That was the question put to Andy Burnham this week as he articulated how he would counter the challenges presented in a new publication by the Resolution Foundation: New Order: devolution and the future of living standards in Greater Manchester.
The Leigh MP and confirmed Labour candidate for Greater Manchester mayor used the setting to lay out his vision for Greater Manchester: a vibrant region; a global city; a capital of new industry; and a pioneer of social justice. He would seek to reinvest in Greater Manchester’s social and council housing stock. He would promote the eradication of homelessness across the region’s ten boroughs. Returning to what appears will be a central component of his upcoming manifesto, he reiterated a commitment to investing in Greater Manchester’s youth. He listed his plans to introduce a UCAS-style points system for apprenticeships, to focus on digital education and to provide concessionary travel passes to all 16-18 year-olds.
Burnham was joined on the panel for the launch event by Julia Fawcett, CEO of The Lowry, Ruth Lupton, Head of the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit, University of Manchester and Stephen Clarke, Research and Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation and author of the paper. The panel was chaired by Torsten Bell, Director of the Resolution Foundation.
New Order is clear that whoever wins the mayoralty will have a daunting task ahead of them. While Greater Manchester experienced strong economic growth in relation to the rest of the county before the financial crash, it has failed to maintain this success in the years since. The report identifies three main themes that will demand the new mayor’s attention: Greater Manchester’s lack of economic productivity in relation to the rest of the UK; its growing housing crisis, demonstrated by the rising percentage of household incomes spent on housing costs and the significant regional inequalities in wage and employment levels across the city-region.
But as much as Burnham looked to the future, recent global events have not passed him by. Devolution was not conceived as the answer to the populist politics, he argued, but we might need to embrace it as such. It should be an opportunity to provide smaller scale, regional solutions to the grievances that led seven Greater Manchester boroughs to vote to leave the European Union. Burnham also made clear that leaving the EU could have its benefits: Greater Manchester businesses could be prioritised if they offer decent working conditions, for example, which the removal of the EU Procurement Directives would allow him to do, he claimed.
Burnham invoked some of the language of the so called anti-establishment, speaking of ‘them’ in London and ‘us’ in the North. As the former Home Secretary, some would argue he represents the ‘inside the M25’ MPs he decries. However, this has not proved to be an issue so far, and he easily won the Labour candidacy for mayor in the end. Cllr Sean Anstee, now confirmed as the Conservative candidate, has decent ‘local’ credentials and this could be a key campaign issue for him as the campaign goes into full swing in the new year.
So how does Labour’s candidate answer the title of this article and propose to translate the region’s lead on devolution and place-based economic policy into tangible consequences for its residents? The policy initiatives articulated in this article suggest this will supplant the political pragmatism of Sir Howard Bernstein and Sir Richard Leese with a more interventionist social policy; it is a political manifesto that will doubtless be fleshed out in the coming months. For now, however, recognition of this problem is progress in itself. There is a danger that public apathy toward devolution leads policy-makers and deal-breakers to view the benefits of devolution solely in terms of increased budgets and augmented powers: ultimately, devolution must be the means to provide more effective and higher quality care and services to residents. In this sense, Burnham’s commitment to help those Greater Manchester residents that have not felt the dividends of the region’s renaissance is encouraging.