Q & A with Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester Council

richardleese2Q. Will devolution lead to greater social outcomes for the region?

A. What we do will be tailored to needs in Manchester, whether its skills needs or labour market information. National one-size-fits-all social interventions are inefficient and haven’t delivered the outcomes we need. The alternative route of public service reform, place-based budgeting, integrated services at a local level gives far greater opportunity for innovation and for new players to come into the field.

The devolution route means that we are commissioning at a Greater Manchester level rather than a national level so a lot will be delivered at neighbourhood level rather than in bigger units. It gives an opportunity for smaller deliverers to be involved in the supply chain.

Over the last five years we’ve seen lots done by relatively small number of national contracts which makes it almost impossible for the smaller organisations to be primes – the best they can be is probably second tier subcontractors. One of the impacts of devolution will be to see that change.

But organisations do need a certain amount of scale to be able to deliver and in Greater Manchester more consolidation is needed.

Q. Manchester is often described as a people-powered city with a can-do attitude. What more can you do to invest in people?

A. One aspect is about improving functional elements by giving people the skills and opportunities, and improving local transport. But there are also attitudinal aspects. I’ve been arguing for a while about the idea of citizenship. Public services have become consumer services and citizens expect them to be like supermarkets. But it’s not like that. If you want to live in a good neighbourhood you have to make a contribution. The council can’t afford to do everything and even if we could it’s not a good thing to do. So if there’s rubbish outside your house don’t call the council, pick it up.

Devolution is a good thing not only because it delivers better outcomes but because it’s also right in principle. Starting from the fact that as a citizen I want more control over my life and for my family to have more control and my neighbourhood. That’s what devolution is about: getting decision-making down to the lowest effective level. But that only works when you have active citizens, people being expected to play their part.

Q. What’s your vision for the next 10 years?

To be fiscally independent but to have largely eliminated benefit dependency would be a very healthy place. I’m not sure we’ll do it in 10 years but the figures for both growth and elimination of poverty are heading in the right direction. Over the last four years growth in Greater Manchester was 4.6% as against 3.3% nationally and 4% for London. In terms of rebalancing we were growing faster than London. In 2007 of families with children, 44% were below the poverty line. Over the last five years the number of families with kids grew by 15% and the number in poverty went down to 33.9% so that means a 25% reduction in poverty. So during a recession we reduced significantly the absolute number of families in poverty. If we carry on along that line and can reduce it by 25% every five years for a bit longer we’ll get to where we want to be.

Clare Goff is Editor at New Start magazine

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