This week saw some significant developments in the roll out of devolution in Greater Manchester at least. It was always going to take a lot to fill the shoes of Sir Howard Bernstein, the retired Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, so it is no surprise that we now have two Chief Executives, Joanne Roney running the city and Eamonn Boylan the Combined Authority(CA).

I was in the new CA headquarters on Oxford Street last week and reflected that exactly 43 years ago I walked into County Hall on Portland Street, the Greater Manchester Council’s new HQ. In 1974, It was felt it was a good idea to have a strategic authority for the whole county. After a costly abolition in 1986, we are now back to square one in some ways, although having an elected mayor may make it different.

While the devolution band wagon is visible in the Greater Manchester and Liverpool city regions, elsewhere in the North the roll out is patchy and incoherent with a great deal of uncertainty about how far meaningful devolution will extend beyond the Liverpool and Manchester City Regions. Lord Porter, the Tory chair of the Local Government Association thinks devolution is dead because the government has encountered petty squabbling in areas of two tier local government or opposition to the concept of elected mayors in more rural areas.

That is an extreme view. Whilst it is true that Brexit is a major distraction in all departments and that the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid remains in an inactive sulk having been moved from his role as Business Secretary, there was enough energy and ideas at the recent NP conference in Manchester to convince me that the project is not dormant. But if business outside the Manchester and Liverpool City Regions want similar packages they need to knock politicians heads together across the rest of the North.


Leeds is the greatest underperformer so far. This great city should have been electing a mayor this May with a full devolution deal. Disputes with some surrounding authorities have prevented this and the latest idea for a mayor for a Yorkshire wide body across three combined authorities looks set for a ministerial veto as it would need new parliamentary legislation. Sheffield isn’t having a mayoral poll this year either. This is partly because of a row with Derbyshire over whether Chesterfield could be included in a new South Yorkshire authority even though it has no border with it.

Now we come to the town of Warrington which recently flirted with the idea of joining the Liverpool City Region. That would have scuppered the idea of bringing the town together with the two Cheshire councils in a powerful authority at the southern end of the North West. The Merseyside dalliance is now over and Warrington council leader Terry O,Neill is hoping for a devolution deal this summer. However, a new constellation has entered the Cheshire scene…literally. A grouping of Cheshire’s two councils and the Local Enterprise Partnership have come together with six Staffordshire authorities under the Constellation Partnership. They’re starry eyed about the economic potential of the HS2 hub around Crewe. However, the idea of an elected mayor may be a sticking point once again.

Lancashire has suffered for years from having sixteen councils, thirteen districts, two unitaries and the county council. The leader of Lancashire Council, Jennifer Mein, is the equivalent of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the sense that she has used calm and wise leadership to try and bring all the parties together. Wyre Council has stood out against a deal for a long time and Fylde has now joined them. A devolution deal will have to await the result of the closely contested county election next month.

Elections are also due this summer in Cumbria where the idea of an elected mayor for this largely rural county has been a stumbling block. Relations between the districts and county are not good with talk of a combined authority being formed without Cumbria County Council’s involvement.

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For most of his twenty years as Leader of Manchester City Council, Sir Richard Leese has avoided personal attacks in favour of a sometimes dull concentration on making Manchester the city it is today. He was never my go to person for a juicy quote or a bit of inside gossip.

So it is truly astonishing that he has used a blog finally confirming that he doesn’t want to be the elected mayor of Greater Manchester, to attack two of his Labour colleagues who do. His blog contained a list of reasons why he didn’t want the job but it was in an email follow up to Labour group colleagues that he reportedly let rip. His targets were the current Labour interim mayor Tony Lloyd, and the Labour MP for Bury South,Ivan Lewis. Both are running for the Labour nomination.

The BBC’s North West Political Editor Arif Ansari revealed the contents of the email and reports Leese telling colleagues that Lloyd had been an excellent MP but as interim mayor “had shown a lack of vision, drive and leadership.” Ivan Lewis “had strengths” but Leese “would take some convincing that twenty years in parliament was adequate preparation for the position of elected mayor.” Ouch! Leese says the Labour candidate should be twenty years younger and a different gender.

That seems to rule out sixty year old Hazel Blears. I don’t know if the former Salford MP wants the job but she is the most credible woman I’ve heard mentioned. At a recent Downtown event I questioned Leese on his future and he floated the gender issue as well as the possibility that the Labour candidate might reflect the multi cultural nature of Greater Manchester. So let us hope that Leese gets his wish and Labour do look beyond the usual suspects for a candidate.

Meanwhile we must return to the possible reasons for Leese deciding not to stand, to sneer at the value of the post and attack his Labour colleagues.

It may be that Lloyd, who was the MP for Stretford, and Lewis who sits for Bury South are seen by Leese as “out of towners”. Manchester City Council has historically hated having anyone meddling in their affairs be it the Greater Manchester Council from 1974-86 or the North West Development Agency more recently. The Greater Manchester Mayor is probably seen in the same way, although steps have been taken to make him/her the eleventh member of the team of ten councils. It may also be that Tony Lloyd made himself unpopular in some circles when he defeated Lord Smith of Wigan for the interim post. Many felt Smith “deserved it” for his years of work on keeping the Greater Manchester family on the rails during the devolution discussions.

It was no secret that Leese has been lukewarm about the post for a long time despite the fact that his outstanding work as Leader of Manchester had been recognised across business and in government. But now his actual reasons are clear and they almost amount to the assessment of the position of the American Vice Presidency by one of its holders, John Nance Garner. He said it wasn’t “worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Leese doesn’t go that far but says in his blog that he would rather be having a pint in his local than be selling Greater Manchester to investment funds. He would regard being elected mayor as a “step down” from being leader of the city. He concludes that his current post is “infinitely more exciting than anything being Mayor of Greater Manchester has to offer”.

That signals that Richard Leese will be around for a while in Albert Square. His relationship with the Mayor of Greater Manchester will be interesting.