There is no one-size-fits-all model for metro mayors

What works for Manchester might not work for Leeds - it is important that governance models are adaptable

 

George Osborne is right to pursue his devolutionary agenda immediately after the election. Many assumed that the Northern Powerhouse was an electoral gimmick but his energy for city devolution would appear undiminished with today’s speech in Manchester announcing a new City Devolution Bill.

The Bill would have been necessary in some form in order to push through the powers already promised to Greater Manchester, but the fact that the chancellor is choosing to frame the announcement as a counterweight to the devolution being promised to Scotland is not insignificant. Many commentators have argued that devolution in England is an important way to address the so-called ‘English Question’.

It is also significant that there is a stronger element of fiscal devolution within these new announcements. With a London mayoral election now on the horizon, the demands of the London Finance Commission will no doubt come to the fore and London has joined forces with the Core Cities group to press this City-Centred fiscal devolution agenda.

But there is a significant sticking point in this fresh push for city devolution: Osborne’s insistence on cities adopting a ‘metro-mayor’ as a condition of further devolution, as Greater Manchester has done.

IPPR has long argued that metro mayors are a vital means of building the visible leadership and democratic accountability necessary for the more radical devolution of taxation and spending we want to see but even in this arena, the chancellor needs to recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all model for metro mayors.

In 2012 many cities held referendums on ‘city mayors’ covering the more limited local authority geography around city centres – rather than city regions. With no promise of any new powers, this model was rightly rejected in all but Bristol and Liverpool (where the public didn’t get to vote).

Osborne’s advocacy of metro mayors covering entire city regions is the better approach but it is important to note that the London and Greater Manchester models – both cited by the chancellor – are very different in form and function. Both have powers over policing and transport, but the Greater Manchester mayor will have more powers over housing and strategic planning. Crucially they will also have a say in health, social care and other public services not possible with the London model.

Their models of accountability are very different too. The London mayor is held accountable to what could be cast as ‘an extra tier of bureaucracy’ in the form of the Greater London Assembly – something explicitly ruled out elsewhere in the Conservative Party manifesto.

The Greater Manchester mayor will have no City Hall and will be held to account by the 10 elected leaders of the Combined Authority as a member of the Combined Authority cabinet, the arrangements for which could be seen as giving the local leaders – not the mayor – the whip hand on most matters.

Looking further afield one finds very many more varieties of ‘metro mayor’ in Europe and the US – each suited to the particular economic, social and historical geography of their particular places – and far fewer examples of direct election at the city-region level than some would expect. These include leaders’ boards with a delegated city-region ‘president’ (Bologna) or a fixed-term, rotating chair; elected and unelected ‘assemblies’ (Rotterdam) and ‘standing conferences’ of key stakeholders who are responsible for a city-region strategy and plan (Barcelona).

Unlike Manchester, many of our city regions are ‘polycentric’ with a number of hubs of economic activity competing for predominance (Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford in West Yorkshire for example). Here, a rotating, delegated city-region president might be more effective. In the North East, where a more plural approach to democratic change is being explored, a standing conference could elect a metro-mayor.

While neither of these has that vital dynamic element of direct election, the visibility and accountability of a figurehead role has proved sufficient in many successful European cities.

If the devolution agenda is to move forward, there is an urgent need for flexibility. Just as Manchester was able to develop its own model of metro-mayor distinctive from the London one, so other UK cities need to have the breadth of scope and ingenuity of dialogue to adapt a governance model to suit their own geographical and political circumstances.

Ed Cox is the director of IPPR North. Follow him on Twitter

8 Responses to “There is no one-size-fits-all model for metro mayors”

  1. Chrisso

    An elected City Mayor was also rejected in a referendum by Greater Manchester residents.

  2. Populous56

    it was only held in Manchester – one of tem councils in Greater Manchester.

  3. Mark Myword

    Indeed, and the CITY of Salford voted for a mayor.

  4. Chrisso

    No. A vote was also held in Salford. In January 2012 electors in Salford voted in favour of an elected mayor. Manchester narrowly voted against a mayor in May 2012. A Manchester Evening News poll of Mancunians a month earlier found a majority preferred the
    current system rather than a mayoral system of local government.

