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Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Nightmayor Before Christmas?

Chris Fletcher, Policy Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

One of my favourite festive films is Tim Burton’s 1993 stop-motion classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. It tells the story of Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween town , discovering Christmas town and deciding that for a change he’d like to be Santa and give Christmas a unique twist. Completely missing the concept, all manner of chaos ensues with, as an example, children getting vampire teddies in their stockings on Christmas morning. Eventually Santa regains control and normal service is resumed with Jack chastened and a lot wiser after his experience. There are a number of morals and learning points that can be gleaned from this story around keeping the status quo, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it and not upsetting tried, tested and established systems.

It’s required viewing in the Fletcher household.

I just wonder if anyone at the Department for Communities and Local Government currently working on elected mayors has ever watched it?

In the same way that chaos ensued from Jack trying to force a different style and process on an established and effective event so it appears, from the sidelines, that the Government is determined to do the same with pushing forward on proposals for directly elected mayors in England’s 11 largest cities.

At present there is a government consultation on what powers an elected mayor should have and in May 2012 there will be a referendum in Manchester on whether or not the city wants an elected mayor.

Irrespective of the powers a mayor would have – and let’s be honest they will not be of an equivalent level of the Mayor of London - one of the real issues with this is at what geographical level the mayor would operate and who would be able to vote.

As things stand the mayor would just be for Manchester not Greater Manchester. This is potentially important as only 9 months ago the Government set up the Greater Manchester Combined Authority which may not mean a great deal to people but it is the only city region body of its kind, with statutory powers, outside London. At the same time the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership was set up, likewise Transport for Greater Manchester. There’s a theme developing here. So why then would you go and put in the Jack Skellington figure of a Manchester mayor and expect it all still to work in the same way?

When I asked for clarification on this from DCLG a rather baffling response was received that basically said the mayor would just be for Manchester but their influence would extend beyond those boundaries. So, as a resident of another borough in Greater Manchester I would not be able to vote for the mayor but could still be affected by decisions they make. An interesting concept.

There is a huge discussion that still needs to be had outside of the current consultation. There also needs to be a debate on how the business community will benefit from this and how its voice can be represented. It is important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that government is prepared to loosen the grip of centrally controlled powers in Whitehall – look at the recent “City Deals” announcement from Nick Clegg. But if it is going to work in the best way then a wider discussion is needed and we’ll be looking at this in 2012.

The view of the Chamber is that Greater Manchester needs a wider range of strategic powers such as are vested in the Mayor of London so that the economic potential of the region can be achieved. We’ll consult further with our members on what the best vehicle for these powers would be including the existing Combined Authority or a directly elected mayor. However we are convinced that such strategic powers can only be exercised effectively across the City region of Greater Manchester as a whole.

Jack Skellington, Santa and the residents of Halloweentown and Christmastown all lived happily ever after. I just hope that we don’t end up with the vampire teddy.

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