The Political Studies Association (PSA) has funded new research which raises concerns about the extent that the ‘devolution revolution’ promised by the UK Government in 2015 has bypassed young people across Greater Manchester. A new report published by Dr Andy Mycock from the University of Huddersfield and Beth Knowles, a Manchester city-centre councillor, reveals that young people are already sceptical about Greater Manchester’s new mayor and the potential impact of devolution on their lives.

Citizens across Greater Manchester will elect their first ‘metro-mayor’ in May 2017. The new mayor will have considerable political influence both in terms of shaping political priorities for the region and in representing Greater Manchester and its 2.8 million citizens across the UK and on the global stage. He or she will control the region’s Police and the Fire service, housing, planning and public transport, though the local authorities will have responsibility for Greater Manchester’s devolved health and social care system and a range of other public services.

Young people from local schools, colleges, and youth councils across Greater Manchester took part in the ‘Democratic Devolution: The Future of Greater Manchester’ project over the past twelve months. The Political Studies Association kindly funded the launch Youth Assembly event for the project at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. Working with a Manchester-based youth democratic education, the Politics Project, the young participants learnt about ‘DevoManc’ and had their say on a range of devolved policy areas. They also met with mayoral candidates and local politicians to discuss their proposals. Over the course of the project, three themes emerged which strongly influence the attitudes of the young people towards devolution in Greater Manchester.

First, although most young people have a keen interest in current affairs, they lack knowledge or access to information in their schools, colleges, and local communities about ‘DevoManc’. They are thus unsure about existing powers of local government or how the new mayor might reshape local and regional politics. Moreover, they have had few opportunities to learn about devolution outside of school, with media and politics internet sites they use typically focusing on national rather than local or regional news, with little interest in the forthcoming mayoral election.

Second, many of the young people felt they were ‘invisible’ to the region’s politicians. They shared concerns with many older Greater Mancunians that there has been no attempt to engage or consult with them about the form or content of ‘DevoManc’. Moreover, many will not be able to vote in the mayoral election in May. There was widespread disappointment that there had been no discussion about lowering the voting age to 16 as in Scotland.

Third, the young people struggled to embrace the proposition that they will soon become citizens of Greater Manchester, with few expressing any affiliation to the Greater Manchester region. Furthermore, those living outside of Manchester itself expressed concerns regarding the potential that ‘DevoManc’ would primarily focus on and benefit the city centre. Fears that Greater Manchester’s other city, Salford, and its numerous towns, villages, and local communities, would not particularly benefit from the ‘devolution revolution’ were widespread. 

As part of the project, young people worked with politicians including Manchester City Council leader, Richard Leese, and representatives from Greater Manchester’s public sector, business, and youth democracy and cultural communities to produce a ‘youth manifesto’. This offers 25 policy ideas for the mayoral candidates to consider, including proposals to involve young people in designing education policies, greater support for youth mental health, discounted or free transport for under-18s, and the introduction of a Greater Manchester work experience and volunteering programme.

They proposed that a democratically-elected Greater Manchester Youth Assembly should be created to represent young people drawn from the diverse communities of the city-region. The Assembly would engage with young people, and seek to influence and inform the decision-making of the directly-elected Mayor and the ten authorities of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and hold them to account. They also identified an urgent need to learn about the history and politics of Greater Manchester through the creation of a democratic education programme in schools and colleges.

Dr Andy Mycock noted: "There is widespread political support for a Greater Manchester Youth Assembly but politicians and the general public need to accept that creating future generations of politically engaged and active Greater Mancunians will not materialise without appropriate funding".

Professor Matt Flinders, Chair of the Political Studies Association said: "The Democratic Devolution project sets a ground-breaking precedent for youth participation in politics that we hope to see rolled out across the country. The Political Studies Association is proud to support these efforts. A sense of involvement in political decision-making at a young age is a key driver towards a more politically literate population and a healthier democracy".

The full report is available to download here. Dr Mycock is continuing to work with young people who are part of the Youthforia network of youth councils and other youth representative organisations on designing a Greater Manchester Youth Assembly. Plans will be submitted to each of the mayoral candidates and Greater Manchester’s local authority leaders and discussed at a Mayoral Election Youth Hustings event which will be held on 6 April 2017 where young people will also quiz candidates about their policies.

For more information about the project and future events, please contact Dr Andy Mycock at a.j.mycock@hud.ac.uk