Joining the Devo Dots: Burnham’s Challenge
Place over party, a desire to do things differently, holistic and innovative approach to policy making and the aim to create genuine partnerships to drive growth; these were the key messages from the expert panel, including Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, at Lexington Communications’ Joining the Devo Dots event at Conservative Party Conference.
Chaired by Lexington Communications Director and former leader of Trafford Council, Matthew Colledge, Mayor Burnham was joined on the panel in Manchester Town Hall by Head of Politics at University of Manchester, Professor Francesca Gains and Chair of Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, Mike Blackburn OBE. Each spoke of the opportunities that devolution in Greater Manchester offers. Not only this, each of the panel discussed how things have to be done differently; how ‘joining the devo dots’ is essential for realising the potential for the region.
Casting aside the ‘Westminster-style politics’, Mayor Burnham stated that he was putting people and place above tribal politics. He outlined his vision for whole life provision of services with a focus on ensuring school readiness, opportunities for young people through a UCAS style apprenticeship scheme and positive aging.
What was clear from Mayor Burnham was his vision for Greater Manchester as a global city, a driver of growth and as a test bed for innovative policy solutions. He spoke of a conference in New York where he was the guest of former Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg along with City Mayors from around the world. Burnham sees the future of economic growth being driven from City-Regions rather than through central governance – a vision shared by Bloomberg.
For all the lofty ambitions that you would expect from a newly-elected Mayor with a huge personal mandate to implement his agenda, Burnham is well aware of the challenges facing the city-region. Housing, health inequalities, early-years intervention all feature in his priorities. He is committed though to addressing these challenges by designing solutions locally. He outlined representations that he is making to central Government in advance of the Budget to enable Greater Manchester to become a test-bed pilot for delivering and funding social care differently. Reform in this policy area has been a long-held focus for Mayor Burnham, consistent throughout his time as Secretary of State and Shadow Secretary of State for Health. Burnham is committed to breaking down policy silos, or joining up the devo dots, to address challenges. He admitted in the question and answer session that as Secretary of State for Health, he never held a meeting regarding housing policy and how it links in. This needs to change, he says. All areas of public policy impact on health and Burnham and his co-panellists espoused different policy ideas that could have a positive effect.
Mayor Burnham’s co-panellists echoed the Mayor’s optimism and the challenges facing the region. Professor Francesca Gains outlined three structural challenges facing the region: financial, political and demographic challenges.
The message from businesses was that they are willing partners, ready to do their bit. They are genuinely excited at the opportunities facing the region and want to be involved, want to deliver solutions, and want to design new services to benefit the population and population health.
A consistent theme was that despite the ambitions for Greater Manchester to become an engine of significant growth, the region will need support from Whitehall. Political will from the City-Region itself is only one part of the equation; Government buy-in is necessary. At another Lexington Communications event, Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry MP affirmed that commitment.
Chair of Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, Mike Blackburn OBE spoke of holding central Government to account on the devolution agenda.
The message weaved through the events that Lexington Communications hosted this week is clear: the opportunities for business and third sector organisations are there. Genuine partnerships with innovative approaches to addressing local challenges. Policy-makers in the devolved regions are looking to do things differently and they are looking to our new mayors to help join the dots to solve the devolution puzzle.
The question boiled down to ‘Who is better to solve the problems of Greater Manchester: Whitehall or Greater Manchester?’ The ambition is certainly there now we need to see if there is the will to match.