From the TUC

Devolution and Metro Mayors should prioritise a ‘truly’ inclusive society

12 Apr 2017, by in Politics

In three weeks’ time, six regions across the UK will be electing their new Metro Mayors. Devolution has the potential to radically empower local communities. But several quarters have voiced the same message that on its current track devolution will only serve to further entrench power in the hands of an elected few: the male, pale and stale. And we’ve heard even less about engagement, prioritisation and outcomes for the disadvantaged in our communities across the country.

After all isn’t the philosophy underpinning devolution to take back control? But who really benefits? And it makes me wonder more about where our abandoned communities might even feature in the dialogue and design.

It’s fair to say, that some aren’t quite singing from the same devolution hymn-sheet. What is truly making the devolution a revolution, are the likes of the Fawcett society and others, that have seized the opportunity to make it work for all. That involves taking a bottom up approach – which means true devolution – and handing power to diverse communities. Let’s take the example of the project on ‘Women in local government’…

I recently attended the launch of the Fawcett Society’s first report on women in local government leadership. To my dismay the statistics remain skewed towards benefitting the privileged males in our society. See the recent Huffpost article:

The Greater Manchester devolution deal in 2014 was signed by 12 white men, with a similarly embarrassing photo. This wasn’t a one off; women are underrepresented across local and regional government. Just 55 out of 330 council leaders and four out of sixteen directly elected local authority mayors are women. The region with the longest standing devolution deal, London, has never had a female mayor.

More research findings from Fawcett are forthcoming; but it’s worth dwelling on what the charity is seeking to achieve by disrupting male enclaves in local government cabinets. As it states on the tin, the ambition is to make devolution work for women. The Fawcett society launched a year-long Commission, taking a strategic approach to the newly created structures at a local level, to enhance women’s diverse representation and participation at local government level.

But we shouldn’t get too carried away, and fall into the pit of thinking devolution is only doing a disservice to women. I attended an event a few months ago run by the JRF on inclusive growth, this brought together community representatives and others. It reinforced the message that the voices of seldom heard communities aren’t being reached out enough in consultation processes on the design of local agreements – which is meant to do exactly the opposite.

At the TUC, we see the devolution agenda as a powerful apparatus to reinvigorate city regions, and towns that have traditionally suffered deindustrialisation and low-economic growth – if crafted well. It’s about destabilising centralised control and fostering a sense of pride and belonging, achieved through collaboration and partnerships. But we regret that the programme is moving too slow and are fearful that it’s not following in the progressive and radical direction our communities would wish. That’s why all devolved combined authorities and the elected Metro Mayors must prioritise empowering every member of their community, and that might involve thinking outside of the box, to achieve a truely inclusive society.