It’s Up the Poll! 2017: GM Mayoral Candidates on the Economy

Where Greater Manchester’s mayoral candidates stand on the city region’s economic development

Tower Mill, Dukinfield
Greater Manchester’s economy has long been associated with cotton spinning, but job losses in the early 1960s undermined this, affecting Oldham’s, Bolton’s and Tameside’s economy. Today (seen in this 2011 view) , this is Greater Manchester’s only cotton mill, which reopened last year.

Cottonpolis, or the Capital of the Northern Powerhouse: several names have been bestowed on our city region. The state of our transport system, and the environment we live and work in, has an effect on the economic wellbeing of Greater Manchester. Thanks to a shift towards service industries, the city of Manchester has become a popular place for short breaks – behind Edinburgh and London.

The knowledge-based economy, another hallmark of Greater Manchester’s recent success, is thanks to the city’s universities and colleges. As well as the continued development of Graphene, MediaCityUK has made a positive impact on Greater Manchester’s media industries. At this time of writing, there’s rumours of the Channel Four Corporation moving to Salford; also, The Guardian is looking to return to its Mancunian roots.

Greater Manchester is also home to the UK Biobank in Stockport – a short bus ride away from the Holt Radium Institute at Christie’s Hospital. Over 100,000 businesses are based in the city region, employing 1.2 million people. In spite of the prosperity, not everyone is getting a fair crack of the whip. Low pay is an issue throughout the city region from Hollingworth to Abbey Lakes, and Ramsbottom to Ringway.

Low pay and the economy

In Greater Manchester, one in four jobs pay less than the Living Wage, as per the Living Wage Foundation’s figures (not HM Government’s version of The Living Wage). A recommended Living Wage, for residents living outside Greater London is £8.45 per hour. This take into account the cost of living: a decent meal, a warm home, plus birthday presents for the children. In some areas, 90% of young people are paid well below the recommended £8.45 per hour.

From 2009 to 2015, agency work has increased by 24%. In spite of fitting with some workers’ lifestyles, employment rights may be limited. With low pay comes the increased use of state benefits to top up any shortfall in earnings. Recently, this has meant the piloting of Universal Credit throughout the city region (starting at Ashton-under-Lyne Job Centre Plus in Spring 2013). With UC, claimants working part time are coerced into finding second or third jobs to get off the benefit. Or to mither their boss for longer hours.

Failure to do so results in a loss of benefits – which is also true with unemployed persons, being forced to spend a full time week’s worth of job hunting. Increased use of sanctions and other penalties (like the Bedroom Tax and changes to Housing Benefit) too could be standing in the way of Greater Manchester’s economic development.

Also key to the economic development of our city region will be the prospect of a post-EU Britain. Could the Northern Powerhouse be cut off in its prime?

Andy Burnham, Labour:

Low pay is seen as a bogeyperson for Andy Burnham. If elected, one instrument he would like to use is the Good GM Employers’ Charter. This will be a set of basic standards and actions. For example: closing the pay gap between male and female employees. Also trade union recognition and the end of enforced zero hours contracts. If Mayor of Greater Manchester, he aims to lead by example as a Living Wage Employer.

He also sees transport links as a prime mover in the city region’s economic development. Part of which is a new campaign to bring forward the Northern Powerhouse Rail plans. Also as part of an integrated scheme with the northern phase of HS2. To bolster the knowledge economy, he proposes the development of a Graduate Retention Plan. This aims to quell the brain drain from the North to the South of England.

In terms of education policies, he calls for the Apprenticeship Levy to be placed under control of the Office of the Mayor of Greater Manchester. This, Burnham says, aims to be a Skills Levy, and falls into line with the GMCA’s powers to oversee employment programmes. In cooperation with employers and colleges, he aims to develop a new 14+ strategy. Its focus will also be on lifelong learning as well as apprenticeships.