    The Unlock Democracy Greater Manchester Group is in favour of a public mandate being sought before this policy of a Greater Manchester Mayor goes ahead. The Greater Manchester Referendum Campaign found that 80% of people questioned believe it shouldn’t go ahead without a public vote
    does
    not oppose the principle of an elected Mayor for the Greater Manchester
    area (to head up the existing Greater Manchester Combined Authority),
    provided there is clear and demonstrable demand for this position of
    considerable local influence. A public mandate to establish this post
    would fulfil a guiding principle of citizen driven policy – See more at:
    //reformgroups.net/manchester/archives/355#sthash.xiIj8GMi.dpuf
    Unlock Democracy – Greater Manchester local group
    Unlock
    Democracy – Greater Manchester local group does not oppose the
    principle of an elected Mayor for the Greater Manchester area (to head
    up the existing Greater Manchester Combined Authority), provided there
    is clear and demonstrable demand for this position of considerable local
    influence. A public mandate to establish this post would fulfil a
    guiding principle of citizen driven policy. – See more at:
    //reformgroups.net/manchester/archives/355#sthash.xiIj8GMi.dpuf.

    What is proposed is not a London-style mayor. Yet at the very least the Mayor
    of London is directly elected and has to account to the Greater London
    authority, in public, for their decisions. There are no plans in Greater
    Manchester for similar scrutiny arrangements, which shows a complete
    lack of respect for the public and democracy.
    Unlock
    Democracy – Greater Manchester local group does not oppose the
    principle of an elected Mayor for the Greater Manchester area (to head
    up the existing Greater Manchester Combined Authority), provided there
    is clear and demonstrable demand for this position of considerable local
    influence. A public mandate to establish this post would fulfil a
    guiding principle of citizen driven policy. – See more at:
    //reformgroups.net/manchester/archives/355#sthash.xiIj8GMi.dpuf
    Unlock
    Democracy – Greater Manchester local group does not oppose the
    principle of an elected Mayor for the Greater Manchester area (to head
    up the existing Greater Manchester Combined Authority), provided there
    is clear and demonstrable demand for this position of considerable local
    influence. A public mandate to establish this post would fulfil a
    guiding principle of citizen driven policy. – See more at:
    //reformgroups.net/manchester/archives/355#sthash.xiIj8GMi.dpuf Local MPs Andy Burnham (Leigh) and Lisa Nandy (Wigan) are correct to express
    their concerns about the ‘deal’ stitched up by Osborne.

    It’s astonishing that LFF gives space to the plan to go ahead without any democratic mandate.

    Unlock
    Democracy – Greater Manchester local group does not oppose the
    principle of an elected Mayor for the Greater Manchester area (to head
    up the existing Greater Manchester Combined Authority), provided there
    is clear and demonstrable demand for this position of considerable local
    influence. A public mandate to establish this post would fulfil a
    guiding principle of citizen driven policy. – See more at:
    //reformgroups.net/manchester/archives/355#sthash.xiIj8GMi.dpuf
    Unlock
    Democracy – Greater Manchester local group does not oppose the
    principle of an elected Mayor for the Greater Manchester area (to head
    up the existing Greater Manchester Combined Authority), provided there
    is clear and demonstrable demand for this position of considerable local
    influence. A public mandate to establish this post would fulfil a
    guiding principle of citizen driven policy. – See more at:
    //reformgroups.net/manchester/archives/355#sthash.xiIj8GMi.dpuf

  5. Mark Myword

    When established, the Greater Manchester mayor will be directly elected by the public. He or she will be the 11th member of the GMCA cabinet – the other ten members will be the leaders of the ten local authorities. The Mayor can be outvoted in cabinet. Whether the cabinet will meet in public or not will depend upon whether the cabinet wishes to meet in public. This seems like a more democratic system than the GL mayoralty. I live in Greater Manchester – I have never heard of Greater Manchester Unlock Democracy Group, so they do not speak for me. Finally, This proposal has a democratic mandate – it was given when the Conservatives won the general election.

  6. Chrisso

    The Tories in the South speak for you apparently, say no more. They have no mandate from the people of Greater Manchester where they hardly won any seats!
    1. No-one claims that Unlock Democracy ‘speak for you’ but their view reflects that of many others living here, I live here too.
    2. The fact remains that there is no mandate by the people of Greater Manchester for a Greater Manchester mayor that will not be accountable to them. The plan to set up a mayor entails a mayor being installed without any direct election until 2019.
    3. “The Mayor can be outvoted in cabinet. Whether the cabinet will meet in
    public or not will depend upon whether the cabinet wishes to meet in
    public. This seems like a more democratic system than the GL mayoralty.” Believe that only if you don’t believe in public accountability.

  7. westwylam

    The principles behind this decentralisation or executive devolution are welcome. However there are potential numerous problems with this model (some mentioned). Really what we are talking about here is a remodelled metropolitan governance which was axed by Thatcher in 86. The biggest issue is that the Governance of England is a total mess from parish councils up to the English level. There is no overall framework or rationale but continuous piecemeal reform, primarily for party political reasons going back to 1974. This form of metro governance will only create more confusion & where does it leave non-metro areas, like Lancashire (which has a considerable popn approx. 1.1m)? No change until there’s a Commission on ALL English Governance.

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