Macc’s purpose is to encourage, support and develop voluntary and community groups and individuals to have a real influence over the places and communities in which they live. So for that reason alone, we’re supporting the People’s Plan as a non-partisan, citizen-led movement bringing new and seldom-heard voices into the conversation about the future of Greater Manchester.
It’s more than that, however. As I’ve said in our last couple of newsletter updates, the thing I’ve slowly come to realise about devolution is that it’s not just about the powers which are devolved but the space it creates. In all the meetings I’ve attended and conversations which have touched on devolution, the time they all really come to life is when those involved start thinking about what it could achieve rather than how they’re going to cope with the latest set of challenges. Devolution has, at its best, unleashed a new sense of ambition.
And yet great though that is, it’s still only within meetings which are mostly between public officials. It hasn’t reached communities – or, more accurately, communities haven’t really been invited to take part. Devolution hasn’t enlivened democratic engagement, at least not yet. Most opinion seem to agree that the Brexit vote was driven by a feeling of being disengaged and wanting to get back at the political establishment, to ‘take back control’. If devolution is really about ‘taking charge’ locally, it would seem an ideal opportunity to start involving everyone with a stake in the future of the city.
To be clear, I’m not advocating any specific political view nor trying to prescribe any particular model of democracy - that’s really not the point anyway. In general, I usually come at things from ‘take what you’ve got and try to build on it’ rather than ‘rip it up and start again’ so I’m looking for the opportunity. It seems to me that the process of devolution and the election of a new Mayor of Greater Manchester is an opportunity to enrich democracy: engage people, find new ways to get more people involved in decision-making, planning and thinking about what we want Greater Manchester to be.
I don’t for one moment believe that the People’s Plan which comes out of this will be the perfect blueprint for how Greater Manchester should work. Given the total population of Greater Manchester it’s likely that many people won’t choose to be involved in it. And I don’t believe our current or future elected politicians should be required to listen to the People’s Plan and ignore any other opinions. The results of the conversations might even conclude that there is broad agreement with everything that's going on at the moment. So you might be tempted to ask why bother and why call it a “People’s Plan”! That would be missing the point: it’s about making that first move to get in touch with the wealth of ideas that individuals and communities have. This is an exercise in getting more people involved in the conversations, bringing more ideas and exploring opinions. It will enrich the conversation and enable more people to take part. I’m still working out what I think about Devolution so talking about it with other people is helpful. The fact that so many events are already appearing on the People’s Plan website shows that there is interest - I hope that grows.
I talked about seeing a new sense of ambition. I think Greater Manchester could blaze a trail in devolution as a great social experiment that forms another part of our history at the forefront of social progress and a chance to show not just the rest of the country but the rest of the world how a 21st century city-region can work for everyone who lives, works, studies and visits here. That’s a pretty good ambition, I think.
People’s Plan Greater Manchester information - https://www.manchestercommunitycentral.org/news/peoples-plan-greater-manchester-launched
Website - http://www.peoplesplangm.org.uk/
Twitter - @PeoplesPlanGM
Hashtag - #PeoplesPlanGM