"This approach is dangerous and unacceptable - it is poisoning the reservoir of our collective goodwill and throttling our potential"
On Monday, the Communities and Local Government Parliamentary Select Committee held an evidence session at Manchester Town Hall concerning the controversial process of Greater Manchester devolution, or Devo Manc, which will affect everything from planning to the NHS.
While campaigners for a referendum on DevoManc slated the event before it took place, arguing that 2.8million Greater Manchester residents were only allocated an hour of evidence presentation (see previous Salford Star article click here), when they actually came face-to face with the Committee they absolutely slated the devolution process.
A report on the proceedings by Stephen Hall, President of Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils, recalls how the Select Committee heard the `frank views' from a range of citizens and civic society representatives...
"One after the other, they calmly and forcefully, pulled back the curtain of spin and rhetoric that has dominated any mention of Devo Manc in official circles up to now, to reveal the naked truth that the people of Greater Manchester have been kept in the dark and totally excluded from the back-room devo-deals struck by Council chiefs in GM and George Osborne" he states.
"The resounding message from the public contributions was that we can't just rely on the 'motherhood and apple pie' platitudes about the principles and ideas of devolution and future 'sunlit uplands'" he adds "The brutal facts are that the GM deals are woefully undemocratic and underfunded, leaving citizens deeply concerned and anxious to understand what the real world plans and consequences will actually be – for health and social care services and for housing, for example. When people were asked if they were `excited' about the GM devo-deals, it's fair to say that this was not met with the response perhaps they had hoped for!"
The Committee also heard evidence, for over an hour, from Tony Lloyd, Interim Mayor of Greater Manchester, Sue Derbyshire, Stockport Council leader, and Kieran Quinn, Tameside Council leader. They merely suggested webcasting meetings and involving local councillors to help with `public engagement'.
Next up were Karel Wiliams from the University of Manchester and David Fernandez-Arias of the GM Referendum Campaign and 38 Degrees Manchester, who were only scheduled to address the Committee for a total of twenty minutes.
Stephen Hall reports that "Karel clearly laid out some very serious flaws in the financial framework underpinning the devo-deals and raised the need to broaden the body of research and policy formation participants", while David quoted George Osborne's description of devolution as `a revolution in government', before adding: "And yet we've had no public awareness, no public consultation, no democratic engagement, no scrutiny, no impact assessment.
"Our basic democratic rights are being denied - treated as an irrelevance, or an afterthought, or an inconvenience, or an obstacle to their fast-tracked and imposed plans" he explained "This approach is dangerous and unacceptable - it is poisoning the reservoir of our collective goodwill and throttling our potential. We now need joint action to improve the health of our local democracy as a top priority, with proper protections and informed consent, for real democratic devolution fit for the 21st Century."
David then set out six stages of 'Pause, Engage, Explain, Listen, Make Changes and then Informed Consent via a referendum', as the best way to involve people... "If they feel disrespected, ignored, excluded and imposed upon, how can they possibly feel that they will want to contribute and get behind it all?" he asked.
In conclusion, David told the Committee that 2.8million Greater Manchester residents are being `herded, at speed, into a mass clinical field trial for mandatory live experimentation' – and that, if a doctor tried this approach in the real NHS world "they would, quite rightly, be stopped, struck-off and jailed!"
The Select Committee also heard that, over the weekend pro-democracy campaigners had gathered over 2,500 signatures in a new 38 Degrees Manchester online petition titled 'Greater Manchester demands: make local democracy a top priority for real devolution!' which is aimed at formally including a specific GM Strategic Priority to improve local democracy...
To sign the petition – click here
To follow the campaign for democracy in the Devo Manc deal see the group's Facebook page Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign – click here
Or Twitter @VoteOnDevoManc