Queen’s Speech — Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:36 pm on 2nd June 2015.

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Photo of Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury Conservative 9:36 pm, 2nd June 2015

My Lords, this has been a long debate so the House will be pleased to know that I am the last of the Back-Bench speakers. I want to focus on just one subject in the gracious Speech: the proposal for the northern powerhouse in Greater Manchester. I speak as someone who was born and brought up in Manchester. There are several Mancunians in your Lordships’ House and, whatever political differences we may have, we all agree on one point, which is that Manchester is the second city of England.

England is perhaps the most centralised country in Europe, partly because of the centralist instincts of successive Westminster Governments over several decades. This was not always so. The original prosperity of our great cities—Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and others—was built on strong local leadership, reinforced by a strong civic spirit. Many of our national leaders, such as Joseph Chamberlain and Neville Chamberlain, forged their earlier careers as great civic leaders. Local government today still has many outstanding leaders, some of whom bring that experience into this House, which is one reason why I am so pleased to see my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, a former leader of Trafford Council, promoted to ministerial office.

The problem for local government has been caused mainly by the constraints placed on it by central government. There has, in Westminster and Whitehall, been a lack of confidence in local councils so Governments began to sideline local democracy. To generate local enterprise, the Government established Urban Development Corporations in London Docklands and in Liverpool, and enterprise zones. Now we have the innovation—at least within the UK—of directly elected mayors to provide local leadership in cities and city regions. They have a great deal of power. I want to come back to this point shortly.

The proposals for a northern powerhouse build on the collaboration of the 10 councils in the Greater Manchester city region and on the recommendations of the City Growth Commission under the leadership of Jim O’Neill, now my noble friend Lord O’Neill of Gatley. I am delighted that he is now a Treasury Minister. However, the northern powerhouse could not have happened without the vision of my right honourable friend George Osborne.

Very briefly, I want to emphasise just a few points. First, the northern powerhouse is coming to fruition because of the co-ordination of the councils and because it has all-party support. Secondly, this is not a zero-sum game. In other words, increased economic growth in one city region should not be at the expense of another city region. Thirdly, the local authorities in Greater Manchester may be the first to come together in this way, but the northern powerhouse will surely be the forerunner of other city regions operating in a similar way.

My final point is that there has to be effective accountability and transparency. Last week, Mr Tony Lloyd became the new mayor of Greater Manchester, but he has not been elected. Not surprisingly, there is concern that this gives him a platform to establish his profile in the two years leading up to the mayoral election. Once elected, the mayor of Greater Manchester will be responsible for billions of pounds of spending and for control over transport and infrastructure, housing, economic development, skills, healthcare and social care. The Government believe that, because the mayor will be the single point of direct accountability, this will ensure strong democracy. I am not sure that this will be enough. Unlike the Greater London Assembly, members of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority will not be directly elected. Yes, the combined authority will establish overview and scrutiny committees, but all the proceedings will need the oxygen of publicity. They must be transparent, open to the media and, above all, open to public scrutiny.

I believe the northern powerhouse will serve the citizens of Greater Manchester well and will be a stimulus to economic growth there. It will, I hope, lead to other city regions following suit.