Manchester Town Hall often doubles for the Houses of Parliament on television. Greater powers may see it surpass the chamber it doubles for.
Show Hide image

Devo Manc? It's the best thing since sliced bread

New plans for devolution to Manchester are fantastic news, argues Luke Raikes

George Osborne's plans mark yet another leap forward for devolution within England. Greater Manchester is set to be handed control of its £6bn health budget – following the previous agreement to devolve powers over housing, skills and transport in return for a directly elected Mayor to jointly govern the city-region. In a country as centralised as ours, this is an opportunity not just for better policy-making, but for more democratic city governance.

We’ve grown accustomed in this country to being governed from the distant centre and the disappointment which often results. We're amongst the most centralised of developed countries, and polling has shown that 59 per cent of people think that decisions on public services would be better made locally, while only 14 per cent think they’re better made nationally.

But the citizens of Greater Manchester will soon see some of the decisions made currently by distant ministers and barely accountable government agencies made instead by a more conspicuous figure: the Greater Manchester Mayor, directly accountable to the city-region’s 2.7m people.

People might immediately draw a comparison with the Mayor of London, but Greater Manchester’s governance will be different and better. The powers are significantly greater and – by design – policy-making will be integrated and coordinated with the constituent authorities, instead of floating unanchored above them. The ‘Manchester model’ of city governance makes it possible to devolve and integrate health spending in a way that could not be achieved in London with its current structures. This new Mayor – together with the ten local authority leaders – will be charged with accelerating the city’s recenteconomic and social resurgence.

The way we are governed is clearly important for good policy-making. A wide-ranging OECD report published last week added to a substantial body of evidence which shows how good city governance is a critical factor in their growth and well-being.  

But beyond arguments about effective governance, integrating services and driving economic growth, there are clear democratic reasons to support the prospect of more accountability in politics.

The new model of governance will inject a significant shot of democratic accountability into the politics of the city. This is positive for various reasons: putting more democratic power in the hands of citizens is clearly a good thing in its own right; it will also ensure that a diverse and vibrant city isn't ruled by strangers in Westminster, or by an indirectly elected committee within the city-region; and it will of course be an extra incentive for services to be delivered well and with no excuses.

Under this new system, robust checks and balances do need to be put in place to ensure responsiveness is maintained in-between elections too. The ever-growing scope of this figure means that transparency and scrutiny must be assured, and that the democratic will of one of the most diverse populations in the UK isn't crudely packed into a single figure. 

There has been something of a campaign for a referendum on these developments, and some are understandably unhappy that this has come out of the blue, and been imposed from above. However, given that this agreement is itself far more democratic and accountable than the status quo, this concern appears to be somewhat misplaced.

Some may also be concerned that the devolution of health in particular somehow fragments the NHS. However, the NHS is already devolved to other parts of the UK without compromising its core principles, and only by devolving some power of the NHS can the aims of integrated health and social care be truly achieved – nobody is arguing that social care should be centralised.

Greater Manchester may be first, but should not be alone, and this isn't the only model for other places to adopt. While power needs to be devolved across all of England, there are solutions that may work better elsewhere. 

But it is time to undertake significant, structural democratic reform, and inject real transparency and accountability. The Mayor may have been presented as a condition for greater devolution, or an imposition from central government in order to gain more devolved powers. But it isn't a necessary evil – far from it. This is an opportunity for democratic and political renewal in our cities; it’s an opportunity citizens need to embrace.

Luke Raikes is a Research Fellow at IPPR North. He tweets @lukeraikes.

Show Hide image

"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

0800 7318496