MIPIM UK: We want control of £22bn budget, says Bernstein

Greater Manchester is aiming to secure control over the total amount of public investment in the region, estimated at £22bn a year, according to Manchester City Council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein.

Speaking to Place North West at the first MIPIM UK conference in London, Bernstein said: "There is absolutely no reason that Greater Manchester should not be aiming to secure the total amount of public investment.

"We recognise we're not going to do that tomorrow, it's part of a journey and we want to start that journey as soon as possible. We're advocating a roadmap that gets us to where we want to be and which can be linked to legislation.

"There's a lot we can do around skills, transport, housing, and public services which we want to see happen, which can have transformational impacts very quickly."

The £22bn figure was calculated based on the budgets of the 10 Greater Manchester local authorities, Greater Manchester Police, the region's Clinical Commissioning Groups (formerly Primary Care Trusts) and benefits spending where this is administered locally.

Funding is currently handed down through various funding streams, often with strings attached, which the councils say leaves them with little control over it.

Further, the estimated tax take in Greater Manchester is around £17bn, meaning that there is a deficit between the amount generated in the area and the amount spent here.

For all the austerity drive since 2009, public spending in Greater Manchester has not gone down from 2008/9 levels. Cuts in one area, such as local authorities, have been picked up as costs elsewhere, health, for instance. Bernstein argues that given the freedom to invest in local priorities the city region could better create conditions for growth and reform public services by investing in early support and intervention which would cut costs further down the line. By boosting economic output while cutting the cost of public services Manchester would be able to eradicate the deficit between what is spent in GM and what is raised here, his argument goes.

While discussions have been going on with the Government for some time on the topic of devolved fiscal powers, Bernstein acknowledged that it was time to take things further.

"The Government needs to think about how it translates a broad commitment to devolution, which has been endorsed at the highest levels, into a practical set of proposals," he said.

With the May 2015 General Election looming, many are unsure as to how the devolution debate will translate into party policies and campaigns,

"This is not an issue that's going to be resolved between now and next May," said Bernstein. "I want to see all the major political parties explain what they're going to do to support the growth and public services in the big cities. I think at the moment there is greater clarity about this Government's view than most, but we want to see cross-party consensus develop about the issue of devolution."

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