Greater Manchester: a beacon of opportunity

 

As a country, Britain is far too unequal. But, in truth, so is Greater Manchester. 

In 2016, it remains the case that your postcode still has far too great a bearing on where you end up in life.

As socialists, it must be our mission to change that. It would be my mission as your Mayor.

I want Greater Manchester to show the rest of the country that, with determination, we can break the cycles that trap so many in poverty. We will be a beacon of opportunity and social justice to the rest.

 So how can we make that happen?

We must start with a relentless focus on the first 1000 days of life. 

All the evidence suggests that, if you invest in children's development in those first three years, you will set them up for greater success in later life.

Thankfully, this is already understood in Greater Manchester. There is some brilliant work already going on, not least in my own borough Wigan. By encouraging all of our public services to adopt a 'Whole Child' approach, we are beginning to stop children from falling through the net. 

But there is a long way to. Too many four-year olds in Greater Manchester start primary school without basic language and life skills. In my own borough, around a third of children on average are not "school-ready". In the most deprived parts of Greater Manchester, it can be as high as 70%.

These figures should greatly concern us all, because these children fall behind the others straight away and many never catch up.

I am all about changing that. So I will take our ambition up a level. I will set a policy goal of ALL children in Greater Manchester being "school-ready" when they start in reception.

How quickly we can get there is to be determined. But it is right to try. No child should have the odds stacked against them at age four. 

People will ask what is the cost of doing it. I would ask what is the cost of not. It means continuing to pay for public services that pick up the bill of failure rather than invest in success.

Once children are in school, there is more we can and should be doing to help them make progress.

It is truly a national scandal that, according to the Children's Commissioner, 28% of children referred to mental health services in 2015 were turned away.

What justification can there ever be for not giving children the support they need? In my view, they should always have the first call on available resources. 

So, as your Mayor, I would set about changing these shameful statistics. My policy instruction to the NHS would be clear: any child in Greater Manchester referred to mental health services WILL get the support they need. End of story.

It is not just mental health services that are often not there when needed. Parents of children with autism often face a monumental battle for support. There can be long waits for services like speech and language therapy and crucial support like specialist wheelchairs. 

As Mayor, I will have a clear focus on improving the support for children with special needs. Even though the Tories have abandoned it, I will return Greater Manchester to an "Every Child Matters" approach. I will commit to GM-wide strategies on disability and autism. 

But if we truly want a more equal society, we need to do a lot more to help today's generation make their way in the world.

For decades, there has been a snobbery in this country about technical education. Westminster has neglected it and focused on the university route. That has betrayed millions of young people in Greater Manchester.

We have a chance to change that.

As Mayor, I want to give all our young people hope that there is a decent opportunity for them at the end of school. So I will ask the birthplace of the industrial revolution to lead a revolution in technical education. In Germany, academic and technical education are seen as equals. I want Greater Manchester to adopt the same policy. I will set the goal of a quality apprenticeship for every young person in Greater Manchester who wants one and gets the grades. I will ask all businesses and public bodies to work with me to help make it a reality.

To give young people wanting an apprenticeship the same clarity as to what is available as those on the university route, I will work to establish a UCAS-style apprenticeship application system across Greater Manchester.

The aim of this would be to lift the sights of young people in Greater Manchester by giving them the chance to access the best opportunities.

This will be part of a radical re-think of 14 to 19 education. Working with our school, colleges and businesses, we should aim to give all young people a clear choice at the end of school: university; apprenticeship; or running a business.

This third option could help us change the culture. For many people here, it's not in our DNA to grow up dreaming of running our own company. Perhaps that is a legacy of our industrial past when the expectation was that people would be employees rather than employers.

But the reality is that, in the modern world, more people will run their own businesses. So why don't we change the way our young people think and instil in them the same confidence that others have elsewhere?

To help us achieve it, I will work with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce to devise a new, supported route for young people who want to set up their own company.

So that will be my deal as Mayor for the young people of Greater Manchester. If you get the grades, we will support you into a quality opportunity. 

But we will only make this a reality if we are prepared to help young people travel to take advantage of these new opportunities.

The truth is that my generation of politicians got all the benefits of free education and haven't done anything like enough to extend the ladder down to those coming behind us.

Life is much harder for them than it was for us. Wherever they turn, they seem to have barriers put up in front of them.

I want to try and take some of them away.

So here's my final pledge: as Mayor, I will set a long-term goal of introducing a free bus pass for all 16 to 18 years in full-time education or training, when we can make the funding work.

Following the demise of the Education Maintenance Allowance, funding is still provided to colleges to help with travel and some of this could support this scheme. In addition, I would invite the businesses of Greater Manchester to help sponsor it and the bus companies to give us a favourable deal. To be honest, we all owe it to our young people to try and make it work - and I will make sure it does.

If we are to build an education system along the lines I am suggesting, with true parity between academic and technical education, we would be laying the foundations for a strong skills base and a successful economy in the future. I will return to this theme in my fifth and final blog.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on any of the ideas in this blog. You can send them to info@andy4mayor.co.uk. 

But I hope you would agree that this is a strong and compelling vision for how we help ALL young people make their way in the world and fulfil their potential. And, by doing that, we will make Greater Manchester and the country more equal than it is today.