In response to the on-going debate about English devolution, UNISON North West Regional Secretary Kevan Nelson said:
“The devolution of powers from Central Government to a more local level offers potential for real improvements in economic performance and the quality of life. This applies equally to our cities, towns and counties.
“In Greater Manchester, there is an urgent need for a more joined-up transport network, and more investment in housing and further education. However, we have some concerns about the recent agreement between George Osborne and the leaders of the ten Greater Manchester councils.
“We do not support the introduction of a new city-region mayor. Voters have shown little enthusiasm for taking part in elections to choose directly-elected mayors or Police Commissioners and an executive mayor wielding power over a large geographical area would be a remote figure for most Greater Manchester residents.
“The agreement aims to integrate health and social care, and this is a laudable goal. Our concern here is that the proposals may simply mean the streamlining of commissioning arrangements in social care – with decisions about issuing care contracts to private companies made on a bigger scale. This would actually weaken democratic accountability rather than strengthen it. We need our local leaders to be in a position to make sure that people providing public services like social care are not outsourced to the lowest paying private company but that they are paid a good wage for doing a good job. We want communities where the most vulnerable are cared for and people get a fair deal at work.
“Above all, devolution of power cannot simply mean the devolution of choices about where to apply spending cuts. The reduction in Central Government funding for councils in Greater Manchester has seen many services pared to the bone. What Greater Manchester needs most is fair funding for public services and an end to the current Government’s assault on our communities. Devolution cannot overcome the problems of chronic underfunding of our public services. It is not clear that the Greater Manchester will do anything to increase funding for public services and local investment. Shared services or economies of scale simply will not be sufficient to overcome years of austerity. We need a fairer share out of power but we also need a fairer share out of money.”
UNISON North West will be consulting widely on the devolution plans in Greater Manchester and the impact on other parts of the region. The consultation will include consideration of what happens to counties and towns that are not part of the new city-region.
Our detailed report ‘After Austerity; An Economic Plan for the North West’ is available: