Accountability for the Mayor of Greater Manchester: Participatory Governance in the 21st Century*
Guest article by James Scott Vandeventer**
It has been over a year since Greater Manchester elected its first Mayor. Since then, Mayor Andy Burnham has worked to build the Mayor’s office as an institution almost from scratch and within the confines of the devolution agreement with central government. This is no small feat, and the Mayor’s efforts should not be overlooked.
Still, there are deeper underlying issues that exist in Greater Manchester, which the mayor needs to address. These relate to his own accountability to the over two and a half million people within Greater Manchester. He came to power in a democratic election. But likewise true – and widely known – is that the long-standing Labour majority across the city-region meant his election victory was hardly a surprise (1). With approximately 29% turnout, the mayoral election came nowhere close to capturing the majority voice of eligible voters in Greater Manchester (1).
Manchester is one of five European regions set to benefit from a new European fund designed to help regional and local governments to develop and deliver better town centre policy.
The Institute of Place Management (IPM) at Manchester Metropolitan University will utilise part of a £1.5 million grant from the European funding body Interreg, to investigate how companies, councils and other local groups can work together more effectively to improve their town centres. One of the major outcomes of the work will be a nationwide audit of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and their achievements.
Manchester’s skyline is changing. Fast. While the dominant narrative is that dozens of the buildings transforming this skyline aim to provide more housing in the city centre, the recent report From Homes to Assets: Housing financialisation in Greater Manchester by Dr Jonathan Silver makes clear that these housing developments are overwhelmingly driven by financial institutions and actors who have identified Greater Manchester’s urban core as an attractive site for investment. Indeed, the primary function of these developments is financial speculation. We are witnessing the process of housing financialisation in Greater Manchester. For those concerned about the wellbeing and prosperity of the people living in Greater Manchester, as we are at Steady State Manchester, this poses the question: Does housing financialisation deliver a viable economy?
What is a viable economy?
As we at Steady State Manchester describe in our 2014 report The Viable Economy and in other publications, a viable economy is predicated on a shift in political decisions and societal actions away from the growth-driven instrumental rationality of neoliberal capitalism. Instead, a viable economy demonstrates greater resilience, localisation, and balance as economic activity is treated not an end in itself, but rather as a means to deliver a sufficiently prosperous future without growth. Further, a viable economy subordinates the economic system to the control of society, and organises around cultural attitudes favouring equality, solidarity and cooperation. Finally, a viable economy recognises the finite nature of ecological resources and embraces an ethic of stewardship by minimising imbalances to the planetary systems – including the climate, biodiversity, and nitrogen and phosphorous cycles – upon which human life depends.
“Housing financialisation treats housing as an asset that can, should, and must, generate profit.”