The devolution of health spending hasn't met with the level of euphoria that Manchester City's title win did. Photo:Getty Images
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There are big questions to answer for Manchester's new mayor

Devolution to Greater Manchester was greeted with general celebration. But there are broader concerns about the role and how it develops.

A fortnight ago, Tony Lloyd became the first Mayor of Greater Manchester. There were no public debates or hustings. The electorate consisted of ten people, the leaders of the local authorities that comprise Greater Manchester. After two hours of wrangling Lloyd was appointed to the post over Wigan’s leader, Lord Smith. If you wanted the antithesis of democracy and transparency, this was it.

Lloyd – a Manchester MP for nearly three decades and currently the elected Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) – is only an interim Mayor. In 2017 Greater Manchester’s citizens will elect their first ‘proper’ Mayor. What will Lloyd actually do? He will become the chair of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), which coordinates economic development, transport, and urban regeneration across the ten local authorities. Currently the role of chair is taken by one of the ten leaders. He will, however, do far more that preside over GMCA meetings.

The next two years will crucial in the implementation of ‘Devo Manc’. A range of powers covering transport, strategic planning, housing, business support, apprenticeships, and the work programme, representing more than £1 billion in public expenditure, will be devolved. And that’s not to mention the subsequent announcement that a pooled £6 billion health and social care fund will be created and placed under the control of a new Strategic Partnership Board (not the Mayor, it must be noted).

Devo Manc has arisen because of two intersecting sets of interests Local leaders want to get their hands on more money and power, ostensibly to deliver economic growth and more efficient, tailored public services. And George Osborne, Devo Manc’s Whitehall champion, is driven by a combination of political economy and party politics. He sees the deal as a key component of his ‘Northern Powerhouse’ strategy, which is as much about reviving Conservative fortunes in the North as it is about growing the North’s economy. The Chancellor insisted on a directly elected Mayor as a quid pro quo for the new powers. The speed with which the package ultimately came together over the summer of 2014 has created two significant problems that Lloyd must now grapple with.

The first problem concerns the governance arrangements. More thought needs to be given to what structures are to be put in place across Greater Manchester to receive the new powers. Local leaders will point out that their aim is not to create an unwieldy new bureaucracy at the city-region level. But, with the Mayor assuming responsibility for transport, housing and policing, it isn’t hard to imagine a degree of consolidation of existing authorities and boards, as well as a range of appointed Deputy Mayors, under the banner of an ‘Office of the Mayor’. We are told that the ten local authority leaders will each take on some Greater Manchester-wide portfolio and will collectively form the Mayor’s cabinet. But through what mechanisms will they be held accountable? The current ‘Scrutiny Pool’ arrangements for the GMCA leave much to be desired. Lloyd and his colleagues must carefully plan these, and many other, issues. But they are in some ways the easiest of the tasks ahead.

The second problem concerns democracy. On a simple level Lloyd’s selection is an affront to democracy. Despite suggestions that he will have no new powers and will ‘merely’ chair the GMCA, Lloyd will have power to shape the future governance arrangements of Greater Manchester. This will come from the soft power of his new post (it will be what he makes of it) and also the fact that, as the government’s own paper makes clear, certain powers may be transferred before 2017. Whilst those powers will technically be transferred to the GMCA, and not the interim Mayor, the potential exists for Lloyd to shape the agenda.

But there is a far bigger question about local democracy and community empowerment. Evidence shows that people want decisions to be taken at a local level, and that they trust their local councils far more than Whitehall. However, we also see increasing evidence of a desire on the part of citizens to be involved in how they are governed. This can only be done if leaders are committed to the principles of participatory democracy and local empowerment. It cannot occur by transferring powers from Whitehall to a shadowy, distant combined authority chaired by a Mayor for whom nobody voted.

Leaders across Greater Manchester are aware of their failure of engage with the public about these plans. They also share the view that one of the main jobs of the interim Mayor is to ‘sell’ Devo Manc to the public. But Lloyd must understand that his job is not that of a salesman but that of an architect. Not only must he think carefully about the governance arrangements, he must also think about how he can build an inclusive, participatory local democracy. He will begin the job with questions of legitimacy hanging over him. But the past cannot be undone. We are where we are.

How Lloyd chooses to engage from now is crucial. He should quickly launch a broad public consultation that takes its cues from strong academic research on participatory and deliberative democracy. He should make it clear that people in Greater Manchester still have a chance to talk about and shape the way in which they will be governed in the years to come. It may be the last chance to salvage something truly legitimate and democratic from this process.

 

Dr Daniel Kenealy is a Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh. He, and colleagues, are currently undertaking ESRC funded research on attitudes towards how the UK is governed. They are on Twitter as @Edinburgh_AoG.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.