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15 minutes on… The People’s Plan for Greater Manchester

As Greater Manchester prepares to elect its first metro mayor, a group of citizens and civil society organisations want the region’s devolution process to work for its people. David Fernández-Arias talks through the People’s Plan for Greater Manchester, launched this week.

 

On being left out of the devolution process: When the devolution deal for Greater Manchester first landed, only a tiny handful of people were involved in it. There was a lot of surprise among civil society and concern about what devolution meant in the context of austerity and cuts. There was also a strong sense that devolution to other parts of the UK had taken place following a referendum and that hadn’t happened here. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that devolution was happening without any input from citizens or civil society.

On campaigning for ‘real devolution’: We think that the principle of devolution is a good thing and long overdue but we were concerned about the top-down way the process was being run and its major structural flaws. Some grassroots campaigners started calling for a referendum on the deal and saying that the process in play cannot be called ‘real devolution’ without input from the people and a strengthening of weak local democracy. This attracted support from lots of people including some local councillors who agreed on the democratic point we were making.

On creating a People’s Plan: The early campaign was really about awareness raising but we started thinking about what a better devolution plan would look like and how we would articulate that. What is the role for people in the devolution process? So we shifted our approach to creating a better plan for Greater Manchester and working with a wide range of people from civil society and communities, from academia and think-tanks, business people and trade unions and artists. Our main objectives with the People’s Plan are to create opportunities for citizens and civil society to have a meaningful say in devolution and the city region, and to provide a constructive challenge to the Greater Manchester strategy and the delivery of it. The current Greater Manchester strategy is very narrowly focused on the ‘economy first’. There is nothing in there on local democracy and it is very weak on environmental requirements. We engaged over a thousand people from across 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester either online or through events, and the plan brings together a list of priorities and challenges to the city region strategies currently in place.

On closing the gap between dealmakers and citizens: The People’s Plan has shown that a large gap exists between dealmakers and citizens and between official narratives and the perceptions and lived experiences of many in Greater Manchester – a gap that has been breeding a combination of indifference, mistrust, fears and even anger. The priorities that have come through the People’s Plan are very different to the policies of the past twenty years and from the official priorities that might dominate for the next twenty years. In housing for example citizens prioritised social housing, not the buy-to-let flats that dominate our city. Citizens called for our health services to be redefined as civic institutions, with wider participation in decisions and delivery. On transport, they want an increase in emphasis and resources for travel within the region more than inter-city projects. They want an upgraded and stronger mix of representative democracy and more direct participation rather than simply a mayoral model. They want local institutions that change practices and outcomes to meet carbon reduction targets and tackle air pollution. And they want jobs where they live, across the region, not just in the city centre or airport business park.

On building a ‘people first’ city region: When the dust settles following the election of the metro mayor this week we’ll hopefully be able to connect with them and offer these ideas to the system. Democratic participation in Greater Manchester is low on all standard measures, and consultations run by local government or health services are often just calling for comment on the detail of finalised plans. The People’s Plan has highlighted the gap that exists between the grassroots and the institutions in the region. It has suggested challenges and pointers for action to revive local democracy and close that gap and it also offers a proactive and ambitious vision of a ‘people first’ city region that is focused on wellbeing, on decent homes, better skills and fairer jobs. The current city region economic plan – focused on growth and jobs for market income – has not worked for many citizens so why not try the People’s Plan for Greater Manchester?

  • Read The People’s Plan for Greater Manchester here.

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