The Divas of Devolution are demonstrating what can be done!

(This article was first published in the Local Government Chronicle on 4 October 2017)

From Greater Manchester to the West Midlands, Merseyside to Yorkshire, we are seeing woman-led action in devolution and it is both collaborative and compelling.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of travelling to Birmingham with Donna Hall, Chief Executive Wigan Council and Theresa Grant, Chief Exec of Trafford. We’d be invited by the new West Midlands Women’s Voice (WMWV) to share our learning from DivaManc and of woman-led change in Greater Manchester (GM) devolution. We were joined by Deborah Cadman, the new Chief Executive for West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), and women from across WMCA and local councils, businesses and community groups. It made for an insightful and inspirational trip and a perfect power-up for a Monday morning!

11 September 2017 Left to right, Theresa Grant CEO Trafford Council, Donna Hall CEO Wigan Council, Deborah Cadman CEO West Midlands Combined Authority, Jane Kemp West Midlands Womens Voice and Eve Holt DivaManc,


The lack of visible women around devolution tables to date has been stark and the case for change powerful - as most recently laid bare in the reports by the Fawcett and LGIU Commission and by IPPR. For devolution to deliver on its promise to return power to the people and to help address economic inequality, it must design for diversity - diversity of people, of strengths and of needs across our communities, our workplaces and our services. This isn’t possible if 51% of the local population immediately feels excluded!

Increasing the visibility of women, and other underrepresented groups, at the top table is a shared priority across the regions. “Equal gender representation and leadership across Greater Manchester” is the first of our five DivaManc key calls to action. A call that has already met with some success in Greater Manchester - with the welcome addition of Joanne Roney as Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, the positive and purposeful appointment by Andy Burnham of Baroness Beverley Hughes as Deputy Mayor for Police and Crime and the ratification at the Mayor’s first Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) meeting of a change to ensure gender balance at GMCA meetings. Lobbying for similar steps are growing elsewhere, including demands for change in Liverpool City Region from the Women’s Leadership Group, led by Tabitha Morton, who stood against Steve Rotheram in the mayoral elections for the Women’s Equality party, and from local women councillors.

The woman-led People’s Powerhouse event in July provided a further platform for collaboration between women leaders including Jo Miller, Chief Exec of Doncaster, and opportunity to showcase the work and thinking of many women (and men) across the statutory, CVSE and business sectors in the North. Followed in the summer by a collaborative and compelling Joint Statement and a transport summit in Leeds led by Judith Blake, Labour leader of Leeds City Council, Julie Dore, Labour Leader of Sheffield, Joyce McCarty, Labour Deputy Leader of Newcastle along with Andy Burnham, Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, Richard Leese, Labour leader of Manchester and Steve Rotheram, Labour Mayor of Liverpool City Region.

Listening to Theresa Grant and Donna Hall talk on that Monday morning in the Midlands, it was clear that these Northern Power Women had long been key drivers for change in the devolution agenda in Greater Manchester. Theresa, Trafford CEO for over 8 years and a leading public servant in Greater Manchester for 20, has played a key role in the GM Working Well programme and continues to lead on employment, apprenticeships and skills for the combined authority. And Donna Hall is a well respected leader on public sector reform across the combined authority as well as GMCA portfolio lead for Culture, Arts and Leisure. Voted the most inspiring woman in the public sector in the national Inspiring Women Awards in 2009, Donna has been instrumental in the creation of The Wigan Deal and the transformation of Wigan Council. Both Donna and Theresa have been getting on and doing it, growing, sharing and devolving power as they go, and they are by no means on their own. Over in Oldham, Carolyn Wilkins, Oldham Chief Exec and GMCA lead for Green City Region and Jean Stretton, Leader of Oldham Council and GMCA lead for Equality, Fairness and Inclusion, have been quietly working towards their ambition to be a living and breathing co-operative council that delivers inclusive growth in all corners of Your Oldham. And it is promising to see a growing number of women rising through the ranks, including Sara Todd, deputy Chief Exec at Manchester and Alison Mckenzie-Folan, deputy CEO at Wigan, both working with equal passion and purpose.

The more you look the more apparent it is, the divas of devolution have long been demonstrating how it’s done - with ears close to the ground, sleeves rolled up, a clear vision in sight, they’ve been working away building the foundations, relationships and case studies for a brighter devolution that works for all. And now we are all getting a taste and a glimpse of what that can look like. It is connected, authentic, collaborative and compelling...

Our session in Birmingham finished with a rallying cry from Deborah Cadman for us to work together to make women’s voices ‘louder, bolder, clearer’. Women are driving change across our communities, businesses and public services. By supporting each other and working in collaboration we can accelerate that change. Jane and Nicola of WMWV said our time together was "truly inspirational and has already prompted emails about shifting location of some of our meetings out of central Brum, spending greater time with the likes of Uprising and a general and louder call to action”. As we look at how we include, grow and sustain DivaManc as a social movement, there are lessons to be learnt from WMWV who have already attracted some core resources and funding from West Midlands Combined Authority to facilitate their activities. I look forward to us working out loud together, applauding and amplifying each other and demonstrating what can be done to deliver a better devolution for all.



DivaManc is now celebrating it’s one year anniversary having held it’s first public event on 22 September 2016.

The next event will be looking at how to better design for diversity. Connect via website or @divamanc

West Midlands Womens Voice will be launching their website soon, watch this space. You can follow them on twitter @WMWV_

Northern Power Women have just launched their new website and nominations for the NPW Awards - get nominating! @NorthPowerWomen

Women’s Leadership Group - @WomensLGroup

People’s Powerhouse - @PeoplesPowerhse

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