the M60, the A66 and the M62; money has been spent under the Weller review of skills; money is going in to schools’ strategy, and so on. Much is happening with the money referred to in the order. I echo the congratulation of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, of the local authorities concerned and those in Manchester who have been driving this forward with considerable enthusiasm. It is an object lesson in how these things can move forward successfully.

I turn to points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Beecham and Lord Kennedy, about electoral arrangements, electoral fraud and how we deal with it. Whether it is in Old Sarum, Slough or elsewhere, I do not think anyone would suggest that a single political party has the monopoly of right when it comes to fraud or benefiting from it. It happens across the piece and, where it does, even on a small scale, we want to deal with it. It is in that context that the report appears in today’s Times. I confirm that the electoral arrangements for Manchester and the other devolution deals that are going forward will take place in the traditional way, without innovative arrangements.

I turn to comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and thank him—and, indeed, the noble Lords, Lord Beecham and Lord Kennedy—for the general welcome he gave to the draft order. I can confirm that the arrangements that we put in place are subject to the openness that the noble Lord referred to: that is part and parcel of what we are seeking to do. We will honour those commitments. An order relating to overview, scrutiny and audit, which he did not mention but covers some of the same territory, is currently before the House and is to be debated early in the new year. He fairly raised a timetable for remaining deals that are going through. One exists in the department which I have seen, if I am not mistaken, so I will endeavour to circulate it to noble Lords so that they are party to the same information that I have somewhere.

The last major issue raised was about Sheffield by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. As I understand it, there has been a court judgment this morning that indicates that further consultation is necessary—a court case brought by Derbyshire. It has not stopped the deal going forward, but it means that it may be subject to delay. We will obviously want to study the judgment before coming to a considered conclusion—it happened only a couple of hours ago—but I will once again endeavour to ensure that noble Lords who participated in the debate are updated on it and will place a copy in the Library as well, if I can.

With that, I thank noble Lords, who have been very supportive of the draft order and commend the regulations.

Motion agreed.