A fairer society on a sustainable model
Five years of economic downturn plus three years of blatantly unfair cuts have certainly taken their toll on Manchester, but the city is undoubtedly still in a much better position than it was 30 years ago. Then, a combination of recession, government cuts, centralisation and a complete absence of industrial policy left us on our knees. Through our own efforts, Manchester is once again standing tall, but we can do much, much better.
The future prospects for not just my city, but for the country as a whole, boil down to how effectively we meet two great challenges. The first, in an age of cuts and job losses across the public sector, is to create the right conditions for sustainable, job-creating growth in the private sector and to ensure local communities are in a position to benefit. The second, inextricably linked, challenge, even more difficult in an age of austerity, is to develop a place-based investment model approach to public services.
Success in the first of these, supporting economic growth, depends very much on the ability to operate the right policy levers at the right spatial level. For business support, skills, international trade and investment, alongside supply-side measures like housing, there is overwhelming evidence that the right spatial level for most of this activity is the functional economic area, in Manchester’s case the city-region.
The 2009 Manchester Independent Economic Review set out very clearly why economic growth policy needs to be devolutionary policy. Michael Heseltine’s ‘No stone left unturned’ report took this even further and argued that virtually all the resources and powers necessary to support growth should be operated at the level of the city-region and their ‘shire’ equivalents.
The public service reform agenda, however, is far more complex. If we are to tackle long-term structural employment, families with histories of multiple problems stretching over generations, the vicious cycle of offending and reoffending, a health and social care system that leaves too many people, particularly elderly people, languishing unnecessarily in hospital wards, devolution is only part of the solution.
Work done in Greater Manchester through the Whole Place Community Budget pilot and developed further since demonstrates that if we want to make serious incisions into deep-rooted structural problems in society, we need the whole of the public sector, local councils, health, police and the Department for Work and Pensions in particular, working in concert. The work we have done with complex families and with integrating health and social care shows that with the right investment backed up by public services operating as a single team organised around people and places rather than traditional service silos, not only can we get better outcomes for our communities we can also reduce public expenditure.
Dependency is both a financial cost and a social cost. Strong, independent individuals and families help build strong, independent communities. The fairer society the Labour party strives for should be built on a sustainable, not a deficit, model – producing outcomes that endure in the long term rather than paying for the continuing cost of failure. It can only be built when citizens not only exercise rights but also fulfil responsibilities to themselves, their families; their communities. A new approach to public service built, in key policy areas, on place-based budgeting and a clear contract between central and local, will allow us to move millions of people from being a cost to the state to being contributors to society – improving their quality of life, and quality of life for all.
Richard Leese is leader of Manchester city council and a member of the Local Government Innovation Taskforce which has a call for evidence currently open
devolution, Labour, local government, Manchester, Michael Heseltine, Richard Leese