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Feb 24th, 2016

Manchester Local Group: Petition Hand-In to Mayor

By Sarah Murray

Pro-democracy campaigners meet with Greater Manchester Mayor Tony Lloyd to discuss ways of improving the devolution deal for the people of Greater Manchester.

Manc group

Pro-democracy campaigners present interim mayor Tony Lloyd with a petition asking for democratic engagement to become a priority in Devo Manc deals. From the left: Rashid Mhar, Joe Taylor, Tony Lloyd and David Fernadez-Arias. Photo: Allan Wort

The interim Mayor of Greater Manchester (GM) Tony Lloyd met with a delegation of pro democracy campaigners last Thursday. A petition was handed to Lloyd, signed by over 2,800 local people demanding significant improvements in local democratic engagement to be integrated into the Devo Manc devolution deal.

The online petition, hosted on the 38 Degrees site, was titled “Greater Manchester demands: make local democracy a top priority for real devolution”. The petition describes the devolution deal as being “shrouded in secrecy” and demands greater involvement for local people. It decries the fact that of the 17 strategic priorities for GM not a one concerns local democracy. The petition specifically calls for “a new Strategic Priority dedicated to implementing truly democratic mechanisms fit for the 21st Century, for local people to own and lead Greater Manchester’s devolution into the future.”

Since its inception the Devo Manc deal has been the subject of much criticism. Andrew Cooper, Green Party energy spokesperson, at a debate in Manchesterdescribed the whole process as being “autocratic” due to the limited number of people and the secrecy involved in the deal. For Cooper there was no sense in “transferring power from a remote centralised government to a remote centralised individual”.

David Fernandez-Arias, a member of the Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign for Democratic Devolution and 38 Degrees Manchester, was at the meeting with Lloyd pushing for reforms to the devolution deal.

Fernandez-Arias also gave evidence at the Communities and Local Government Select Committee evidence session into the Government Devolution Bill held at Manchester Town hall last October. The petition was running at the time and was mentioned in the evidence session along with the survey results concerning the people of Greater Manchester which showed that few people knew of, or understood the devolution deal.

At the evidence session Lloyd, Sue Derbyshire (Stockport Council), and Kieran Quinn (Tameside Council) admitted that the devolution deal was not perfect. They all used the word “evolution” to describe their plans for improving the devolution deal through further negotiations with central government.

The Select Committee findings were published recently, and first amongst them was “a very significant lack of public consultation and engagement at all stages of the devolution process”. The Chair of the Committee, Clive Betts MP, said that to achieve better devolution deals “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”.

The delegation meeting with Lloyd included members of 38 Degrees Manchester, Unlock Democracy, Assemblies for Democracy and Equality North West. After the meeting they said:

“Tony is the first to accept that real local democracy for 2.8 million citizens of Greater Manchester is about more than electing a mayor and needs to be structurally embedded as a primary priority for local decision-making and civic engagement.
For devolution to bring real benefits for people we must work together to maximise meaningful participation in designing and delivering social, environmental, economic and democratic progress… And we welcome Tony’s support for the upcoming People’s Plan public engagement initiative.”

The Peoples Plan is an ambitious project being promoted by the Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign for Democratic Devolution and other pro-democracy groups. It will bring together community groups, academics, business people, trade unionists, campaigners and members of the public to plan and propose a more suitable devolution deal to the one currently outlined in the Devo Manc deal. Or as Manchester’s old friend Abraham Lincoln might say a plan of the people, by the people and for the people of Greater Manchester.

After the meeting, as reported in Rochdale Online, Lloyd had this to say:

“Devolution is about making decisions here, not in Westminster… I know we can do more to ensure that people know what is happening in Greater Manchester and how it will deliver real benefits in their community.

“That’s why I wanted to meet Joe [Taylor] and his fellow campaigners today. I wanted to talk to them about the work we’re doing to engage with communities and get their take on our plan to improve the lives of people across Greater Manchester.”

Lloyd is currently the interim mayor of GM, appointed by the ten GM local council leaders, with limited executive powers. The interim GM mayor will be replaced by an elected mayor on the 4th of May 2017. Lloyd has declared that he will be standing for the position of GM mayor at this election.

Considering the public condemnation of the current devolution deal which has now been vindicated by the findings of the CLG Select Committee inquiry. Lloyd’s chances of being elected GM mayor can only be strengthened by taking on board the recommendations made by the pro-democracy campaigners, and acting upon them. He should take the opportunity to promote the evolution of the devolution deal for GM, in a democratic and accountable way, to utilise the knowledge, skills, power and passion of the people of Greater Manchester for the benefit of all.

Conrad Bower, 38 Degrees Member from Manchester

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