What Greater Manchester wants from the new Labour government

Sir Keir Starmer with the Labour manifesto
-Credit: (Image: PA Wire)


Keir Starmer has promised that his Labour government would work closely with our local leaders in Greater Manchester.

The new Prime Minister, who led his party to a landslide victory at the general election, told the Manchester Evening News in January that he would work 'hand in glove' with mayor Andy Burnham. Last month, he also told the M.E.N. that the Greater Manchester MPs in his top team - which includes representatives from Manchester, Tameside and Wigan - will be 'powerful advocates' for the city-region.

Sir Keir has now appointed some of our MPs to the cabinet - including Ashton-under-Lyne's Angela Rayner, who is the deputy Prime Minister. Labour now holds 25 of Greater Manchester's 27 seats in Parliament with our MPs expected to lobby for the city-region too.

READ MORE: After 14 years of Tory rule, is Manchester any Greater?

And it's not just parliamentarians and the regional mayor who will have the ear of government. Manchester council leader Bev Craig is high up in Labour's local government circles and will be a leading voice advocating for our city and town halls across the country.

But what will our local leaders be asking for now that Labour is in power? The M.E.N. has spoken to key figures to find out.

Housing

Work at the Rodney Street development in Ancoats
Affordable housing is a top priority in Manchester -Credit:Manchester City Council

Labour has promised to build 1.5m over the next five years by updating planning laws with mandatory housing targets and creating 'new towns' across the UK. Ms Rayner, who is now the housing secretary, also announced a big boost to affordable housing last year.

But the party is yet to say how many homes will be built in each area and where these 'new towns' will be. Greater Manchester already has a joint development plan, with nine of our 10 councils approving the controversial masterplan in March after many rows.

This involves building 165,000 new homes across the city-region, with the exception of Stockport which pulled out of the plan in 2020. Of these new homes, 50,000 would be affordable, with brownfield sites prioritised - but the plan involves building on the green belt too.

Days after he was re-elected for a third term as mayor, Mr Burnham vowed to end the housing crisis within a decade, setting a target of building 10,000 council homes by 2028 - 1,000 in each borough. The Labour mayor said major public land holders in the city-region, including the NHS and government departments, will be asked to identify sites where homes could be built 'as quickly as possible'.

Full details are expected to be published by the end of the year, but Mr Burnham said he has already been discussing his housing delivery plan with senior Labour figures. Local leaders are hoping that the new government will help pay for some of these homes.

In Manchester, the council has a plan to build 36,000 new homes by 2032, of which 10,000 would be affordable. This year, the city will see more genuinely affordable, social and council homes than at any point over the last two decades, according to the council leader.

Councillor Bev Craig described the Gay Village as an 'incredibly vibrant, welcoming and safe space' and said the area should 'fit the needs of the people who live, work and spend time' there
Manchester council leader Bev Craig -Credit:ABNM Photography

Coun Craig has also told the M.E.N. that she hopes to work alongside the new government to make homelessness 'as rare as possible'. Labour is reportedly planning to create an 'ending homelessness unit' which would sit in Ms Rayner's office as deputy Prime Minister.

But Mr Burnham wants Labour to go further in tackling the housing crisis. He wants changes to the Right to Buy scheme, which allows tenants to buy their council homes, calling for 30,000 new homes built in the city-region to be permanently exempt from the policy.

The Greater Manchester mayor has also called for the scheme to be suspended in areas where demand for social housing is high. In its election manifesto, Labour said that it would review the Right to Buy scheme and increase protections on newly-built social housing.

But, back in 2022, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves told the M.E.N. that Labour would not abolish the scheme. She said: "There are homes that are being built that are then bought, but local people have the right to buy the home they've lived in and paid rent in for years and years. I don't have a problem with that, but we need to be building up the housing stock in cities like Manchester."

Last month, shadow housing minister Matthew Pennycook said the party would reduce the 'overgenerous' discounts tenants who want to buy their home are currently entitled to. Whether Labour's reforms will go as far as Mr Burnham wants remains to be seen.

Transport

Rail congestion has plagued the region for years
Rail congestion has plagued the region for years -Credit:Vincent Cole - Manchester Evening News

Local leaders were furious when the Conservatives cancelled the northern leg of HS2 last year. But a few months after Rishi Sunak announced the decision, Labour's leader told the M.E.N he would not revive plans for the high-speed train line to reach Manchester.

