Statement from Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign 11th February 2015

GREATER MANCHESTER REFERENDUM CAMPAIGN STATEMENT

11th February 2015

The Core Cities Devolution Summit held in Glasgow on Monday promised us “a charter for local freedom” and a “21st century version of the Magna Carta” but delivered nothing resembling such a thing.

Instead, what we were presented with was Phillip Blond (architect of Cameron’s failed Big Society initiative) and RESPUBLICA’s (a right-wing think tank apparently supported by all three main parties in England, headed by Blond) “Restoring Britain’s City States: Devolution, Public Service Reform and Local Economic Growth” – the 28 page Executive Summary of which can be found at: http://www.respublica.org.uk/…/upl…/2015/02/Exec-Summary.pdf. (Can someone remind us when these British city states previously existed for us now wanting to restore them, or is Mr. Blond confusing Britain with Ancient Greece?)

It’s not entirely bad, as it includes, in parts, some good arguments for greater devolution of power downwards to the English regions, and indeed more generally. However, what this report is really about is not devolution as the Scots and Welsh or anyone else might understand it. What it is really about is the delegation by Westminster to more locally based, ‘trusted’ main party politicians, of the extensive ‘reform’ of our public services, including all existing local council provided ones, under conditions of a main party consensus of a continuing period of austerity. However, rather than being honest about that, it is all dressed up and presented as a wonderful example of modern day devolution, and as being additionally indispensable to Britain’s future ‘economic growth’ and reducing its ‘public service dependency’.

Such that the word devolution is mentioned, it is done primarily in terms of a ‘delegation of power’ to Britain’s ‘core cities’ outside of London (including Glasgow and Cardiff) rather than any kind of proper regional (North West, South West, Midlands, North East, etc) devolution with regional assemblies or whatever. Instead of that, former metropolitan counties like Greater Manchester are re-classified as new ‘city regions’, which the report states, there is a “long-standing demand”, and a “cross party consensus about the need for”.

Where Blond gets that idea from of course, is not from the grassroots membership of any of the main political parties, or indeed the wider public who they all claim to ultimately serve, but from full-time professional party politicians like Lord Peter Smith and Sir Richard Leese and Greater Manchester’s 8 other Council leaders, who under the ‘Devo Manc’ deal (along with a new Mayor) want to be the ones who ultimately make all the main strategic decisions about all public service provision in Greater Manchester. They don’t really care what happens anywhere else, including in other parts of the North West region, such as Lancashire and Cheshire, a region which presumably, the new Greater Manchester City region will no longer be a part of?

Such that there is any connection at all with the Magna Carta, can only be in what is proposed doesn’t involve the general public, or the democratic rights, and freedoms of the mass of the population (like the Magna Carta also didn’t), but is about Britain’s modern day Metropolitan Barony (mostly Labour Council leaders and party big wigs) led in Greater Manchester’s case, by the real life Baron, Lord Smith of Leigh, wanting a better deal from the Crown (in the shape of the Government) to give them more power, and greater freedom and rights to administer and run their own local Manors, and their collective Greater Manchester Fiefdom as the closest thing to a separate state.

In relation to public service reform, which really is central to the Core Cities/Respublica devolution proposals. It’s got absolutely nothing at all to do with providing public services that meet the needs of the people living in Greater Manchester or anywhere else. It’s about the better management of declining central Government funding, even though for example, Greater Manchester tax revenues exceed current Government spending in the area.

Indeed, as the Respublica report itself argues, devolution of the kind they are proposing “is now an economic, social and moral necessity” and “has two aspects”. The first of these, “is because the central state’s cuts to direct support under the seeming imperative of austerity are happening at such a scale and pace that local government in its current form simply cannot survive”.

It further goes on “by achieving the whole-system integration of devolved (current Government departmental spending) silos, which are where the real savings are to be found………the potential magnitude of these gains is so high” that “Ernst & Young has estimated that place-based integration of public services would save the taxpayer £9.4 to £20.6 billion.”

