But that is exactly where we are, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announcing the Government’s plan for a new City Devolution Bill in a speech delivered in Manchester.

In his speech the Chancellor said a lot of things, including:

“This law will pave the way for Greater Manchester – and, importantly, other cities as well, to take greater control and responsibility over all the key things that make a city work, from transport and housing to skills, and key public services like health and social care.

It means by the end of this year the legal framework will be set so that any city can proceed to implement a Mayoral devolution deal.”

“Greater Manchester has agreed to have a mayor as part of our Northern Powerhouse - and this new law will make that happen.

My door now is open to any other major city who‎ wants to take this bold step into the future.

This is a revolution in the way we govern England.”

But will we have the revolution, and how far will it extend?

The Chancellor’s deal is simple: cities can have more power and greater budgets so long as they agree to a single elected executive mayor to exercise the new powers and spend the new budget. The powers and remit of the participating councils themselves will not be changed, but they will have to work with each other and the mayor to deliver the new resources.

So what will be the keys to a city region gaining the new powers? I suggest the following will be in the mix:

  • Desire: there has to be the determination to make the difference in new ways, and not simply do more of the same;
  • Competence: the long track record of the councils and other public bodies in the Greater Manchester area working together has instilled the confidence for them to be allowed to blaze the trail;
  • Creativity: the Government really does want city and regional leaders to harness the ideas and solutions offered by local businesses, whether large or small, listed or social, grassroots or international;
  • Collaboration: doing with and not doing to, being relational, reciprocal and responsible;
  • Delivery: it’s not just the powers currently exercised by the Mayor of London that are on offer, but as Greater  Manchester is showing, more besides – if NHS budget devolution can happen in the North West, what else could be possible?
  • Engagement: if the Government is willing to let go and permit the devolution of its powers, what could councils do more with their communities to allow participative services for the public?

With more devolution to Scotland and Wales as well, it will not be just city region government that will be close to local authorities, communities and other local stakeholders. It will have the effect that government from London will be smaller, but also possibly less remote. Its conversation with the English regions should be more expansive as a consequence.

There is the issue of an elected mayor, leading to presidential government on a city region level, and this is risky. That’s the point! The election of the mayor should create a focus for what really matters; failure does have a higher premium. Risk can bring rewards. Defining and understanding the rewards at the outset clearly and not just following the latest trend will be vital if this is to be more than an expedient experiment.

For more information

Please contact Mark Cook.

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