Labour in Power: Andy Burnham's Greater Manchester
Andy Burnham is the Labour politican with the greatest amount of administrative power in the country, after London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Jack Rydeheard reports on how the Mayor of Greater Manchester is doing as he approaches the midway point of his term in office,
On 4th May 2017, elections were held to decide the first holder of the office of the Mayor of Greater Manchester. The contest was swift and anything but close, with Labour's candidate wielding a mandate of 63.4% at the outcome. But, nearly two years on; what has Burnham done?
The promises were huge; a real statement of intent from one of the Labour Party's high-profile, Goliath candidates, standing to make an impact, and a big one at that.
One flagship policy – to eliminate homelessness by 2020.
A promise made to outclass and bring forward the Conservative government's target by four years, it was an ambitious one at that. In fact, a year into his term the number of homeless people in Burnham's jurisdiction was still increasing, following the trend of a 169% increase nationally from 2010 to 2017. On a regional level, homelessness has quadrupled since 2010. So what is going so wrong in such a horrible quagmire for such a rich country?
One has to wonder, if the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester had focused on working with the government's strategy rather than trying to undercut their targets, maybe there might have been a better result. At least the mayor's intentions, though not his execution, are good and true.
Burnham's plan was radical – to tear up the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and create a newer, better, revised blueprint. His plan was to reform the deeply unpopular plan, to make it more acceptable and palletable for the regions making up his jurisdiction.
What he has done, however, is create a renewed outrage.
Regions like Bury, who are set to see 12% of their greenbelt torn up and concreted over, disproportionately suffer from the plan, which is based on out of date figures from two years before the most appropriate, latest figures of 2016. This has lead to powerful protest groups being formed, such as the Bury Folk Keep it Green campaign, run from a Facebook group, and swathes of non-Labour councillors have come out in horrification at the plan.
What's worse, Labour's GMSF, and it is Labour's GMSF, with their control stretching the length and breadth of Greater Manchester, has been fully supported by its regional councillors and MPs!
Nearby, Bolton will not lose an inch of their greenbelt land.
Meanwhile, away from the GMSF, Burnham has enjoyed considerable success in encouraging town centre regeneration projects. The Refreshed Stretford Masterplan is one of the flagship policies brought into existence under Burnham's administration; albeit being in deep conjunction with and led by Trafford Council.
Free Travel for Young People
A central point of the mayor's manifesto was to provide free bus travel for 16-18 year-olds. To Burnham's credit, he has managed to halve the price of bus tickets for this age group, and the promise was never going to be easy to keep. But progress is progress, and he has until 2020 to carry through this particular promise.
With that being said, we wait in eager anticipation of his continuing efforts in this regard.
He's also put into effect his radical change of plan for Greater Manchester's trams. Following an original 6% price hike just day after getting into office, the ticketing system for Metrolink trams has been transformed into a London-style, zonal system. Personal use of the system shows that it takes a bit of getting used to, but it looks to have settled and spread out the cost of tram tickets in the region.
Upon the anniversary of Mr Burnham's election victory in 2018, figures were released to show a 61% increase in possession of weapons offences and a 20% rise in violent offences. Burnham has launched countless reviews and initiatives, and actually I think he has done all he can be expected to do.
We must ask ourselves - are holders of mayoral office really in a suitable position to influence figures of violent crime?
I stand with Andy Burnham on this issue. He may not want to admit it, but I believe in the idea that local authorities, not massive jurisdictional offices such as the Mayor's office or the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, are best placed to work in conjunction with Police and Crime Commissioners to solve this alarming issue.
Andy Burnham can't be accused of failing to try to make an impact. However, he certainly can be accused of playing politics after turning the blame on the Conservative government at any opportunity he can find. In reality, every politician has at some point or another shifted the blame onto a figure or a body of the other side. He has had success in some areas, but almost certainly not in terms of housing and homelessness. On policies such as that of his focus on young people – he deserves the time to attempt to fulfil his vision completely, on the staggeringly large mandate upon which he was elected.
Jack Rydeheard is the Greater Manchester Coordinator of the Taxpayers’ Alliance and sits on the Executive of Bury Conservative Association
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