As it stands, HS2 will end in the West Midlands with trains set to join the existing West Coast Mainline from there. But Mr Burnham, who has been working with private companies on an alternative plan, argues a new line is still needed - even if it's not high-speed.

Speaking to the M.E.N during the election campaign, Labour's shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said that, while the party will not take the previous HS2 plans 'back off the shelf', there are 'lots of options on the table' including Mr Burnham's alternative proposal.

Greater Manchester's mayor is now hoping Labour will keep the Conservatives' promise to build a new line between Manchester and Liverpool. So far, £17bn has been set aside for this scheme with Mr Burnham calling for an underground station at Piccadilly as part of it.

Sir Keir told the M.E.N. during a visit to the North West in May that he is already talking to the mayors about the plan. But the major rail project was not mentioned in Labour's manifesto, with some local party figures doubting that the new railway line will ever be built.

Former Manchester council leader Sir Richard Leese told the M.E.N last month that without the HS2 line down to London, it would be 'very difficult' to have a business case for the Manchester-to-Liverpool line. Nevertheless, Labour has not ruled out the scheme just yet.

Transport secretary Louise Haigh
Transport secretary Louise Haigh -Credit:Getty Images

Speaking to the M.E.N. in June, Louise Haigh, who is now the transport secretary, said that, while she could not commit to any specific transport schemes, the North would be prioritised. The Sheffield MP said Manchester and Liverpool will be 'at the heart of these plans'.

Ms Haigh also said that Labour would look at reviving plans to build two new platforms at Piccadilly which were scrapped last May, eight years after the plans were approved and waiting to be signed off. Local leaders were critical of the decision to cancel the vital upgrade which was aimed at easing rail congestion across the region and say that no credible alternative has been put forward yet.

Network Rail has said it still plans to redevelop Oxford Road with its regional boss revealing to the M.E.N last year that this would involve replacing the four existing platforms at the city centre station with two long platforms and a turnback platform in the middle.

Mr Burnham will also be hoping that Labour will back Greater Manchester's local public transport network. The Conservatives helped get the Bee Network off the ground with more than £1bn of funding for transport and millions of pounds more to subsidise bus fares.

However, the Labour mayor warned that this money would eventually run out and a longer-term funding deal would be needed. Mr Burnham is also hoping that Labour will accelerate plans for trains to be part of the new Bee Network which the Tories agreed to.

This includes the plans to make eight commuter train lines serving Greater Manchester part of the new London-style public transport system. This would allow passengers to pay for trains, trams and buses under one integrated system with a daily cap set on fares.

The Bee Network launched last year with all buses set to be brought under public control by 2025
The Bee Network launched last year with all buses set to be brought under public control by 2025 -Credit:Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News

Earlier this year, the government announced a trial of this approach on two rail routes would start in 2025. The following month, Greater Manchester's mayor announced that the plans would be brought forward and rolled out across eight train lines by 2028.

By making travelling across different modes of transport cheaper, advocates for the move argue that it would increase the use of commuter rail lines which are currently subsidised by the government. They point to increases in bus passenger numbers since they started to be brought under public control last year and argue that, if successful, this move could save the government money.

Poverty

The Labour manifesto says it will develop an 'ambitious strategy' to reduce child poverty. The party promises to work with the voluntary sector, faith organisations, businesses, devolved and local government and communities to bring about this change.

This has been welcomed by Graham Whitham, who is the CEO of Resolve Poverty - formerly known as Greater Manchester Poverty Action - who is 'optimistic' about child poverty being a focus of an incoming Labour government. He says that a national strategy to tackle the issue which affects increasing numbers of children in Greater Manchester has been lacking over the 14 years of Tory rule.

It comes as child poverty has gone up by 700,000 under the Conservatives with one million children currently facing destitution. In some parts of Greater Manchester, more than half of children are living in poverty with Oldham, Bolton and Blackley topping the list.

Resolve Poverty CEO Graham Whitham
Resolve Poverty CEO Graham Whitham -Credit:GMPA

Poverty has 'surged' in Manchester since 2021, according to the council leader, with 43 per cent of children growing up in the city finding themselves in these conditions. Coun Craig says Manchester needs a government that empowers the council to tackle this - however, she recognises that, due the state of the economy, she and other local leaders cannot expect 'much new money overnight'.

