Southern Powerhouse: lessons to learn from Manchester

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, joined the Southern Policy Centre and the Winchester Business School to discuss Manchester’s experience of devolution so far (‘Devo-Manc’).

The day was kindly supported by PwC.

Here are five important lessons that those building devolution deals in southern England can take from the Greater Manchester experience so far:

1. It takes time

Devolution is a process built on talking and planning between equal partners. It requires a unified political voice asking for powers based on a credible prospectus, which in turn requires Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Independent leaders to have strong relationships between each other.

The situation in southern England is accelerated. That ground work hasn’t been done in the same way as Manchester where they’ve been working on the process for many years. So leaders will be thinking about what work they need to do after the initial deal with government is struck, and how trusting relationships can be maintained across their region.

2. Connecting economic and social policy is key

No major policy challenges fit neatly into one policy box. Sir Richard focused on the issue of worklessness, which is one of the key factors behind the productivity gap between Manchester and other parts of England.

Much of it is caused by health problems, and devolution will actually enable that challenge to be dealt with across sectors. Not just by the NHS, not just by a local council, not just by the DWP. You can use strategic leadership, drawing on the knowledge of professionals and politicians in all these organisations, and you can pool funding/resources to tackle problems at root.

3. Devolution works best bottom up

The Manchester experience has been ‘bottom up’ in two key ways. Business voices have called, loud and clear, for devolution around skills policy. Amplifying these voices has been integral to Manchester’s case. And the whole of the Devo-Manc deal was drafted collaboratively between elected leaders. The Treasury didn’t impose the Northern Powerhouse, it was designed by Manchester’s architects.

But it hasn’t been perfect. One regret from Manchester was that they haven’t involved ordinary citizens enough in the design. The most effective devolution bids will carry forward the priorities and aspirations of whole communities.

4. It’s cross-party or no party

This has applied both locally and nationally in Manchester. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority includes Conservative-led Trafford and Liberal Democrat-led Stockport.

But the story that isn’t often told is how important continuity between the Labour and then the Coalition government was in 2010. The last couple of years of the Labour government in particular showed real progress in creating a Manchester ‘City Region’, and the coalition’s choice – made, apparently, on the lobbying of the Conservative and Lib Dem leaders in Manchester – to carry that work forward rather than scrap it and build their own scheme stopped devolution progress from being set back by years.

Devolution bids in the south – from Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to the Three Counties prospectus between Surrey, East Sussex, and West Sussex – are all built on cross-party coalitions, but that has to hold up in sustained negotiations and partnership working throughout times of electoral change.

5. Equality has to be protected

So much of this is built on trust between local partners. Protections for political minorities as well as unequal areas (ie district councils compared to unitary authorities) have to be built in from the start, so that the political leadership in these areas don’t feel like they’re being set up to be taken over by their bigger partners.

Further notes from Manchester:

  1. Business rates: a great opportunity, especially for southern authorities, but inequalities exist and councils will need to lobby the government to devolve business rates at a combined authority (rather than council) level so that a local system of redistribution is an option.
  2. Health: health organisations in Manchester and beyond fear being taken over, an anxiety that can destabilise the whole process if efforts aren’t made from the start to build in joint working and decision making.
  3. Education: Greater Manchester has only made tiny progress on education, this is an area where government policy doesn’t align with local authorities who want more oversight of schools.
  4. Confidence: local government is the most confident it has been for a long time. They won’t just be turned away at the door anymore, and the devolution genie won’t be allowed to go back into the bottle.


Supported by PwC.

Sir Richard Leese on the Devo-Manc experience

A Southern Powerhouse?

That’s the issue that Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council and key player in the ‘Devo Manc’ deal, will be addressing for us at the University of Winchester Business School.

Sir Richard will be well placed to give an insight into the negotiation of the devolution agreement, Manchester’s role in the ‘northern powerhouse’ and how the combined authorities intend to use their new powers.

John Denham, Chair of the SPC, will chair the event.

Wednesday 21 October

10.30am for a 11am start, ending at 12.30 with a buffet lunch.

Winchester Business School, West Downs Campus, SO22 5HT


Arnie Graf Tour

Arnie Graf – lecture and community organising tour – October 2015

At a time when membership, participation and public confidence in traditional party politics are at a low ebb, the Southern Policy Centre has a programme of work to encourage innovative forms of public participation.

To date this has involved support for deliberative polling and a pilot constitutional convention. Arnie Graf’s tour has been organised by the SPC as part of this programme.