The second aspect (which is simply an assertion by Respublica and little better than wishful economic optimism, but doesn’t half sound good) is that the prospects of economic growth will somehow miraculously increase “by several orders of magnitude” simply as a result of full Core City devolution being implemented and ‘setting our cities free to grow’. Indeed, according to “independent forecasters” they say “the eight English Core Cities alone, could generate an extra £222billion and 1.16 million jobs for the country by 2030.

Fairy Tales and the saying “what a load of bollocks” spring to mind.

Further, this huge projected growth, combined with “public service reform” by which is meant the full scale re-organisation, rationalisation, axing, and privatisation of all our existing local council services (and of course any new ‘devolved’ ones) will somehow, again miraculously, “increase resident tax revenues” and (wait for it) “drive down the human and economic cost of public service dependency”. (Well there’s a euphemism!)

The reference to tax revenues is worth noting, for along with Respublica’s vision of dynamic city region economic ‘powerhouses’, along the lines of the above, it is also proposed that these new regional Government ‘entities’ be granted any number of tax and other revenue raising powers, such as traffic taxes (i.e. congestion charge by another name), hotel bed tax, and even a local income tax.

Blond and Respublica’s constant stress on the urgency of devolved powers being granted as soon as possible, and as much power as possible to the “Core Cities” is another feature of the report, which in the case of Devo Manc, has meant the people of Greater Manchester being effectively bounced into something the consequences of which most people have absolutely no idea of, and they’ve also had no say whatsoever in either, but which is extolled in the Respublica report as some kind of model.

One thing is for sure, despite Respublica’s fine words concerning “we aim to combat the concentration of wealth and power by distributing ownership and agency to all, and by re-instilling culture and virtue across our economy and society” and their alleged belief “that power should be devolved to the lowest appropriate level” and that “Public services and neighbourhoods should be governed and shaped from the ‘bottom up’, by families and the communities, the Core Cities approach to devolution, is close to wholly top down and in reality will devolve little or no real power to local communities at all, and allow non-directly elected ‘regional’ politicians to shape our public services and neighbourhoods. It is, in fact, just a new local Government arrangement for the imposition of austerity and the privatisation and/or dismantling of most, if not all, our hard won public services.

Worse still, Respublica and no doubt the Core Cities group (who elected any of them and what popular mandate do they have?) are now lobbying all the main political parties to make a clear and ‘radical’ commitment to Core City devolution in their respective election manifestos and to deliver it within the first 100 days of the next Parliament. If that idea is taken up by the main parties (which Blond says there is a consensus on already) then what we are potentially faced with is a new local Government arrangement and the biggest change in how many of us are governed since 1974, being foisted on millions of people throughout the country with less than 200 days to scrutinise, and publicly debate these proposals, before they could become law, and the consequences of which could affect all of us for decades to come.

We say: No to dodgy democracy and dodgy deals! Yes to real democracy and a real deal.

As our online petition for a referendum on ‘Devo Manc’ states:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/people-must-have-right-to-vote-on-devo-manc

“Ordinary people must surely have the basic democratic right to be consulted, scrutinise, and have a say in ANY changes, welcome or otherwise, to the way they are governed, including on any regional ‘devolution’ proposal affecting them. This would include whether they actually want it or not, and if they do, such things as what region they might be part of, and what any “devolved” decision making powers and financial settlement might go with it.”

None of what the Core Cities group and Phillip Blond and Respublica are proposing provides for any of this, indeed for much public involvement at all, but if tagged to either Labour or the Tories election manifesto, could be claimed as part of their alleged electoral ‘mandate’ and with that lies a huge potential danger.

As a campaign we would perhaps do well to link up with residents in all the relevant cities/proposed cities regions who are concerned about these proposals, to find out whether, what is being proposed in Respublica’s report, and the Core Cities group resembles anything close to what they in fact want, and whether like us in Greater Manchester, they too should have the right to a separate referendum on any such proposals before they are implemented.

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