Power to the People; Manchester Devolution

George Osborne was in Manchester yesterday setting out further powers for the city around housing, transport, planning and policing in the Chancellor’s first post-election speech. This follows on from the announcement in February, where it was confirmed that local authority members of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) and Greater Manchester Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) supported by NHS England would receive control of existing health and care resources – totalling around £6bn in 2015/16.

It’s the next step down the line in Mr Osborne’s dream of a Northern Powerhouse with further decentralisation and devolvement of powers to the region. Announcing the new powers, George Osborne said, “It is time for you to take control of your own affairs” and this ideology is something the Conservative party, in particular, have been keen on pursuing. William Hague called it a, “fundamental issue of fairness” in a statement he made on the Command Paper outlining the implications of devolution for England late last year and has repeated his desire to “continue the momentum” on decentralising power to local authorities in England. It is also something which is expected to form the basis of a new model of city government, something Osborne has said would be central to the new Government’s first Queen’s Speech.

And it’s not just Manchester that stands to benefit from further control over policies. Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Liverpool are all in the line-up for a power boost thanks to a cross-party consensus on further devolution throughout England. Not a new idea, English devolution took place in the Government of John Major who created a set of ten Government Office Regions, then expanded in 1998 under the Government of Tony Blair through English Regional Development Agencies. In contrast to former attempts, is a true change of direction in the air?

With the success of the SNP last week at the polls, nationalism is seemingly in vogue and with further devolution in Scotland planned, the inevitable question of English votes for English laws will surely surface. George Osborne’s “revolution in the way we govern England” is seemingly so far centred on Manchester in what is being billed as the “Northern Powerhouse”, but how long will it be before others are demanding the same powers and how far will it go?

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