Bring power back to Manchester, not Whitehall, says Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who is demanding that powers returned to the UK after Brexit should be handed to the regions, because, he says, Westminster has failed the north of England.
He claims in an article published in The Sunday Times that Westminster had left large areas of England with poor infrastructure, a housing crisis, a poor education system and had failed manufacturing jobs – all which prompted people to vote to leave the EU last year.
“Aside from arguments about immigration and sovereignty, the referendum revealed a deep underlying resentment of our political system and the way that it favours some areas while neglecting or even ignoring others.
“The Westminster system has created a huge rift across the UK,” he wrote.
Burnham claimed that the Westminster system was grinding to a halt by obsessing on the details of a deal rather than focusing on devolving powers to the regions which would provide a more coherent response to the referendum result.
“It would give British cities the chance to compete internationally, as they increasingly become the drivers of the fastest, most progressive change,” he argued.
“Increasing the concentration of powers in Westminster by adding more powers from the EU will fail. It will only drive more frustration and disillusion.
“Brexit will be successful only if it meets the demands of those who voted leave to take back control. But for people in Greater Manchester and across the north of England, that does not mean more powers for ministers. It means giving us the ability to make our own decisions and fulfil our potential.”
His article continued: “People here are fed-up of clapped-out trains and congested roads. This week, the chancellor should support us with new measures to help reduce congestion, improve air quality and speed journey times across the North.
“We need a joined-up approach, with railway stations controlled locally so they can be at the heart of new housing and business growth.
“Crucially, we must also take the pressure off the NHS with a properly funded care system.
“The result of Brexit needs not only this, but also the devolution that will deliver it. That is why we have offered to work with government to determine which powers should given back directly to our city regions. Across many areas of EU responsibility — environment, transport, energy, security and justice, public health, industrial strategy, culture, skills and employment and more — Greater Manchester is proving it can do more through devolution.
“With the right powers — and resources — given to our city regions, we can grow our economy and improve our public services.”
However, he claims that rather than accelerating, devolution is at risk of going into reverse: the Department for Education was pushing back the date for devolution of the adult skills budget and the Department for Transport was going back on commitments to electrify the line between Manchester and Leeds.
He therefore demanded that in this week’s Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond “stops this in its tracks and pushes devolution further, faster, deeper.
“Westminster has had its chance; now it’s time they let us build something better. The Budget must be a watershed moment that transforms the way money and power is shared out around the country,” he said.
“The Chancellor can make this a moment of profound rebalancing.”