Tuesday 30 March 2010

The City Region Project

Last night the world shifted, a little. Stockport joined the other nine local authorities across Greater Manchester and agreed to establish a combined authority for the ‘city region’ of Manchester.

I know, it sounds like a mouthful, and that’s even before you start talking about ‘Economic Prosperity Boards’ or ‘Agglomeration Economies’.

Put simply the Combined Authority is a permanent and statutory body that has powers over some fairly major issues like transport, planning, regeneration, skills and employment. Critically it will also (hopefully) make sense of Greater Manchester’s work on tackling climate change and creating a low carbon economy.

We don’t get the fun and games of an elected Mayor, which I’m a little disappointed at, given that such a figure would, to my mind, give us more ‘punch’ nationally and internationally. Instead we’ll get a slight reshuffling of AGMA deckchairs to create a city region executive (stay awake at the back there!).

If like me, you’ve been traveling on the slightly dilapidated trolley bus of devolution for some time (I was part of the aborted ‘YES’ for devolution campaign a number of years ago), then this is all a step in the right direction. We don’t have enough power, Whitehall doesn’t always serve us well, and there is far too little accountability at the regional level, in spite of the good job that our Regional Development Agency has done.

But that last point is critical. This has to boost the transparency of power.

If I’m honest, I think the workings of AGMA (the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities) to date have been related to the world at large with all the compulsion and flare of an incarcerated scoundrel scratching out days on the wall of his cell. Either that or a narcoleptic let loose with a word processor. Dig deep into the bowels of the web and you will find AGMA minutes, impenetrable research reports, crunchy and badly rendered maps.

You won’t find anything exciting. Trust me.

So that’s what we need to pull off now. We need to make this next great phase for the city Disraeli described as ‘the most wonderful of modern times’ a compelling, high profile tour de force. It needs to set the world alight. It needs to set a different model for our future prosperity.

Most importantly it needs to communicate. If it’s back to somnambulant business as usual, I’m off the bus.

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