Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has delivered his first major speech in Westminster citing devolution as counteracting disengagement from politics.
Andy Burnham made the decision to visit Westminster to deliver his speech following a summer that saw trains in the north grind to a halt and hills surrounding Manchester city region ablaze creating a feeling of isolation from the capital and a sense that “the country appeared to be drifting, dangerously.”
In his speech, Mr Burnham outlined what he described as constructive proposals that could help repair our broken politics and inject new confidence into the regional English economy: the devolution of power to the English regions.
A recent poll in Greater Manchester found overwhelming public support for even more devolution of power to its city-region.
Mr Burnham said:
“Devolution to the English regions is not just the right policy at the right time.
“It offers the best hope of making Brexit work for the regions and uniting the nation. It can also help Westminster cope with the Herculean task of Brexit and not end up being sunk by it. That’s why it is in Westminster’s own self-interest to embrace it.”
The GM Mayor believes Westminster is already visibly creaking under the weight of what Brexit means:
“It is already clear that eyes are off the ball when it comes to the basic running of services. You need look no further than the summer rail crisis for evidence of that. If Westminster doesn’t have the capacity to monitor services itself, then surely it makes sense to hand that job over now to bodies like Transport for the North?
“Then there is also the delay to key decisions. Speak to any Mayor or Council Leader and they will tell you about the Brexit effect on the running of Government: it is getting harder and harder to get an answer on anything. In our centralised system, English cities are used to having to wait for Whitehall to give them permission to act. But not usually this long.”
In Greater Manchester Mr Burnham cited plans to reform the region’s bus system as an example of how progress is being held back as it waits for the Government to pass an order that will allow this to happen.
“We now understand that, such is the pressure on Parliamentary time, Government whips will only allow non-Brexit-related legislation to go through if it is mission critical. In other words, the English regions, unlike Scotland and Wales, are staring at years of Brexit blight on policy decisions that can help them keep moving forward.”
Former Cabinet Minister Justine Greening this week put it very bluntly: she described Brexit as “the parliamentary equivalent of putting diesel in an unleaded car; it’s broken the engine.”
In his speech at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, Andy said:
“Devolution to Greater Manchester has transferred budgets, powers and responsibilities.
“But it’s done something much more important than that. It is helping us engage people in developing policies and counteracting the widespread disengagement from politics that led to Brexit.
“Devolution is not just a series of technical changes to the machinery of Government. It has had a profoundly positive effect on the culture of our city-region. It has created a new energy; a sense of possibility; a shaft of light in an otherwise gloomy political scene.
“It has allowed us to give a level of engagement to our leaders in business, the universities, the faith and voluntary sectors in developing new policy solutions that you can never provide from a national level.”
The full text of this morning’s speech can be viewed and downloaded here.