MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 04: Labour Candidate for Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham arrives to vote at the Goldborne Sure Start Children's centre in Goldborne on May 4, 2017 in Manchester, England. Six new metro Mayors will be elected today in areas including Greater Manchester, West Midlands and the West of England. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
Devo Manc: unions will be hitting the ground running with the new Mayor
As expected, Andy Burnham has been elected as the new Mayor for Greater Manchester. Whilst the result may not be a great surprise, it is nonetheless important. With a population of 2.7million, Greater Manchester has the biggest set of devolved responsibilities in England (outside of London), and the new Mayor’s set of powers are likely to grow.
Now though, it is about devolution in practice – not the theory.
First, let’s be honest – the devo deals are far from perfect and not all that people might have hoped for. Yes, a greater local say on decision making is important, and it may well deliver better economic outcomes for local communities. But deciding where to spend the money is restricted by the cash available.
For example, the flagship £6bn integrated health and social care budget given to Greater Manchester still leaves the region facing a £2bn deficit by 2021. And having local voices help make decisions on how the annual £30m housing fund should be spent for the people of (for example) Bury or Rochdale is welcome, but it will be more about doing things differently than doing it with significant amounts of extra money.
Hitting the ground running
However, as trade unions we can be more constructive than just complaining about the shortcomings. Being on the outside looking in, and limited engagement with the wider population about what they want from this unique opportunity, is not an option. That’s why at the North West TUC we have supported projects such as the People’s Plan in Greater Manchester, and why we worked with our public sector unions to re-establish our Public Services Committee, to ensure we are able to act and speak as one in devo decisions that will affect hundreds of thousands of our members.
These massive decisions – like how different local authorities in Greater Manchester might work together to deliver better transport, or on the integration of health and social care – could dramatically alter the delivery of public services and the working lives of our members. So we haven’t waited until Andy’s first day in office: we’ve been working with the Combined Authority and the Interim Mayor, Tony Lloyd since the devolution deal was announced.
In December 2015 we signed a ‘Joint Working on Workforce Matters’ Protocol with all Greater Manchester local authority leaders – Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative. This Protocol has given trade union representatives a seat at the table alongside senior management and political leaders. Working together, we are able to address issues before they become problems. We are able to raise concerns on behalf of working people, and reach agreements. We can freely share ideas and thoughts for the betterment of Greater Manchester and the public services we provide. We are already working together on issues such as procurement, commissioning, and employment standards. And since this Protocol came into force, we have brought together our health unions to talk to Andy about his plans for health and social care, meaning that the voice of those who deliver these services is heard at the top.
We aren’t naïve. We don’t expect our relationship with the Combined Authority to come without disagreement. But these positive steps have been important in putting trade unions at the heart of discussions and decisions and making sure that this devo deal isn’t about just devolving responsibility for cuts but a tangible opportunity to change how things are done.
In the coming weeks and months, the North West TUC will continue this work on behalf of our members. We will bargain and speak up for their concerns and issues. We’ll be focusing on issues like industrial strategy, inclusive growth, public service reform, community voice, and equalities. We will also take this partnership model to the newly elected Metro Mayor for Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram. And of course, in areas that don’t yet have a devo deal, we will also look for partnership opportunities so we can best speak up for workers in the region.