Last week, the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee, which visited Manchester last October (see here), slated the democratic deficit evident in the Greater Manchester devolution process...
"We have been struck by the lack of discussion and consultation with the public in areas which have proposed, negotiated and agreed devolution deals" the Select Committee stated "For devolution to take root and fulfil its aims, it needs to involve and engage the people it is designed to benefit. There has been a consistent very significant lack of public consultation, engagement and communication at all stages of the deal-making process.
"The Government drove the first wave of devolution deals through at a rapid pace which meant there was no opportunity for engagement with residents, or for residents to have their say on the principle of devolution or the framework of the specific deal proposed in their area" it explained, adding "Despite this, we believe that local leaders could have communicated more effectively and extensively with their residents about the deal process, the contents of the deal and how it would affect them."
The criticism of the Government and the ten Greater Manchester councils which signed the DevoManc deal continued...
"We found that the negotiation process in particular had attracted strong criticism and accusations that deals are being made in secret - the CfPS [Centre for Public Scrutiny] said the detail is being `thrashed out in private between a handful of privileged individuals' - which has implications for openness and transparency. A member of the audience in Greater Manchester told us that she saw devolution as `one group of people in central London passing power to another group of elite people locally'...
"The Committee finds that there has been a failure to set out clear, measurable objectives for devolution, rushed timetables for negotiation, and a lack of openness about deal negotiations" it concluded.
Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said: "As a Committee, we strongly support the principle of devolution and welcome its prominent place on the Government's agenda. We believe that the current arrangements should only be a first step towards a much bigger devolution settlement and that devolution should be the default across all Government departments."
However, he added: "If we are to achieve this, local leaders and the Government must make far greater efforts to communicate with and engage the public so they embrace devolution as a positive development too. People rightly want to be involved in discussions and negotiations affecting their communities and local leaders and Government need to up their game to make the devolution process as transparent and engaging as possible."
Lo and behold, just before this report came out last week, Tony Lloyd, the Interim GM Mayor, held a live Twitter Q&A session, which few people knew about. So he's doing another one today, between noon and 1:30pm – ninety minutes of 140 character answers! Hardly a gruelling interrogation...
He will be answering questions from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Twitter account - @GreaterMCR - and the public can send in questions at any point until the event concludes at 1.30pm by including #AskGMMayor in tweets. Apparently he'll be answering them from 4pm.
"Since becoming Mayor, I have spoken with people at events across Greater Manchester to hear their views on the work we are doing to improve the lives of everyone in GM" says Lloyd "I am delighted to have the opportunity to widen this conversation to include the many thousands of residents who are on Twitter."
And for those who haven't got Twitter or are not online, tough. Meanwhile, the devolution process roles on, with most people none the wiser about the effects for local democracy for places like Salford...
While Lloyd is the unelected `Interim GM Mayor', elections for a real GM Mayor, no matter how many people don't want one, will take place on 4th May 2017, with subsequent elections every four years after that.
The Greater Manchester Mayor will have powers over everything, including...
•control of a £300 million Housing Investment Fund
•powers over `strategic planning', including the power to create a `statutory spatial framework' for Greater Manchester. This will need to be approved by a unanimous vote of the Mayor's Cabinet but will basically be dictating to Salford Council how many houses and businesses it can have and on which land they will go.
•responsibility for a devolved transport budget.
•The GM Mayor will also take on the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner.
Meanwhile, under the GM Mayor's `leadership', the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) will have the following powers:
•responsibility for securing integrated business support services, including through the Growth Accelerator, Manufacturing Advice Service and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) Export Advice
•control of the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers in Greater Manchester and power to re-shape and re-structure the further education provision within Greater Manchester
•control of an expanded Working Well pilot, with central government funding linked to good performance up to a fixed DEL limit in return for risk sharing
•opportunity to be a joint commissioner with Department for Work and Pensions for the next phase of the Work Programme
•the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Greater Manchester Clinical Commissioning Groups will be invited to develop a business plan for the integration of health and social care across Greater Manchester, based on control of existing health and social care budgets
There's also talk of the GMCA taking over some Children's Services, having powers over taxation and a lot more – except this is all being thrashed out largely behind closed doors at the moment with Salford councillors, Mayor and assistant mayors and deputies totally complicit...
What was it that the CfPS told the Commons Select Committee? `The detail is being `thrashed out in private between a handful of privileged individuals'...
Tony Lloyd Twitter Q&A – today 8th February 12noon-1:30pm on the @GreaterMCR accounts using #AskGMMayor
* Read the full Commons Select Committee Report - click here