As you’re reading this article can you recall who your elected Metro Mayor is? And are you aware of the powers they have? Most may know the answer to the first but not likely the second and what complicates the answer further is that not everybody will live and work under the system of a Metro Mayor.
But for those that do, the impact is starting to be felt and this new way of governing the regions has brought out detractors and supporters in equal measure.
So, what’s it all about and what impact have our Metro Mayors had?
The transfer and delegation of power to the lower levels of government – away from London – is what led to the creation of the Metro Mayors.
In May 2017, six new mayors were elected to lead regional ‘combined authorities’ to assume power from central government over economic development, transport, housing and education.
The areas which were assigned Metro Mayors were the West of England, where Tim Bowles (Conservative) won the vote; in Greater Manchester, former Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham (Labour) took office; and in the West Midlands former John Lewis Managing Director Andy Street (Conservative) became the leader of the combined authority.
In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer (Conservative) was voted in and in the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotherham (Labour) was voted in. Tees Valley Metro Mayor Ben Houchen (Conservative) is the youngest of the six, at just 32 years old.
The following May, Dan Jarvis (Labour) was elected the Sheffield City Region Metro Mayor. A North of Tyne Combined Authority will appoint an inaugural Metro Mayor later in 2019, following a vote in areas of Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland. There is a ninth combined authority in West Yorkshire, but as of yet, there is no Metro Mayor.
Not Intended to replace or take control
The Metro Mayors were not intended to replace or take control over city and regional councils – or any other form of local government, and each region was assigned different sectors to focus on.
In the case of Burnham’s Greater Manchester region, his office has control over the regions £6bn healthcare budget, whereas Street’s West Midlands combined authority has been assigned £8bn to improve adult skills and apprenticeships amongst young people.
DIFFERING POWERS AND INFLUENCE
Despite the fact that the Metro Mayors have clearly got different goals and agendas, some have assumed some of the powers given to city mayors – but they have also got their own set budgets.
The 30-year investment fund differs for each region, though.
West Midlands was assigned the largest budget at £1.1bn – £250m of which will be focused on transforming the region’s transport links and local networks.
Greater Manchester, Liverpool City and West of England were all assigned a £900m budget, while Cambridge and Peterborough were assigned £600m, with Tees Valley receiving £450m.
Akash Paun, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Government, believes that Burnham’s Greater Manchester region has benefitted the most from the devolution deal.
He said: “The Metro Mayors were all given different devolution deals, as there were differences in the capacity and influence
they could have. Naturally, that has meant that Andy Burnham has been able to have quite an impact across a wider range of policy areas. He is the only one who has been given powers in areas of policing – he replaced the police commissioner as part of this role.
“The Greater Manchester deal includes involvement in social and healthcare integration at the level of the working health programmes. You can definitely say that Greater Manchester is the most developed devolution deal. That is not to say that the other ones haven’t had success – they are just in a different place in terms of the devolution development.”
History of collaboration
This region in particular inherited a bigger administrative capacity due to a longer history of joint working between local authorities and other public sector partners in the region.
As the most politically-famous amongst the seven, Andy Burnham has used this to his advantage.
Professor of Public Policy at the University of Manchester, Francesca Gains echoes Paun’s assessment of the region.
She comments: “Andy Burnham had a decisive start to his term of office, with deft public announcements on tackling homelessness and appointing a female deputy, Baroness Bev Hughes, to run the policing and crime portfolio as well as Sir Richard Lease, powerful leader of Manchester City Council, as Deputy with responsibility for the Economy.
“Almost immediately after the election, the GM metro mayoral governance arrangements came under extreme pressure following the Manchester Arena bombing and were robust enough to cope with the initial crisis, as well as the necessary follow up and fall out. Subsequently, although somewhat impeded by both the continuing impact of austerity measures and the uncertainty of Brexit, Mayor Burnham has made progress in three areas.
“Firstly, in galvanising a conversation across the North on transport investment needs to support business growth. “Secondly, in ensuring focus on the needs of the local economies of the outer boroughs making up the GM Combined Authority.
“Finally, in working with the business community and anchor institutions, such as the Universities and the health sector, to establish a local industrial strategy with a focus on green growth technologies and artificial intelligence and data driven infrastructural support.”
