Burnham gets to work
A week has now passed since the election of Andy Burnham as the first directly-elected Mayor of Greater Manchester. Though notionally preceded by interim-Mayor Tony Lloyd, it is only now that an election has taken place that the political significance of the role of Mayor will become apparent.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester assumes a range of formal enumerated responsibilities including on transport, policing, fire services and over the City-Region’s spatial framework and housing investment fund. In addition to these the Mayor will wield significant ‘soft-power’ over a range of policy issues retained by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, including on health and social care.
The political landscape in Greater Manchester means that once he was selected as the Labour candidate, Andy Burnham was always the heavy favourite to win the contest, but this simplification betrays the scale of the victory. In the 2015 General Election, Labour secured 46 per cent of the vote in Greater Manchester; in the Mayoral contest, Burnham won 63 per cent. Out of the 215 council wards in the City-Region, the Conservative candidate, Sean Anstee – the Leader of Trafford Council – outperformed Burnham in just five wards. In contrast, Burnham secured over 50% of the vote in 188 wards.
This map showing the share of vote Burnham secured in each ward visualises the scale of the result. There are no ‘no-go’ areas for Labour in Greater Manchester, not even in Conservative-controlled Trafford.
Given the wider political scene, Labour’s languishing poll ratings and the widespread losses in the local elections, the scale of Burnham’s result is some achievement.
At the time of the devolution deal, some commentators speculated that the metro-mayors would give the Conservatives an opportunity to get a foot-hold in the region. Winning the West-Midlands Mayoralty and causing a major upset in the Tees-Valley contest goes someway to achieving this, but Liverpool City-Region and Greater Manchester are firmly red.
It is the scale of the victory that Burnham will argue gives him a strong personal mandate to make progress on pledges where he assumes no formal powers. He will argue that, for example, his health care agenda has received emphatic endorsement by the population of Greater Manchester and should be pursued.
Burnham wasted no time in getting on with the job. The morning after the result was announced, he appointed two new deputy Mayors and a portfolio holder for social cohesion. Manchester City Council Leader, Sir Richard Leese, will lead on business and the economy as a Deputy Mayor – a portfolio he already holds on the Combined Authority – and Baroness Beverley Hughes will be Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime.
Health and Social Care
Greater Manchester differs from other devolved authorities in that it has responsibility for the City-Region’s health and social care budget.
The new Mayor does not have formal responsibility over health policy in the region, but that hasn’t stopped the former Secretary of State for Health setting out a detailed policy platform. This includes plans to integrate health and social care, an increase in social prescribing and increasing career progression in the Greater Manchester NHS workforce.
Burnham’s flagship health policy is integrating health and social care services and despite his lack of formal powers, this agenda aligns with the general direction of travel for the City-Region. Away from the Mayor, individual Boroughs within the conurbation have been tasked with producing locality reports to identify local health challenges and how they can be addressed. The majority of these plans, though still in a development phase, demonstrate a willingness for commissioners to work with local authorities to pool budgets and design new services. This includes integrating care and this means Burnham should be pushing at an open door.
What happens next?
The Mayor has only just got his feet under the desk, but the history of collaboration between Local Authorities in Greater Manchester means that structures are in place to make quick progress. Devolution in Greater Manchester was in part achieved through demonstrating effective policy interventions could be made in the Town Hall rather than Whitehall. Further devolution of responsibility, something Burnham is championing, will depend on tangible results. While there is the possibility of a shift in policy from Central Government following the General Election, work is underway in Greater Manchester and the new working practices present an opportunity for those wishing to engage in the process.