The Tory cuts on social welfare and the uncertainty over Brexit are pushing the British citizens to a tough phase… The following is the transcript of the speech delivered by Dr Kailash Chand OBE, Chair – Healthwatch Tameside and former deputy chair British Medical Council, at Fabian Society in Manchester
The EU Referendum debate was difficult and it was divisive. It split our region, it split our communities, even families were divided over whether they were in or out. The EU referendum showed that people must be listened to when they say they are not being heard. It was a wakeup call to the Westminster elite.
And this is exactly what devolution has the potential to be. With the right person at the helm – devolution can be the political change that our communities are crying out for. The economic and political landscape is changing fast.
And the reality is that Britain’s exit from the European Union is likely to hit our region hard. In his first major economic statement since Brexit a couple of weeks ago, the Chancellor may have told us what the cost of Brexit to the economy but he failed to mention that it was the northern economies that will suffer the most.
We all know too well the damage austerity has done to our communities. The referendum decision will make our funding situation all the more challenging. In these difficult times, more of the same is not an option. We need new ideas, united leadership and an ambitious vision. Now more than ever, we need a Labour mayor who will fight for our communities and who will go out, develop relationships and persuade people, making our region’s case on the international stage.
The devolution of powers to Greater Manchester is not without the risk. The transfer of such power to our great city regions is unprecedented. The first challenge is to ensure that people actually understand what it is.
Whilst people want to have their voices heard, I am concerned that up until now our communities have not been involved in the devolution process. Some don’t know what it is, others see it as just another layer of bureaucracy – another politician and less power for the people.
This is why I very much welcome the work that Andy Burnham is doing to reach every corner of the Greater Manchester region and to ensure everyone is given a chance to input into his plans. Only a couple of weeks ago, I was at an event Andy had convened with a hundred young people from across the region who were having their say on the policies they would like to see in his manifesto. He has made it quite clear that the ideas he will put forward next year in the run up to the election, will not be his ideas, but ours.
Public participation in this election will be critical in ensuring that the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ does not become an empty slogan. Whilst we heard some significant announcements from the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement. Announcements such as the new borrowing powers for the new combined authorities to reflect their new responsibilities and new arrangements for the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund – these announcements alone are not enough to match the scale of the challenge we are facing.
I am concerned more by what the Chancellor didn’t announce than what he did. On transport for example – we are crying out for an ambitious plan and timetable for rail investment – but rail in northern England only got a cursory mention. Decades of unfair allocations from the transport budget have left the North with an inadequate rail system and motorways that are at saturation point.
It’s our turn to come to the front of the queue for transport investment and that should have started this week – this should be our country’s first transport priority. Yet whilst the Government is ‘looking forward to the plan for cross–rail’ 2 in London, there was no mention at all of Northern Powerhouse Rail.
An ambitious plan for transport would not just have been a plan to get the north moving, it would have galvanised our entire economy, and the prospects of our young people.
We needed to hear about investment in skills, apprenticeships and training for our young people to deliver our ambitions for the North. But what we got instead was a dribble of announcements on roads that doesn’t match our ambitions or needs.
The Chancellor announced 40,000 new homes – it will be the job of the Mayor to ensure we get our fair share of this investment. Recent projections had Greater Manchester running out of homes for families in a decade. And because close to two-thirds of Greater Manchester’s population growth is expected to be aged 65 and over, we must ensure that any new housing meets the needs of older people.
The issue of NHS and Health is closest to my heart. We saw very little from the Chancellor despite the fact that the NHS in GM is under intense pressure with over 200,000 patients currently on the waiting list and hospital deficits hitting record highs.
Devolution presents a real opportunity for Greater Manchester to deal with some of the problems facing the NHS, and also some of the more longer term public health challenges, especially around health inequalities. But, without the right financial support, it is going to be very difficult. Andy Burnham has rightly called on the Government to ensure the NHS in GM is properly funded ahead of the new Mayor taking post next May.
It is staggering that the Chancellor found no space for social in his statement. There was no mention at all of social care at all. Social care is collapsing – in Greater Manchester for 16/17 we are facing an £81million black hole in social care funding, rising to almost a quarter of a billion by 2020 – yet as Andy powerfully pointed out in his response to the statement, the Chancellor feels that grammar schools are a greater funding priority than care for older people?
These challenges are not insignificant, I feel passionately that with Andy Burnham fighting our corner, championing Greater Manchester nationally and internationally our prospects are much brighter than if it were to be left to Theresa May in Westminster.
With a Mayor with real power, real clout and real influence, we are in a stronger position to ensure that the interests of our great region of Greater Manchester are not just protected as we leave the EU, but that we flourish, thrive and achieve our amazing potential.