Remember when citizens of Manchester City Council voted for a mayor in 2012? Me neither. But, with the goalposts slightly moved to encompass Greater Manchester more broadly, that’s what we’re getting next year, following its introduction as part of the DevoManc negotiations over the past few years and subsequently solidified as part of the Tories’ 2015 manifesto, giving former Chancellor George Osborne his mandate.

It’s part of a plan to move closer to the London mayoral system, whose chronological personnel list is Livingstone, Johnson, Khan, and which ties in with the overall agenda that England’s second cities (Manchester, Birmingham et al) need to catch up with the financial megalopolis, rather than resources being distributed more fairly. In his 2014 two-part series, Mind The Gap, Evan ‘Hebden Bridge is the centre of the universe‘ Davis pointed to a graph produced by the LSE professor and rent-a-view think tank researcher Henry Overman as evidence. This is one of the points keenly contested by one of the speakers at the People’s Plan Economy event last month. Graham Haughton, a professor of urban and environmental planning at the University of Manchester, posited that Davis’ evidence of London’s synchronicity with city hierarchy, as opposed to bloated exorbitance, was based on a faulty line of best fit that amounts to either a schoolboy error or deliberate deception, depending on your preference.

Henry Overman Zipf plot second cities_shrink

Instead, Haughton says, the actual line of best fit would leave London floating far above the rest of the country’s cities and towns, signifying that maybe resources should be allocated more evenly. But if you say some things often enough, they become treated as fact, despite being fictitious, so Manchester continues along Overman’s desired neoliberal path, in receipt of UK resources that are dwarfed by London’s share of the pie.

The event was one of several lined up in November by the folks behind the People’s Plan to generate debate, dispel myths and encourage participatory democracy across Greater Manchester, with others based in the city centre focusing on housing, the environment, healthcare, democracy and equality, while the agglomeration’s satellite authorities saw all the above crammed into one session per locality. The aim is to devise policy points to place in front of the mayoral candidates ahead of the election in May 2017, in the hope they may be influenced by local residents’ views rather than solely Whitehall (or the agendas of the likes of Overman).

The economy event took a lecture-based format and Haughton was joined by a learned cast of speakers: Prof Ruth Lupton, who heads a new Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit and aims to challenge the inequalities inherent within the region’s reported prosperity; Prof Julie Froud, who looked at the statistical transformation of Greater Manchester and whether there is any regional homogeneity; Dr Marianne Sensor on the banking system collapse and recent alternative models, such as local currency and regional savings facilities like credit unions.

Other events’ formats were predominantly more open, with the democracy themed event’s setup encouraging input from all attendees via small table discussions on themes of the mainstream media’s reliability, jargon-busting (see the Media Fund’s aims in this issue, here), direct democracy and participation. Housing discussion panels adopted similar arrangements before reconvening to discuss homelessness, social housing, the private rented sector (PRS) and co-operative models.

Over the coming months, the People’s Plan, which comprises representatives from local activists and campaigns groups to unaffiliated individuals across Greater Manchester, aims to bring together the region’s voices in order to redress the democracy void that has opened up since the 2012 mayoral referendum and ensure mayoral candidates’ manifestos are accountable and heading in the best direction for all. The People’s Plan website includes a survey which will take 10 minutes to complete and ensures your voice will be heard in grassroots planning.

The mayoral election is on Thursday 4 May, 2017. Before then, the People’s Plan is encouraging input from across the Greater Manchester area, so make you voice heard via their website, below.

Ian Pennington