In this open letter, Steady State Manchester’s Mark Burton invites Tony Lloyd, the newly appointed interim Mayor of Greater Manchester to take steps to redress the democratic deficit in the devolution deal and to focus on supporting the local economy, including the mundane everyday economy and the social economy. (The letter now, 9 July, also appears on the On the Platform website: HERE Thank you!)
We invite supporters and readers to endorse the letter (click for list of people who have, so far). You can do so with the form at the end, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update: also published today, 6 July, on the University of Manchester Policy Blogs site is Mark’s Could DevoManc create an economy for the common good?
Update: 16 July, 2015. Although Tony Lloyd’s office acknowledged the letter on Monday, 6 July, so far no response has been received. We appreciate that Tony has a great deal on his plate, and is effectively doing two jobs, that of Police and Crime Commissioner (his elected role) and that of Mayor, but we would appreciate a response.
1 July, 2015
An Open Letter to Greater Manchester Interim Mayor, Tony Lloyd.
Congratulations on your appointment. Now that (from last week) you have taken up the position of Greater Manchester Interim Mayor, I am writing you this open letter about the direction of devolution for Greater Manchester, in the context of the enormous challenges that our region faces.
You may know that I have considerable respect for you and the work you have done for the people of Greater Manchester, ever since we were in the same branch of the Labour Party in Old Trafford in the early 1980s. Andrew Roth, in the Guardian described you as a “well informed, thoughtful and realistic regionalist and internationalist”, and I believe this to be true, although perhaps we have differences about the way to realise the goals implicit in these two stances. And this is what I am writing to you about as you embark on your demanding and vital new role. Your selection, from outside the coterie of AGMA leaders does potentially offer the prospect of a new direction for Greater Manchester’s society and economy.
1) Devolution and Democracy
Firstly, while I am disappointed that there has been no public consultation on the DevoManc deal, and no chance for the people of Greater Manchester to elect their inaugural Mayor, we are where we are. It is encouraging to hear you say,
“There has been criticism of this process that, so far, decisions have been taken behind closed doors and the public has been largely excluded. I understand those criticisms, which is why I want to assure the people of Greater Manchester that they must and will be involved. We are on the brink of change that is real and will be lasting. It is vital the public takes centre stage and is part of the debate.”
How will you concretely do this though? Will you, for example,
Provide regular, say quarterly, reports in plain, easy to read English, explaining what you and your GMCA colleagues have been doing?
Will you present those reports at public meetings where you can be questioned?
Will you ask your other Authority members to do the same?
Will you explore the possibility for genuine participatory budgeting so people in communities can make plans and decisions about needed improvements, and also gain a deeper understanding of the very real hard choices faced under the unjust austerity regime?
Given that the GMCA Executive group is far too small and narrow to truly appraise, interpret and decide on the complexity of information and interests in the region, will you consider how other expertise can be co-opted? If so, that expertise should not be limited to the usual suspects from the public and private sector, but include practically orientated scholars from our Universities and colleges, and those “on the ground” in community and campaigning organisations. Otherwise there is a real danger of “path dependent” “groupthink”.
And will you look for other innovative ways to address the democratic deficit that so far is part of the package of alleged devolution of power from Whitehall, including the possibility of a low-cost, earthy, Mancunian style of Regional Assembly (in shadow form to begin with, if need be)?
Without measures such as these, people will rightly continue to be disengaged from local politics and the decision-making process, with all the risks that brings. Bringing the people into the tent is no easy process, although as an internationalist you will be aware of inspirational examples where this has been done, but it can mean much better priorities, plans and decisions than those cooked up by an isolated elite behind closed doors.
2) What is it all for?
At this stage I’m not altogether clear how you see the Greater Manchester Economy. In Steady State Manchester we take seriously the idea that the economy must be viable, economically yes, but more fundamentally, socially and ecologically.
Unfortunately the Treasury model, and that of AGMA/GMCA to date has been very orthodox, and the DevoManc deal seems based on the following notions:
Attracting inward investment to boost competitiveness in the globalised economy;
Prioritising large infrastructure developments and other high-profile projects;
Enhancing workforce skill and mobility, and
Making savings from “public sector reform”.