After years of deep cuts to council budgets, Labour have not committed to giving town halls any more money, instead offering longer-term funding deals. The party has also said it would not reverse the two-child cap on benefits introduced by the Tories.

Mr Whitham describes this policy - which means parents entitled to benefits do not receive any more money if they have more than two children - as 'cruel'. He said: "At a national level, if you want to address child poverty, you're going to have to pull some big levers.

"The two-child limit policy and the value of Universal Credit. You're going to have to put your money where your mouth is."

The Labour manifesto also says that it is committed to reviewing Universal Credit so that it 'makes work pay and tackles poverty'. The document also commits to working with metro mayors on a 'new approach' to employment support including through Jobcentres.

This was welcome news to local leaders in Greater Manchester. Earlier this year, Liz Kendall, who is now the work and pensions secretary, visited two centres in Manchester and Salford to see how local initiatives have been helping people back into work.

Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Liz Kendall visits the Working Well Work and Health Programme site in Greater Manchester
Liz Kendall is now the work and pensions secretary -Credit:Liz Kendall

The Working Well programme was set up in 2014 to tackle long-term unemployment that has plagued the city-region for decades. Commissioned by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, it offers personalised support and has helped 26,000 people so far.

Ms Kendall said that the scheme 'matches' Labour's plan to tackle the root causes of economic inactivity. Now, local leaders are hoping that the Labour government will go further by giving them full control of the national funding for employment support.

This would effectively mean Jobcentre Plus, which is responsible for helping unemployed people back into work, would be devolved. However, Mr Burnham has said that he believes the rate of benefits that individuals receive should still be set by central government.

As well lifting people out of poverty, having more people in work could also help Greater Manchester's economy. Coun Craig said: "Manchester can be the powerhouse of good growth that benefits everyone and can help get our country’s economy back on track."

Devolution

Sir Keir visited the M.E.N. offices earlier this year
Sir Keir visited the M.E.N. offices earlier this year -Credit:Sean Hansford, M.E.N.

When Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer visited the Manchester Evening News office in January, he promised that more powers would be devolved to Greater Manchester under his government. But the details, he said, were still being discussed with mayor Andy Burnham.

Speaking to the M.E.N in March, Mr Burnham said that he is 'encouraged' by the conversations he has had with his party so far - but he made it clear that he will be 'pressing for more'. Promises of bringing railways into the city-region's public transport network and helping local leaders build more social housing were two 'solid things' giving the Greater Manchester mayor 'great encouragement'.

Labour's manifesto commits to transferring power out of Westminster and giving regional mayors more power over transport, adult education and skills, housing and planning, and employment support. Metro mayors would also be given more flexibility over finances.

But Greater Manchester has already been given many of these powers in a new 'trailblazer' devolution deal signed last year. Local leaders will be arguing for the government to go further and faster on some of the commitments made under the Conservatives.

Coun Craig told the M.E.N. that local leaders will continue to push for many of the powers they have been consistently arguing for but have not got, saying "there is so much more we can do." This includes control of skills training budgets and employment support.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham -Credit:Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News

But more than anything, Mr Burnham wants a seat at the table to make sure his voice is heard at the highest levels of government. Labour's manifesto commits to creating a new Council of the Nations and Regions which would bring together the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, the First and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and the Mayors of Combined Authorities.

Commenting on the proposal, Mr Burnham said: "For too long, the interests of London and the South East have dominated decision-making in Whitehall. A Council of the Nations and Regions could break that spell and be a real game-changer for Greater Manchester.

"It could bring levelling-up to life in the coming Parliament in a way that never happened in the last."

In his first press conference as Prime Minister on Saturday (July 6), Sir Keir said that he would meet with regional mayors within the next few days to discuss their part in delivering economic growth. He said: "The principle I operate to is those with skin in the game know what's best for their communities - and that does require us to be bold about pushing power and resource out of Whitehall."

Manchester's council leader argues that, when given the power and resources needed, the city-region has shown 'we can set our own path'. Coun Craig hopes that, as well as tackling poverty, building homes and growing the economy, the Labour government will help Manchester meet its 'ambitious' zero carbon target of 2038, pitching the city as a potential 'trailblazer for a green revolution' in the UK.

She said: "There is so much in our country that needs fixing. It won’t happen overnight, but I’m optimistic that a government that backs our city can help us make our city an even better place to live, a world class city where growth benefits us all, and where every single Mancunian can fulfil their potential."