Lois Brown is a year 11 student at Priestnall High School in Stockport. She has just undertaken work experience at IPPR North and has written from her perspective about the challenges facing devolution to the region.
Simply devolving to local government is not enough to overcome apathy with politics in Manchester – it needs to bring change in local communities.
With Manchester being one of the great powerhouses of the north, with one of the lowest voting turnouts in the country it is easy to see why so many people have opened up conversations about the practicalities of mayors and devolution. But with Manchester also being one of the most deprived areas in the country, it is easy to come up with many reasons why people may feel disillusioned or even disenfranchised and left out when it comes to voting and the political system.
This throws into question which option will allow the people to engage with politics going on around them. Some also argue that in inner-city areas people are suffering more than 10 years ago. Why should we vote for this? This sense of disillusionment has led to not only a low voting turnout, but also to a lack of engagement with other aspects of politics.
Without change at a very local level this looks set to stay this way. However this is by no means the only reason people abstain from voting. For some people, these feelings normally partner with a sense of under representation. If we are going to carry out a functioning and healthy democratic community we need to change this so that we can decrease disillusionment and disenfranchisement. The way that seems most logical to do this is by bringing power closer to the people, and this can be done in many ways but the two that seem most practical are, either via the appointment of a mayor or by a more comprehensive devolution plan.
I think we have to question whether a Mayoral system is too similar to Westminster and might, therefore, put people in the same situation they were in before in terms of political disillusionment. It is possible that a Mayor may even increase these feelings, if they are seen to be put in charge but without additional powers that actually change the situation of many people in the most deprived communities. For most people this would just be putting a face to the issues they’ve had up until this point, instead of having a meaningful shift in power that makes the people affected see and experience a change.
Another way that disenfranchisement and disillusionment could be reduced is by bringing power more directly to the communities themselves and put in place a scheme like that used in Salford where people are directly in contact with the people who represent them. A scheme like this, where the authority holds more power to address issues within the community, might be more effective still and if the power is seen to be closer to the people, they can see how they influence the way the power is used and no longer feel left out of the system. However ideas like this do come with drawbacks.
Going by recent events in Cornwall and the devolution deal they have struck it might be possible to get a devolution deal to address some areas but it will probably not be to the level necessary to change these feelings within the whole city. There are also some concerns over whether Manchester would be able to make such a deal, and if it can it would no doubt be a harder and more complex process.
The main issue is over how power would be regulated at community level without an anarchic structure being introduced. Then we must also consider that if the government would allow secondary devolution like that to take place (which is extremely doubtful) there would have to be large boards or similar organizations put in place to help with the balance of power.
Hopefully from this we can now open a wider debate on the benefits of devolution and how it could be used as a tool to help solve the problem of disenfranchisement and disillusionment. As a young person who sees the changes happening in the city, it’s a debate we must have.