All this has the aim of increasing “economic growth” with the dubious assumptions that some benefit will trickle down (most recently exposed by the Pope himself) to the more disadvantaged sections of the population, and that the consequent increase in emissions can safely be ignored.
Yet could increased regional autonomy instead support a different kind of economic and social development, that increased economic, social and ecological resilience as it built up co-operative and collaborative economic and social structures to provide authentic and durable security for citizens?
What would such an evolving alternative look like and what kinds of support could you as Mayor, and your colleagues realistically offer? This is new and difficult ground, but we suggest these starting points.
A recognition that a large part of the economy is mundane, relatively resilient and affords modest but real prosperity to many: economic development needs to value and sustain what colleagues at Manchester Business School have called the Foundational Economy, rather than putting too many eggs into glamorous, prestige projects.
A recognition that much of the economy is, as it were, outside “The Economy”. There are many day to day exchanges that bind and reinforce people and communities and these are under-valued (as Cllr Amina Lone and her colleague Dan Silver found in their excellent study of the Blackley community). Such exchanges are typically not monetised, nor are they visible to the usual measures of economic performance. Moreover, what Manchester NGO MACC and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies call the “civil economy” is already a reality as new kinds of collaborative arrangements evolve between and among public, private and social sector institutions (like colleagues in Sweden, we might well want to go expand this to five sectors, including academia and community activists). So economic development needs to recognise the creation of value in all these domains of the community economy and find ways of supporting them without getting in the way or forcing them into a straight-jacket. It needs to develop ways of keeping money circulating and recirculating locally, rather than gushing outwards to more favoured centres and havens.
This latter point is vital to the “paradox of austerity”: on the one hand, as a walk around some areas of the city makes clear, there is an abundance of wealth – conspicuous and wasteful consumption, and yet we see a continual paring of the money for social provision. An innovative devolution will need to find ways of capturing and sharing the value, including under-utilised assets. This needs to go beyond the familiar formulae, whether of taxation or corporate social responsibility, combining the idea of the social franchise that business enjoys with our community, with practical agreements and platforms for realising this sharing.
These ideas demand a move away from at least three pervasive myths:
1) That it is desirable and possible to win the game of global competition. Instead we should de-link in relative terms from the excesses of globalisation, simultaneously working in practical solidarity with those exploited at the other end of our present supply chains while re-localising key elements of the economy.
I am sure you know this from your experience in International Development: we must play our role in changing the global system that appropriates value from the weaker regions and concentrates it in countries like ours, even as we address poverty and deprivation here.
2) That it is possible to keep growing our economies without fatal damage to the very systems that make human life possible: instead we need to embrace the challenge of managed degrowth toward a smaller-impact economy.
I know that you have supported strong action on climate change, and this as leading climate scientists, Manchester’s Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows tell us, is no more than its realistic implementation.
3) That somehow there are magic bullets that can more than marginally reduce need and dependency amongst our populations: instead we need a welfare reform that sees both dependency and interdependency as assets for a convivial society and economy.
This is the last topic we engaged on, when I was a senior manager in health and social care and you were representing one of your constituents. I think we both know that while much can be done to reduce the impact of illness, disability, and the consequences of pervasive economic and social deprivation, there is an intractable core of need, at both individual and population levels, and this is what our Welfare State is there for. It, and those who rely on it (as we all do at times) make a positive contribution to our collective economic and social well-being.
I certainly do not envy you the poisoned chalice of integrating health and social care, which under conditions of extreme austerity is a recipe for damaging burden-shifting and inter-sectoral raiding, and I trust that you will be outspoken in campaigning against the cuts and supportive in the building of broad alliances to make that struggle. While Richard Leese is correct to say it is not possible to walk away from the problem, neither will it be acceptable to the people of Greater Manchester that you merely implement the disastrous “fiscal water-boarding” planned by the present government.
With best wishes for your biggest challenge yet,
Mark H Burton
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