Manchester the clear focus of George Osborne’s ‘northern powerhouse’

In a previous (re)blog that was drafted by Brad  – The Mancunian Way or the Highway – it was clear that Manchester was very much at the heart of what Government (and George Osbourne) considered to be the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Personally, I think it’s up there with ‘hardworking families’ as the most over-used and un-understood(!) phrase. But, as The Guardian says, “George Osborne has confirmed Greater Manchester as the golden child of his “northern powerhouse” in a budget which promised hazy devolution deals to Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, the Midlands – and Cornwall – but left out the north-east of England almost entirely.”

In a blog posted in late 2014 Peter Heterington, writing in The Guardina wrote: “English councils will soon have lost almost a quarter of their funding in five years. Those most in need, such as Sheffield, are being hit hardest. It has happened on the watch of the MP for Sheffield Hallam. Since 2010, £238m has been removed from Sheffield city council’s budget, with a further £60m likely to be slashed next year. “We are facing the worst financial crisis in our history,” but authorities in the leafy south are faring far better than big cities such as Sheffield.”

Nine months on there remains a sniff of devolution, provided you play by the unwritten rules not in DCLG but in The Treasury. Manchester, with first mover advantage, has not only given Osbourne confidence because of its united front and its history of the Greater Manchester Authorities working in partnership, it has cleverly influenced his thinking from the inside. Nothing wrong with that of course. It’s only to be applauded that local government, albeit big authorities, are influencing ‘upwards’. But behind Manchester appears to be dawdling, indecision, infighting and a series of internal debates that amount to the phrase ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ to be echoing around town halls in the north and the midlands.

Osborne referenced the city regions of Sheffield, Liverpool and Leeds – a particularly disputed region which includes York and parts of North Yorkshire – which he said were “working towards further devolution deals”. The government is also “making good progress towards a deal with Cornwall” and had also received proposals from the West and East Midlands, he said.

The one rule that seems to be a sticking point is that devolution needs an elected mayor, despite the appetite for this being zero in the cities who seek it. The Treasury’s insistence on an elected mayor had been a stumbling block throughout the process. Will mayors one day rule the world? 

 

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Author: Andy Nolan

An experienced director-level professional with expertise in sustainable development, cities, universities, governance, policy and strategy. 15 years of experience working in the field of sustainability in both the private and public sector. Has worked within a local authority, in multi-authority partnerships locally and nationally. Experience in higher education across four universities in the UK plus representative bodies. Particular areas of interest and expertise include; energy; transport; climate change; waste management; air quality; decentralised energy; education for sustainability; smart cities; knowledge transfer; research.

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