Magazine article Public Finance

Breaking Down City Limits

Magazine article Public Finance

Breaking Down City Limits

Article excerpt

Therewas considerable surprise when Greater Manchester and NHS England announced groundbreaking plans around the future of health and social care, bringing ?6bn of health and social care budgets together under local control.

While a platform had been established by Greater Manchester's devolution deal, signed in November 2014, the speed with which the agreement was concluded took many aback.

While progress has indeed been rapid, and the agreement is a momentous one, it is in many ways only the logical next step in Greater Manchester's much longer journey towards greater devolution - a journey which has as its ambitious destination control or influence over all public spending in the region.

How did we come to be in the vanguard of devolution? We are in a unique position. Not only do we have a clear economic geography, we also have a strong tradition of co-operation across local authority and organisational borders - established through the voluntary Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) and put on a statutory footing in 2011 with the establishment of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA). The city region is already the most important economic centre outside London, generating over ?44bn of gross value added and representing some 5% of the national economy.

It is now recognised that dynamic engines of growth, such as Greater Manchester, have to be encouraged if the country's full economic growth potential and the rebalancing of the economy away from London and the Southeast is to be achieved.

There has been rapid progress in attracting investment to the North. To help our great cities to thrive, significant investment in infrastructure is needed to address years of relative under-funding. This has been recognised with a commitment to the ?15bn One North transport infrastructure plan, improving east-west links between northern cities. The other pillars for growth - supporting the development of the knowledge economy and providing a strong cultural offer - are also being backed. This includes establishing a ?250m centre for advanced materials research and The Factory Manchester, a ?78m world-class arts venue on the former Granada Studios site, which will become the permanent home of Manchester International Festival.

For all of the planned investment, we face significant challenges. There remain high levels of worklessness, complex dependency issues and pockets of deprivation. Below average earnings persist and Greater Manchester residents have some of the worst health outcomes in the country. One-size-fits-all national programmes have conspicuously failed to address these issues. To really tackle them we must have the decision-making powers to create tailored policies to address local needs and priorities.

Here in Greater Manchester we have led the way in pursuing a twin-track policy of investing in growth (and the jobs it creates) while supporting our people to increase their independence and equip them with the skills our employers need. We developed this approach initially through the Community Budgets work that established public service reform as a key priority. Our experience has demonstrated that tackling the multiple, overlapping issues faced by residents - working together across service boundaries to provide the right interventions in the right order - has enabled us to help families with complex challenges to stabilise and secure employment. To realise our full potential, these difficult and deep-rooted issues have to be tackled.

Responses range from delivering better early years provision, ensuring school readiness, to providing support to families with complex needs such as mental health problems and drug and alcohol dependency, enabling them to live full and fulfilling lives.

We have worked hard to develop an evidence base, working alongside New Economy - the policy, strategy and research body sometimes described as our ?brains trust'. …

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