Rishi Sunak’s new Tory government is accused of offering Greater Manchester a devolution cash deal worth billions – before asking for a massive last-minute backhander.
The Catch-22 was that Manchester would have to start paying money back to the Government for extending the HS2 high speed railway line into Manchester Piccadilly Station.
HS2 for Manchester lines will be delayed
Transport Minister Mark Harper announced on 9 March that HS2 from Birmingham to Crewe will be delayed by two years to save money and he could give no date to the House of Commons for extending the line into Manchester. HS2 to Leeds has already been cancelled.
“The Government is committed to delivering HS2 Phase 2a between Birmingham and Crewe. We have seen significant inflationary pressure and increased project costs, and so we will rephase construction by two years, with an aim to deliver high-speed services to Crewe and the North West as soon as possible after accounting for the delay in construction.” – Mark Harper MP (written statement to the Commons)
The BBC Transport and Environment Correspondent Tom Edwards feared that Mark Harper’s statement pushes back the estimated date for HS2 trains to reach Piccadilly to 2043.
Manchester’s negotiating team is reported to have immediately refused to pay any backdated backhander in exchange for new powers and more funds. Their comments, after 11 months of negotiations with three Tory governments, were revealed by Joshi Herrmann, editor and founder of the £84 a year online news service Manchester Mill.
A Catch-22 devolution deal
Herrmann, who has worked as a reporter in London and New York, says he interviewed the unnamed “emissiaries sent by Greater Manchester to extract new powers and money” from the three short-lived governments of Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak.
“One senior figure close to the talks” told Herrmann that pressure from “Levelling Up” Minister Michael Gove to persuade other Tory government ministers to surrender power and money to the city-regions of Manchester and Birmingham had been “pivotal”.
But under a headline asking “How ‘historic’ is Andy Burnham’s new deal with the government?” Herrmann wrote, “The worst moment came soon before the negotiations were supposed to finish – which was just a few weeks ago – when the government made an unexpected demand. Greater Manchester would have to contribute to the costs of HS2 if it wanted any concessions on transport, a demand not made of any other area along the route.”
“One person involved” is reported to have told Herrmann that things “kicked off entirely and then the government backed off” to allow junior government minister and MP Dehenna Davison, to sign a policy paper on the “Trailblazer deeper devolution deal” with mayor Andy Burnham and ten Greater Manchester council leaders, gathered in the new campus of the Manchester College on the site of Boddington’s Strangeways Brewery on 21 March.
Dehenna Davison, who became parliamentary under-secretary of state for levelling-up last September said: “I’m proud to have agreed a historic and trailblazing new devolution deal with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, providing the Mayor with more powers, money and an even greater say on how this iconic region is run. This is the very essence of devolution – leaders taking decisions and being accountable to the communities they serve.
“Covering everything from Bee Network buses to affordable home building, this deal will give leaders the opportunity to deliver economic growth, better services and high quality jobs for people in Greater Manchester.”
“I’m really pleased to welcome Levelling Up Minister Dehenna Davison to Greater Manchester to sign what is the seventh devolution deal for our city-region – but this is by some way the deepest. This deal takes devolution in the city-region further and faster than ever before, giving us more ability to improve the lives of people who live and work here.” – Mayor Andy Burnham
The Manchester Mill added a waspish further comment from Dr Nicola Headlam, chief economist and head of public sector at the Red Flag Alert consultancy who were advisers to Greater Manchester Combined Authority on recovery from the pandemic.
Dr Headlam, former head of the Northern Powerhouse, played down the deeper devolution deals: “In normal economies that aren’t subject to this insane centralisation, how would you explain this? To a German? It’s not even explaining it to an alien that would be hard, it’s explaining it to any citizen of Western Europe.”
Catch-22 is “A difficult situation in which the solution to a problem is impossible because it is also the cause of the problem.” From Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 published in 1961, and the script of the 1970 film:
Doc Daneeka: “No. Then I cannot ground him.” (Yossarian cries out in frustration)
“See, there’s a catch, Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”
Yossarian: “That’s some catch, that Catch-22.”
Doc Daneeka: “It’s the best there is.”