Lest we forget austerity underpins English devolution plans. Will devolution mean further cuts to jobs and public services? Doesn’t devolution just pass down the risk to the local level? Trade Unions are right to be concerned not least by the lack of democratic engagement seen to date.
In areas of high social need and low economic means, George Osborne’s promise of local fiscal autonomy sounds more like a threat of more austerity. This is compounded by the lack of references to trade unions in devolution plans and our lack of involvement in plans. In contrast, there are frequent references to business and to Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs). Indeed, the Chair of the Liverpool City Region LEP even has voting rights on the combined authority.
Most people in the North West of England will not vote for or support austerity policies. So we must put pressure on, and influence, our Devo-level decision-makers and not allow them to sleep walk into the role of administering centrally-determined cuts. Rather our civic leaders need to be demanding more from central government. We simply cannot let them view insufficient funding as a fact of life not to be challenged.
Despite our concerns we cannot afford to turn our back on the combined authority or city-region level or the prospect of more important scale of governance and policy-making. It is essential that trade unions play a full role in the devolution process to defend the interests of millions of union members employed in public services. We must seize the opportunity offered by English devolution to promote a positive economic and social agenda.
Consultation mechanisms already exist at local and national levels and it is crucial that these are not circumvented through the devolution process. The need for city-region-level workforce engagement is most immediately apparent in Greater Manchester, where the integration of social care and health is part of the deal. Here the North West TUC has co-ordinated trade union input into a very good agreement to help us protect the interests of public service workers in Greater Manchester. We need to see more of this in other areas.
There is real scope for the new devolved decision-making process to deliver social good. Trade unions are ready to – and should- play our part in shaping the Devo landscape.