HAS THE DEVOLUTION OF POWER BEEN A SUCCESS ACROSS ENGLAND?
The Prime Minister Theresa May herself described the initiative as an idea that, “will help to deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society – where wealth and opportunity are spread across every community in our United Kingdom, not just the most prosperous places in London and the South East.”
But, has this happened?
During their initial three-year terms, the mayors had a set of goals that they needed to achieve in order to unite their respective combined authorities.
Tees Valley Metro Mayor Ben Houchen’s electoral campaign had several primary focusses, however, the most public one was his ambition to give control of Durham Tees Valley Airport back to the public. He achieved this in December 2018.
Among his other goals were to increase job creation; investment into growth areas and improve the local economy. He also plans to increase the number of apprentices and those in higher education.
Houchen comments: “In order to deliver the high-growth, high-wage, low-welfare economy we all want to see in the Tees Valley, we’ve been devolved a pot of money totalling nearly £500m to invest in local priorities. Because I’m elected by local people, they now have a say who controls this fund because I’m accountable to them.
“And the Government is continuing to support devolution. Just look at the last Budget where our share of the Transforming Cities Fund expanded to £75.5m – this only happened because we have an elected Metro Mayor. This gives us even more cash to invest in transforming public transport.”
With a diverse and complicated list of goals, the Metro Mayors have created a bridge to central government to speed up the process of getting the necessary funds to areas of the regions.
It is down to this direct contact that Houchen puts his regions’ success down to.
He comments: “Thanks to our devolution deal we now have access to the corridors of power and I regularly meet with ministers and Whitehall officials to discuss delivering our priorities. We’re a region on the up, and businesses and organisations across the area are talking up the Tees Valley as a fantastic place to invest, work, live and visit.
“Since taking office, I have secured an additional £235m, with more to come. We have an indicative £30.5m devolved adult education budget in the pipeline, so we can transform and tailor our adult education offer to provide the skills we need to succeed.”
How do other regions compare?
Much like Houchen’s Tees Valley region, Tim Bowles, West of England Combined Authority Metro Mayor was empowered to combine different branches of government together.
Tim himself has also managed to secure in excess of £170m in extra funding, following his election.
He was tasked with economic growth – and as of December 2018 – the West of England CA is the only region that delivers a net contribution back to the Treasury.
Tim has also been given instruction to improve transport connectivity; create more affordable homes; help small and local businesses grow; and increase the number of apprentices and those in higher education.
He comments: “The role of Regional Mayor is very different from that of a City Mayor or Council Leader. My role is to work across council boundaries to plan for future growth. I’m here to look at the bigger picture to improve people’s lives – homes, jobs, skills and transport. The councils came together to fight for devolution because they could see the value in this new way of doing things, looking beyond council boundaries to benefit all of us who live and work in the region.
“I also work closely with the other regional Mayors across the UK to make sure our voices are heard at national level and we meet regularly to talk about key issues for our regions and make representations to government.”
Tim continued: “Devolution is already making a big difference – I’m raising the profile of our region with central government and we’re getting more investment.
“This is being invested in those things to make all our lives better – better skills and job opportunities, more homes, better transport. We’ve made a really good start but there’s much more to be done.”
WHAT HAS BEEN ACHIEVED?
The mayors’ regions account for nearly 42% of Britain’s GVA (gross value added), and the role of the combined authorities has provided the opportunity for government to capitalise on local expertise and overall leadership of an area to grow the UK economy.
As the scheme is still in its infancy, many changes to the combined authority and metro mayors job roles could happen. More power and funding could become available, and other regions could also look to bring in their own Metro Mayor.
Following their initial three-year stint, they can stand for election as many times as they like, with each term then lasting four years.
Paun believes that despite being in its early stages, the Metro Mayor scheme has been a success.
He said: “It is still early days for the Metro Mayors – it is a whole new model of government. In terms of the big impact on infrastructure, public services and economic growth, at a regional level – you wouldn’t expect to see a huge amount of that after two years.
“However, what you can already see is the Metro Mayors providing a more coherent and a stronger voice for their city region in national debates and in negotiations with central government. That was something that was missing before. It was one of the main reasons why people originally supported this model.
“There were countless people that didn’t like that model but it does give them that single point of accountability and a single strong voice in public debate and working out deals with the centre.”