The support of George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer,
who was becoming something of a convert to devolution, was crucial.
Supported by a team of some 30 civil servants drawn from across
Whitehall, I was given unprecedented access to the machinery of
government, with no attempt to guide or influence my conclusions.
George Osborne not only welcomed its conclusions but he had also
looked with care and interest at the way the 10 Manchester boroughs
had worked together after the demise of its conurbation authority
It was fortunate that he had recruited a former senior executive
from Goldman Sachs, Jim O’Neill (Baron O’Neill of Gatley), as a
ministerial colleague at the Treasury. He was not only a Mancunian,
but had advised the local politicians on their evolving, cooperative
structures. The ground was thus prepared for a second attempt to
achieve the devolution authorities under local mayors. The process
was admirably summed up in the House of Lords by Lord Goddard,
the former Labour leader of Stockport. He said: “Greater Manchester
did not, in principle, want an elected mayor but the deal was that
if it wanted full powers then that was the price. Looking at the full
deal, the 10 leaders felt it was a price worth paying.”
One lesson learned was simple. If the only route to success was
voluntary, then there had to be a deal with prizes! The chosen
vehicle originally took the form of City Deals – packages of devolved
power and cash in return for reform in the local administrative
arrangements. These city deals were followed by devolution deals,
which insisted on directly elected mayors.
By 2017, six Combined Mayoral Authorities had held their first
elections, secured their initial deals, and in 2019 I was invited to
write this report into their present status and future prospects.