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As a former Labour MP and leadership contender Andy Burnham is one of the high profile of England’s metro mayors. He was very visible during the aftermath of the attacks at the MEN Arena last year and he has been vocal on several wider issues, from Brexit to Trump.
From a policy perspective, he has been fairly busy in the past two years with announcements in areas ranging from education to emergency services.
Let’s take a closer look at the key developments in the three areas that have received the most attention since his election:
Tackling the high numbers of rough sleepers in Greater Manchester was one of Burnham’s key manifesto promises and is expected to feature heavily at the next election in July 2020 too.
Since his election, he has put together the Homelessness Action Network and launched the ‘A bed every night’ initiative. This saw the opening of a 24/7 homeless shelter in Ardwick, in November 2018. The project got off to a rocky start with the shelter temporarily closing within three months of opening due to structural issues. This has since been resolved and the latest estimates suggest that the shelter has provided emergency accommodation for around 1600 people and housing solutions for 466 of these.
The initiative, originally due to finish in June 2019, has since been extended to June 2020 is set to move into ‘phase two’ this month. It has recently received a £1.5 million commitment from the NHS in Manchester and additional financial commitments from the Police and the Ministry of Justice.
Alongside this, the ‘Housing First’ programme will deliver up to 400 affordable, safe spaces for those in need. While these are good strides into tackling the ‘symptoms’ of homelessness, the ‘causes’ also need to be considered and mitigated.
The transport focus so far has been on the public network in Greater Manchester. The recently launched 10-year plan, ‘Our Network’, is a continuation of the efforts to create an integrated and accessible city transport system.
Worth noting within this is the confirmation of the move to bus franchising. The new model would mark a meaningful departure from how the services are being run now. Currently, the bus operators collect their own fares, compete to run the profitable routes and are subsidised to run the loss making ones. Under the new system Transport for Greater Manchester will set the route, the rates and collect the fares, and the operators are contracted to deliver the route services for a fixed fee.
The same model has allowed Transport for London to deliver an integrated transport system where different modes of travel (the tube and the bus mainly) compliment, rather than compete with, each other. This is a promising move for Manchester.
Looking further afield, Our Network also re-iterates Burnham’s vocal Commitment to both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, although our stance on this is slightly different.
Many metro mayors have rightly made skills provision a key part of the policy agendas; Manchester is no exception. The mayoral authority’s vision for Manchester is set out in the Children and Young People’s Plan which aims to make Greater Manchester the best place to grow up in the country.
School readiness features heavily in this. The policy action has taken the form of the ‘Greater Manchester School Readiness Summit’, which brought together 300 organisations across the education, health and social care and voluntary sector, to showcase and learn from innovative approaches to improve school readiness and tackle educational inequality.
Policies aimed at young people include the ‘Meet your future’ initiative which provides work shadowing opportunities for pupils across the region and the ‘Opportunity Pass’ which allows free travel and access to sporting, cultural and leisure opportunities for 16-18 year olds.
A well-anticipated progression in this area is the upcoming launch of a UCAS-style portal for technical qualifications and apprenticeships, due to go live this autumn. It is expected that this will recognise and raise the value of non-academic training and improve access to it.
It remains to be seen how the mayor and the combined authority handle taking control of a devolved adult education budget, due to happen this autumn.
Within all of this, one thing is starting to become apparent: it was hoped when metro mayors came onto the stage that they would use their convening powers to bring various actors together – we can see this happening in Greater Manchester. Sometimes it is being done by joining different policy areas together, and sometimes by using the visibility of the office to vocalise local transport demands to Westminster. Granted, the institutional arrangements and the strength of the GMCA put it in a strong position, but it does illustrate the potential of the office, given the right tools.
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