'Metro mayors' would mark a real shift in the balance of power from Whitehall to cities, re-engage millions of voters and provide a clear alternative to quangoland. The next Government should go for them.
The next Government should go for ‘metro mayors‘ – not just single-city figureheads, but powerful leaders with a direct mandate from an entire metropolitan area.
This would be a brave step for all three main political parties. Virtually all incumbent city leaders hate the idea. But ‘metro mayors‘ would mark a real shift in the balance of power from Whitehall to cities, re-engage millions of voters and provide a clear alternative to quangoland. And critically, “metro mayors” would unlock the financial powers that our biggest city-regions need to invest in transport, housing and skills.
Three steps are needed:
- A commitment to mayors in principle, as the best governance model for our biggest cities outside London – highly visible, directly accountable and able to take tough decisions on tax and spend.
- A first wave of ‘metro mayors’ in the four biggest metropolitan areas outside London – Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Greater Birmingham and Leeds city-region.
- Real financial powers for ‘metro mayors,’ with direct control over housing, transport and skills budgets – and the whole of the business rate.
Labour has been too timid in devolving power within England. Compared to the rest of the UK, English cities have been relatively short-changed. As David Miliband acknowledged recently, the shift in balance of power from Whitehall to Town Hall has not happened.
David Cameron has seized the initiative by committing to 12 city mayors outside London, including in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham. But single-authority mayors do not make much sense in places like Greater Manchester and Merseyside. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats – which now runs most big cities outside London – would rather stick with the current system of indirectly-elected city leaders.
Metro mayors are the last thing that incumbent city leaders want. But the political and economic case is strong. The next Government should go for them. Another decade of incremental, piecemeal devolution is not an option.
Our guest writer is Dermot Finch, Director of the Centre for Cities
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