Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has called for Labour to embrace English devolution and adopt a ‘people-first’ approach as the best way to make a real and lasting difference to local people’s lives up and down the country, reports Andy Walker from Brighton.
He also called on the construction and infrastructure sector to work in partnership with devolved administrations and local communities, to think more about people and to focus on place rather than projects.
Speaking at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference organised by Centre for Cities, the think tank working to improve economies of the UK's largest cities and towns, Burnham said that the powers that be in Whitehall don’t like areas of the north having more powers but warned the government that “things were changing” and “the government will have to get used to the people of the north answering back a bit more”.
The man tipped by many to be the next Labour leader, said that he had felt liberated in his mayoral role as it had enabled him to get things done and make a difference. “You can do things differently and devolution helps with that and my message to the Labour leadership is to get behind it and get behind the people because a ‘place-first’ approach can get real buy-in. That is the power of devolution.”
Addressing the issue of public transport, Burnham asked why bus journeys in some of the poorest areas of the country, including Greater Manchester, were so expensive compared to London, making the point that he was planning to address this by taking the buses in the city region back into public ownership.
“I want Labour to much more wholeheartedly embrace English devolution. In Manchester we are fixing things that London has never fixed. If you back all cities outside London with the right resources then you will make a massive difference.”
Burnham said that in Manchester they will build a London-style transport system by 2024 and when the Conservatives come to Manchester for their conference next week he would be laying out his proposals and calling on the government fund a meaningful levelling up settlement, which in the transport arena would mean London level bus fares for starters.
Burnham had some advice for the construction industry. Returning to a theme he highlighted at an Infrastructure Intelligence webinar last October, he said that the industry should develop place-based plans for those areas we haven’t even thought about about yet. “Come to us, work with us and show how a place-based approach can make a difference and align with our thinking. Think people not infrastructure,” he said.