One of the surprising developments (for some) regarding the changes facing those who want to devolve and democratise services has been the Government’s push to create city regions in England as a way of demonstrating their commitment to further decentralisation.
These proposals have had a mixed reaction from some: there is serious doubt as to whether the economic gains cited by the Government are achievable and as the proposals have been set out (in an apparently random fashion) it is difficult to see how coherent or connected they are.
At the same time for cities to take advantage of the offer, they have to commit to changes in the way the new structures and processes will be governed.
The requirement to have an elected mayor is being resisted in many quarters. The proposals are, also, not uniform across those English authorities who have either opted to be included or who are exploring the possibility.
The 10 authorities that make up Greater Manchester are seen to be the flagship of the changes. And whilst the 10 councils have agreed on their mayor (the present Police and Crime Commissioner) the potential impact of the changes is still difficult to assess: the current package includes the usual suspects (infrastructure, economic development) but also childrens’ services, health and social care as well as skills and training.
But not all of these initiatives will sit together even in Greater Manchester.
So we can expect a patchwork quilt of services some co-existing alongside others and some being configured and managed across the new combined authority.
Why does this matter ? I think it is important for three reasons: firstly , we are a provider of education and training for a whole generation of individuals who want to work in these professional settings – thus the organisation, structure and governance of these services matters to them and it should matter to us; secondly,we know that the short to medium term funding of these services is undergoing profound reductions and cost cutting – it should matter to us because of the impact these changes taken together will have on communities and individuals – there is a whole research agenda here; and finally , it matters because there is a potential space being created (in my opinion) which is also about local democracy and decision making and given that we work within a highly centralised system the opening up of spaces to speculate on different ways of doing things is something we should be interested in.
This is a key policy, practice and political set of questions we will return to in 2016.