Next Saturday, 24th September, there's a one day conference on Devolution, hosted by the Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils and to be held at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester.
It's aimed at trade unions and community activists, although anyone can go, and aims to "assess, and to begin to develop, a united nationwide grassroots response to the roll out of 'devolution' in its current proposed form", while answering a whole range of questions like `Is it a great opportunity or...an elaborate con?... What's in it for ordinary people? What powers are actually being devolved?'
Other questions include...`How can we get our voices heard under the structures proposed? How can any of it work without the necessary financial resources? Would we not like something a whole lot better?'
The Conference will also be developing the beginnings of what it calls a 'people's plan' for `a genuine democratic devolution of power and resources'.
"Contributors to the debate are invited from the trades unions, local trades councils, CATUCs, community and environmental groups, democracy campaigners, academics and other interested parties" state the organisers.
Invited to take part are Grahame Morris MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government), Natalie Bennett (outgoing Leader, Green Party), Kevin Nelson (NW TUC), Andy Burnham (Labour's GM Mayoral candidate) and Richard Hatcher (W. Midlands Academic and Devolution 'expert'). How many of these will show up is anyone's guess.
Meanwhile there will also be workshops on Economic Policy, Social Policy – NHS and Housing, Environmental Policy, Democratic Accountability, Engagement and Public Consent and Towards a People's Plan.
Saturday September 24th 10:30am-5pm
Cross Street Unitarian Chapel
Cross Street, Manchester M2 1NL
Whilst the conference is free to attend organisations and individuals asked being asked to consider making a financial contribution towards the cost of staging the event (£50, £25, £10).
Further details see the Facebook event page - Conference on Devolution and Decentralisation in England - click here
To get you started, here is a quick Salford Star guide to devolution...
GREATER MANCHESTER DEVOLUTION –
WHAT IS IT? WHY IS IT? HOW DEMOCRATIC IS IT?
What Is Devolution?
Devolution, or Devo Manc, is officially the transfer of some powers from central government to the Greater Manchester region, in the form of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA). It was imposed in November 2014, following a behind-closed-doors deal with the Tory Government by the leaders of the ten Greater Manchester local authorities.
To make it `democratic', in May 2017 there's going to be an election for a new Greater Manchester Mayor, despite no-one asking for one and nobody really wanting one. However this Mayor, who will be able to appoint a paid `political advisor', is going to have power over loads of local services, from bus routes to further education, with a Cabinet made up of the elected leaders of GM local authorities to, kind of, keep him or her in check.
What Will Be Devolved?
Planning, Housing and Regeneration – including the power to create a `GM Spatial Framework' which will dictate where housing and businesses will be based; the power to create Mayoral Development Corporations, a Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy and Compulsory Purchase Powers.
Transport – including power over bus services, routes and fares; responsibility for an `Oyster Card' style smart ticketing system; making Transport for Greater Manchester (TFGM) into a joint committee of the Mayor and powers over trunk roads and highways.
Health – including power over health and social care related local authority functions and commissioning.
Skills and Training – more powers over education (over 19), skills and employment.
Blue Light Services - transfer of responsibilities currently exercised by the Police and Crime Commissioner and the GM Fire and Rescue Authority to the elected Mayor.
Governance - The GMCA states that new powers for the GM Mayor will not be taken from the ten GM local councils. However, for example, the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework will dictate what, for instance Salford City Council can do, planning wise - which green belt land can be built on, and where thousands of flats, houses and industrial/office units will be built. The Framework itself states that the character of many places across Greater Manchester could be `transformed'.
The whole devolution process has been bitterly contested, with sections of Greater Manchester's residents furious that there was no referendum on the issue before it was imposed.
At the time, Greater Manchester Association of Trades Councils (GMATUC) passed a motion stating that the devolution agreement "makes perfectly clear that this devolution will be contingent upon the wholesale privatisation of council run services across the ten local authority areas of Greater Manchester".
The motion added that "the so-called 'devolution' agreement is to be imposed... without any reference to the views of Greater Manchester voters, public debate, scrutiny, or consultation whatsoever. This is...the very opposite of democratic..."
The Campaign for Democratic Devolution even took out a road show visiting Greater Manchester local authority areas slating "the whole dodgy and completely undemocratic Devo Manc devolution deal", arguing that it was about the "promotion of corporate and private business interests, at the expense of the wider public..."
One of the questions it urged residents to ask their council leaders was: `Will you take urgent action to tackle GM councils' waiting list for housing with genuinely affordable homes...Or will you prioritise skyscrapers for international investors?'
The GMCA has, for instance, a £300million housing fund: but it can - and has - only be used to support private housing and apartments, not affordable or social housing.
Meanwhile, the House of Commons' Communities and Local Government Committee which held an open session in Manchester, also slated the democratic deficit evident in the devolution process...
"There has been a consistent very significant lack of public consultation, engagement and communication at all stages of the deal-making process" it stated in its subsequent report "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.
In response, the GMCA held a consultation on its new powers between March and May this year, slammed as a `figleaf' and `a farce' by Greater Manchester Green Parties. The consultation drew a massive 169 responses from the region's 1.9million residents. There's also been a further consultation during July and August, with the results not yet announced.
What Will It Cost?
A report for GMCA (Greater Manchester Combined Authorities) put the costs associated with devolution to Greater Manchester at a staggering £13.825million for just one year, 2015-16.