We have now received a response from Tony Lloyd to our open letter about DevoManc. In that letter, which received a lot of interest and support, we did two things. First we shared ideas about how to begin addressing the democratic deficit in Manchester’s devolution arrangements, its combined authority, and mayor. Secondly we highlighted the flawed economic model of the scheme with its assumption of ecologically suicidal endless growth and the trickle-down of its results, its eclipse of important areas of the economy and society, and reliance on huge cost savings from welfare reform and dependency reduction.
Here is Tony’s response (reproduced here with his agreement).
Dear Mr Burton,
Thank you for your letter. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you.
I was interested to read your letter and grateful for the suggestions you make. As you rightly point out I am concerned that the public involvement in the processes that have increased powers to the Combined Authority and introduced the role of the Mayor has been extremely limited. I am currently leading discussions with Local Authority leaders about how engagement both with the public and local councillors can be improved through regular meetings and enhanced scrutiny processes.
Improvements that will be introduced very soon include live streaming of Combined Authority meetings and the launch of a new user friendly website.
I think that many people right across Greater Manchester would echo your question about what devolution and the Mayor role will bring to the conurbation. The delivery of economic growth is undoubtedly an element of the work of both the ten local authorities and the GMCA but the focus of all our work is how it can improve the lives of people in every part of the conurbation. We have got to prove that the work the Combined Authority does on health, housing, low carbon, infrastructure and all our other projects can make a real difference to the people we represent. I hope that in the coming weeks and months we are able to make real progress on this.
We welcome this response, so far as it goes. It is good to know that the democratic deficit is a concern to Tony and that he is discussing “engagement both with the public and local councillors can be improved through regular meetings and enhanced scrutiny processes” with the council leaders (the other members of the Combined Authority). It is also good to know that he sees the need to prove the worth of the Combined Authority in improving the ecological, economic and social well-being of Greater Manchester’s population.
However, it is a little disappointing that there has not been engagement with the substance of our letter, which was not a set of unfounded assertions, but (as evidenced by the many hyperlinks) supported by a substantial body of work, not just from ourselves but from the policy and research community. We should understand the sensitivity of negotiations about increasing democratic accountability, especially with leaders who have been used to making decisions in today’s equivalent of the “smoke-filled room”. For this reason, we should watch carefully for any indication that more will be put into operation than “live-streaming” and a scrutiny function at GM level.
But on the economy, our point is not that economic growth must improve the lives of people in the conurbation, but that given its impossibility in a finite world, and its dubious contribution to social and economic well-being, we desperately need to find another route. For that reason we asked whether,
“increased regional autonomy [could] 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?”
In this vein, our letter discussed those relatively hidden areas of the economy that, while creating value, do not figure in the official narrative about Manchester’s devolution: the large, mundane and relatively resilient “Foundational Economy”, and the “economies outside the economy” of informal, non-monetised exchange and mutuality, and the civil economy of collaboration among public, private and voluntary sectors, as well as community activists and scholars. We are not alone in these calls, our own Open Letter was followed by one from leaders in Greater Manchester’s community and voluntary sector.
In conclusion, we feel that Mayor Tony is open to some of our thinking, and is genuinely concerned that DevoManc does accountably benefit all of Greater Manchester’s people. But we do need to keep up the pressure on the fronts of both democracy and a viable economy for true, resilient economic, social and ecological well-being. Meanwhile we continue to work on various levels to bring about this change of direction.
The Steady State Manchester collective.
Of related interest – see Tony Lloyd’s Question and Answer session with Stockport councillors