Elected Mayors and Combined Authorities: the exchange of power and influence


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Catherine Staite

The West Midlands Combined Authority is consulting on the way in which power will be distributed between the CA and the new, directly elected mayor, who’ll be in post from May 2017.

The current proposals, which are pretty much in-line with those being consulted on in Greater Manchester and the Sheffield City Region, are that the mayor will have the powers delegated by central government, that the Leaders of the councils that comprise the Combined Authority will be part of the mayor’s cabinet, thereby retaining significant control over the powers they’ve already pooled and there’ll be some joint areas of responsibility.  The mayor cannot achieve better outcomes for the West Midlands without a very effective Combined Authority as well as close working relationships with the PCC, health bodies, the universities and business. The mayor brings some new ingredients to the mix, including visible public leadership and a personal mandate.   No one person, especially someone new to local government, will achieve much on their own. An intelligent mayor will understand that collaborative leadership, which balances power and influence, will be essential to his or her success – and eventual re-election.

The mayor will need to harness the collective power of all the key stakeholders, including communities, to be able to tackle the challenges faced by the region. The PCC, David Jamieson, has criticised what he perceives as a lack of personal power for the mayor. As always, this debate is hampered by some fundamental misunderstandings on the part of many commentators about the complementary functions of governance and leadership.  Issues of governance and leadership are complex and nuanced but many commentators default to some old fashioned notion that all we need to do is find a ‘great man’, give them lots of power and all be well.  What could possibly go wrong?

The current proposals are an attempt to blend good governance and good leadership and to balance existing democratic powers and accountabilities with the new role of elected mayor. Governance is the skeleton that holds the body politic together and is underpinned by both rules and values.  Rules without values can be easily circumvented and values without rules leaves too much to chance.  Good governance is rarely noticed. It’s when governance fails that we notice, because things have gone very wrong.  Good leadership sets the values and supports good governance, both by being held to account and by holding others to account. Good leadership also seeks to involve others in decision making by listening to a wide range of views and making the best use of experience and expertise.  It is to be hoped that the new elected mayor will demonstrate good leadership.

The agenda for the West Midlands is complex and requires a real breadth of vision and shared ambition for the future.  The West Midlands is competing is a challenging global environment and economic growth and improve productivity are certainly a key part of the picture but so is heightened aspiration and improved mental and physical well-being.  Better outcomes require collaboration between a very diverse range of interests, both in the region and beyond. Successful leadership of place requires a huge amount of sustained leadership energy and emotional intelligence to energise and inspire others. It’s not going to be a one-off win/lose battle,  requiring heroic leadership. It’s not Agincourt and we don’t need Henry V.

Click on this link for Radio 4’s interview with Professor Catherine Staite on the Today Programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07p13h8


Catherine Staite 02

Professor Catherine Staite is Director of INLOGOV. She provides consultancy and facilitation to local authorities and their partners, on a wide range of issues including on improving outcomes, efficiency, partnership working, strategic planning and organisational development, including integration of services and functions.