On Friday 5th May, Labour‘s Andy Burnham was announced the Mayor of Greater Manchester after an election that could prove to be vital to residents, yet seemed to pass many by.
Greater Manchester – accounting for Manchester, Salford, Stockport, Trafford, Bury, Bolton, Wigan, Rochdale, Oldham and Tameside – was first to agree upon a devolution deal with George Osborne in 2014, prompting Whitehall to devolve powers on fire and policing, housebuilding, skills and transport. The region was also first to gain combined responsibility for health and social care budgets, amounting to £6bn for 2.8 million residents.
Burnham – the North West born, long term Labour MP and Cambridge University graduate – won the election in what proved to be a landslide victory, with a pitch almost entirely dedicated to resolving local difficulties and cutting ties with Westminster in order to do so.
Burnham put his success down to a determination to understand and combat local challenges, constructing a manifesto centred around the problems faced in local communities. In addition to reducing transport fares for young people, he has promised to contribute 15% of his wage to homelessness, an amount which has been matched by a number of organisations since.
“The public thought about who they wanted to be mayor of Manchester”, Burnham reflected.
“They did not use this as a proxy for the general election. This was hard won. I did not just stroll around Westminster and then think I would go to Manchester and see how I would get on there. I did a whole detailed consultation with people on the manifesto. We did not want to have the Westminster approach.”
Amongst the key focuses, which included transport, health and social care, and the interests of young people, housing was a particularly prevalent topic.
“There was an anger about housing policy in Greater Manchester” states Burnham, “and a sense that Greater Manchester hasn’t been focused enough on affordable housing. I agree, and that’s got to change”. As such, he has promised that more affordable housing has been built, with a proportion reserved for those born and bred in Greater Manchester.
Time will tell whether Burnham’s promises will come to fruition. However, his acknowledgement of local issues from the eyes of the community is certainly reassuring. Many of these issues would almost definitely have gone unnoticed in Westminster and by party leaders in a general election.
The devolution of these powers and budgets provides the Mayor and his cabinet with huge responsibility, but more importantly with the ability to create substantial, beneficial change to what is already one of the UK’s leading and growing economies.