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Metro Mayors Special: The Great Devolution Experiment

Written by Kevin Whitmore


On 4th May 2017, almost 7 million people in six Combined Authorities across England will elect the first Metro Mayors.  With nominations closing this week and less than a month to go until Polling Day, our North Region Director, Kevin Whitmore, takes a look at what the new Metro Mayors mean for politics across the North and what you can expect to hear from candidates over the coming weeks. 

You can download our handy guide to the key powers held by the new Mayors in each City Region here.

What are Metro Mayors?

Metro Mayors were established as part of the Cameron Government’s drive to devolve powers to English City Regions under the 2016 Cities & Local Government Devolution Act.  In return for additional powers and a greater say over local funding streams, City Region Combined Authorities were asked to provide greater political accountability in the form of a directly elected Mayor.  The new ‘Metro Mayors’ will act as a directly elected Chair within a Combined Authority area and will work with local Council Leaders to set the strategic direction over a varying range of powers, depending on the nature of devolution deals agreed for each City Region.

What will their powers be?

Good question.  The powers for each Mayor will not be the same (see our handy guide) and are likely to increase over time.  All of them include some degree of control over transport, housing & planning and skills as well as a pot of money to invest in their areas.  The Greater Manchester Mayor will have a say in health and social care provision, as well as taking on the position of Police & Crime Commissioner.

Each Mayor will need to appoint a Deputy from one the Local Council Leaders within their Combined Authority and form a Cabinet comprised of all local Council Leaders.  The Mayor’s Cabinet will be able to override a Mayoral Strategy or amend a budget with a two-thirds majority.

Who will have an elected Mayor in the North?

Metro Mayors will be elected for Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, the West Midlands and Tees Valley in the North of England.  Mayors are also being elected in the West of England and Peterborough & Cambridgeshire.

Elections will be held using the Supplementary Vote System which means that voters get to vote for their first and second choice candidate.  If no candidate gets over 50% of the first choice votes in the first ballot, the top two candidates go into a run-off, when the second choice votes of all of the other candidates are allocated to elect the winner.

What can we expect?

Greater Manchester

Greater Manchester is at the forefront of devolution, with the Combined Authority securing the most comprehensive package of powers and funding as part of its ‘Devo Manc’ deal with Government.  Seen as the top job outside of London, the GM Mayor has attracted one of the most well-known candidates from Westminster in the form of Andy Burnham, and the result is likely to be headline news when it is announced on 5th May.

The GM Mayor will have the most far-reaching powers of any of the Metro Mayors.  These include control over a £900 million investment fund and some control over Education & Skills, Housing & Planning, Health & Social Care, Transport and Policing & Justice.

The bookies favourite to win is Labour’s Andy Burnham, although Conservative Sean Anstee is fighting a strong campaign.  With Burnham not part of the ‘Manchester Labour family’ and a somewhat reluctant devotee of health devolution it remains to be seen how he will fit into what has traditionally been a consensual approach to decision-making amongst the 10 Council Leaders.

Liverpool City Region

The Liverpool City Region Mayor will receive the same level of funding as his/her Mancunian counterpart but fewer powers.  These include some control of Education & Skills, Housing & Planning, and Transport powers.

The favourite to become Metro Mayor is Labour’s Steve Rotheram.  Currently, a backbench MP and PPS to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, Rotherham has spoken of the need to improve the region’s housing stock, expand the Port of Liverpool, get a High Speed Railway Station in the City and pushed the green agenda.

One to watch will be Rotheram’s ability to speak for the region as a whole and not just for the City of Liverpool.  With outlying local authorities somewhat reluctant partners in the march to a new Metro Mayor, it could be a difficult balancing act ensuring that the priorities of all parts of the City Region are met.

West Midlands

The West Midland mayoral race is likely to be the most closely contested with both Labour and the Conservatives vying to get their man into the job.  With the largest budget of all of the new Mayor’s (£1.1bn over 30 years) and the largest electorate, the West Midlands Mayor could arguably be viewed as the most powerful politician outside of London.  The new Mayor’s powers include some control of Education & Skills, Housing & Planning and Transport powers.

The two front runners – Labour’s Siôn Simon and the Conservative’s Andy Street – both have good reputations across the region and strong backing from their respective parties making the contest too close to call.  Each has pledged to drive investment into the West Midlands, to protect the Green Belt, encourage development on brownfield sites and speed up the planning process.

The geographic area and the structure of the Combined Authority will be the new Mayor’s biggest challenge.  The political structure of the Combined Authority has led some to describe the new Mayor as being a ‘toothless tiger’ and the lack of a coherent geographic basis may make it difficult for programmes such as smart ticketing to have any real impact.

Tees Valley

The Tees Valley Mayor will have fewer powers than their other Northern counterparts and less money to invest on pet projects.  The Mayor will have control over a £450 million budget and some control of Education & Skills, Housing & Planning and Transport powers.

Whilst at first glance Labour’s Sue Jeffrey is the clear favourite to win the position, the drop in Labour’s share of the vote at recent elections combined with a strong Vote Leave majority in last year’s referendum may make the contest less predictable.  So far, Jeffrey has focussed on job creation, a ‘Busses Bill’ and ambitious plans for an Enterprise Zone at Tees Valley Airport.

Given the relative lack of powers and funding that the Tees Valley Mayor will have upon his/her election, the key challenge is likely to be making the position relevant in the minds of voters across the region.

Remarkable Group has produced a handy guide to the key powers held by the new Mayors in each City Region.  You can download or request a paper copy here.
We can help you understand the devolved political landscapes and build relationships that make you part of the debate. Find out how Remarkable Group can provide political consultation, advice, and much more here.

Remarkable Engagement, Northwest, Manchester, metro mayor, Mayor, andy burnham, greater manchester, Labour, Conservatives, Northern Powerhouse, Devolution, tees valley, liverpool, liverpool city region, west midlands, sion simon, andy street, steve rotheram, sean anstee