Will Patterson, The Green Party of England and Wales:

The Green Party candidate favours the creation of a Greater Manchester Living Wage. One that is either based on the Living Wage Foundation’s figures or a bespoke Greater Manchester figure (neither of which is stated in the manifesto). If powers for a GM Living Wage aren’t available, they favour greater enforcement on the payment of HM Government’s Living Wage rate.

He also proposes the end of Universal Credit in Greater Manchester, with a Universal Basic Income as its replacement. Taking into account the poly-centric nature of our city region, he favours a Greater Manchester economy which goes beyond central Manchester and Salford Quays. In other words, one that focuses on improving the attractiveness of Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham, and Rochdale as well as Manchester city centre.

With the city region noted for innovation, Will would like to see a green revolution. In his manifesto, he would like to encourage sustainable businesses to set up in Greater Manchester.

Sean Anstee, Conservative Party:

Sean would like to boost the role of voluntary groups and third sector enterprises. Part of this plan is the introduction of a Year of Service. This is Anstee’s Mancunian twist on the National Citizen Service scheme where young people could develop their work skills through voluntary work. This, he claims, is “a social revolution for our city-region” (which sounds eerily like David Cameron’s Big Society).

He would also like to boost the city region’s reputation in the digital industries, by making sure every child leaves school ‘digital-ready’. Like Andy Burnham, he would also champion the Living Wage Foundation’s Living Wage rate (again with the Mayor’s office leading by example).

In relation to Britain’s planned departure from the EU, he would like to place Greater Manchester at the heart of new trade deals. If elected, there would also be a Mayor’s Business Forum. He aims to seek replacement funding sources, to make up the shortfall left from leaving ESF (European Social Fund) and ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) sources.

Shneur Odze, United Kingdom Independence Party:

Shneur Odze, should he be elected, would like to be the whistleblowers’ champion. He aims to improve transparency with a council of ten advisors from across the city region. This, in his words, will be his “sounding board and your voice”.

Mohammed Aslam, Independent:

Mohammed would like to improve local economies by offering free parking in selected places.

Marcus Farmer, Independent:

Seeing the prospect of mayorship as a life project, his unique selling point is his business experience. He favours the creation of a green economy zone in the western part of Greater Manchester, and a grant funding scheme for youthful entrepreneurs. He also advocates the maintenance of strong partnerships with other cities and the return of selective education to all parts of the city region.

Jane Brophy, Liberal Democrats:

With the Liberal Democrats upholding its position as the most pro-EU of our mainstream political parties, the economic policies of Jane Brophy’s manifesto expresses this. She says that “a vote for me is a vote to work with our EU partners”. With Greater Manchester’s prosperity due to immigration (from Irish navvies to ex-Prisoners of War from mainland Europe), she is against the Hard Brexit route.

Her key to Greater Manchester’s economic success is closer ties with the European Union. She would also like to argue the city region’s case for the allocation of the remainder of its £176 million EU Development Fund money. Covering 2014 to 2020, only £19 million has been spent since the 24 June 2016.

Closer to home, she would like to provide help, support, and incentives for business start ups in our area. Like Andy Burnham, she favours improved vocational training for all ages, including apprenticeships and internships. Key to this is a guarantee of suitable work, education or training for 16 – 25 year-olds (a bit like New Labour’s New Deal programme without the Environmental Task Force option).

Stephen Morris, English Democrats:

‘Local Jobs for Local People’ is the watchword of Stephen’s employment policy. Some of his other employment policies are a good fit with those offered by the Labour and Green candidates. For example, he favours the Living Wage – a Greater Manchester Living Wage – as championed by Will Patterson. He also rejects zero hour contracts. Uniquely, compared with his rival candidates, he would like to see family-friendly policies as part of local authority tendering processes.

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Next up on It’s Up The Poll! 2017

It’s all about you. Next time, we shall be looking at how Greater Manchester Mayoral Election candidates could improve your life in our city region. Don’t touch that dial!

S.V., 02 May 2017.

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