Onside Issue 5 - 35

Mayoral moves

Economic focus

One event that will at least keep the project in the public
eye is Manchester's mayoral election due to be held in
May 2017. For many this will be a pivotal moment in
the Northern Powerhouse project as the city chooses a
figurehead to drive its devolution agenda.

The primary focus of devolution must be to boost
economic growth given that the North has consistently
underperformed against the national economy. But
does the theory behind the Northern Powerhouse
support economic growth?

James Wharton, MP for Stockton and a former minister
for Local Growth and the Northern Powerhouse, is one
of those who believes it is a key moment. As he told a
recent audience of business leaders in the city: "The
mayor will be an important figurehead. If I want to
open a business in Manchester then I need to know
who to speak to. The mayoral model is recognised the
world over as a vehicle for engaging with government."

It is broadly based on the so-called 'agglomeration'
theory that states that by better connecting cities and
regions you will help drive economic growth. However
the theory has plenty of critics, many of whom point to
the fact that great cities only grow by trading with the
rest of the country and the rest of the world.

But there are others who fear that the merits of the
model, tried with varying amounts of success across
England over the past 15 years, are debatable. For
instance, some councils that introduced a mayoral
system in 2002 have since scrapped it, while others
such as Liverpool have embraced it.
One of the key issues is the actual power that any mayor
can wield, and this is where the challenge is laid bare.
Health, housing, schools and social care remain top
priorities among the public, but in most cities these
powers still rest with Whitehall.
However Manchester, which was granted control of
its health and social care in April 2016 as part of a
devolution deal, could be different. This has been
shown by the interest of some political big-hitters in
the future mayoral role such as Andy Burnham MP,
who fought unsuccessfully for the Labour leadership
last year, but is now his party's candidate for Mayor.

"The success of the project should be judged
against key criteria such as improving
prosperity for all"

He has previously described the Northern Powerhouse
as a "muddle" of these four ideas and questions
whether the project is just a proxy for proper regional
economic policy. He says the success of the project
should be judged against key criteria such as improving
prosperity for all, raising the attainment of early years
school children, and tackling the democratic deficit.
The IPPR says the dominance of the 'agglomeration
narrative' is open to question too. It says the empirical
evidence for agglomeration effects in Europe - and
in the UK in particular - is at best mixed, and even
negative in some studies.
It says recent studies have shown that there is no clear
relationship between urban scale or density and urban
productivity for the UK's 14 largest cities other than


Wharton admits that devolution is "an ever progressing
and evolving process" but insists that Manchester is
ahead of the game. "This is an exciting opportunity
partly because it is an organic process. It is not about
me coming with an identikit stamp and saying this
is what devolution should look like. This could be
transformational but will only work if driven by those
affected. This is ours to own and make a success."

Ed Cox, Director of IPPR, a Manchester-based think
tank, says the drivers of regional economic growth are
not just good transport infrastructure but also a strong
skills base, innovation, and access to finance.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Onside Issue 5

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