Arnie Graf is a prominent US advocate of community organising, the movement that gave Barak Obama early training and which has influenced, amongst others, the UK Citizens movement that first put the Living Wage on the political map in Britain.

The tour begins with ‘Reconnecting politics with people‘, an evening with Arnie Graf and Danny Kruger, moderated by Isabel Hardman (assistant editor of The Spectator). The event is being organised in collaboration with the Winchester Centre for English Identity and Politics, and the Centre for Theology and Religion in Public Life.

Date: Thursday 22 October

Time: 6.30 – 8.00 pm

Location: Stripe Auditorium, King Alfred Campus, University of Winchester, Sparkford Road SO22 4NR

Admission £5.00, including wine and refreshments beforehand.

Booking essential: book your place now.

Based in Chicago, Arnie Graf has more than 50 years’ experience of community organising. A disciple of Saul Alinksy, Graf mentored a young Barack Obama while both were involved in church-based community action. In 2011 Ed Miliband appointed him to his team of advisers, with a special brief to conduct a root-and-branch review of the Labour Party and reconnect it with voters.

Danny Kruger is Chief Executive of the criminal justice charity Only Connect which helps prisoners, former criminals and young people at risk of reoffending. A former special adviser to David Cameron, Kruger was a leading advocate of the Big Society, ‘compassionate Conservatism’ and the need for the party to embrace ‘social justice’. He is a former chief leader writer at the Daily Telegraph.

Flier with full event details

Other events on the Arnie Graf tour: 

Attlee Memorial Lecture University of Oxford Friday 23rd October
Southampton community workshop Southampton City Council Saturday 24th October
Interfaith workshop London Monday 26th October
Lecture at the

University of Southampton


University of Southampton


Monday 26th October

Citizens decide: grants and commissioning budgets in Southampton

Southampton City Council has established a People’s Panel, made up of residents who are interested in taking part in consultations and other opportunities to express their views on council services, health services and living in the city.

On Saturday 4th July 2015 the Southern Policy Centre ran a deliberative polling session with some members of the People’s Panel to pilot this different way of engaging people in exploring specific issues.

Southampton City Council, like most local authorities, faces major challenges in deciding how to spend its money wisely in a time of budget constraints. Decisions about the balance of prevention, universal services and priorities for the city’s future are all contentious. There are no easy answers.

The polling session, brought together policy experts with local citizens to discuss four key proposals that epitomise these difficult choices.

Below is a summary of the proposals discussed and the outcomes of the audience deliberation, but you can read the full report here including data on audience attitude and an explanation of the deliberative process.

Read the full report

Why not a ‘Southern Powerhouse’? Presentation at Business South

We’ve all heard about plans to give new powers to local authorities in Greater Manchester and other major metropolitan areas in northern England. George Osborne has set out his vision of a ‘northern powerhouse’ but there is real potential for this region too.

On the 3rd July John Denham, Chair of the SPC Advisory Board, laid out our work on devolution policy for Business South.

Read the speech here and see the slides below:

Download the slides

Business South: Digital Summit

On Friday 27th March John Denham, Chair of the Southern Policy Centre, spoke about our Open Data Initiative at Business South’s Digital Summit event held at Winchester Planetarium and Science Park.

It was a successful morning where we heard from many Digital experts in new and emerging technologies ranging from Drones, 3D Printing, Home Energy Saving Devices and new technology from Japan. The morning was closed by keynote speaker Lord Robert Winston.

See John’s slides below:

SPC launches Open Data initiative

As a key strand of its work, the Southern Policy Centre sets out to research, design, champion and test fresh approaches to ‘Open Data’ especially in response to the opportunity of public service reform.

Launching our ‘Open Data Initiative’, we welcomed Liam Maxwell, Government Chief Technology Officer, to address an audience of entrepreneurs, academics, coders, innovators and policy makers on ‘Government As A Platform’ for Change.

Drawing on international insights and his own experience of working to help save UK government over £14 billion, Maxwell made the case for a permanent revolution in our way of thinking and delivering with regard to information, data and innovation. Among the guests was Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Chairman of the Open Data Institute, of which SPC hopes to form the Southern regional node point.

For further information or to get involved in our Open Data work email:

More on our Open Data work

SPC hosts senior Higher Education policy round-table

This week, in collaboration with Solent University, we were delighted to host a senior higher education policy round-table. Topics discussed included access, funding and the economic roll of HE. 

Among those attending were the chair of the Business Select Committee, two former cabinet ministers for universities, the current Chief Executive of the HEFCE and other leading figures in the sector.​

Related links:

Southampton Solent University supports SPC’s first inaugural roundtable

Our work on education and skills