The metro mayoral dilemma: how to big-up without overselling

Chris Game

Well, that was fun – the Daily Mail’s high-speed impression of the Grand Old Duke of York. In Monday’s first edition we were marched to the top of the hill, to glimpse a vista of a snap May 4th General Election, a Prime Ministerial Brexit mandate, and a three-figure Conservative Commons majority stretching way into the distance. And by the lunchtime edition we’d been marched down again, accompanied by much harrumphing about unfounded rumour-mongering.

With not calling an early election being among the few subjects on which Theresa May has been utterly consistent, the surprise would have been if she had. And my sole reason for raising it here is that, whatever its macro-political effects, a synchronous General Election would have significantly increased the likely turnout in the six metro mayoral elections, and consequently enhanced the profile, legitimacy and general political clout of both the new office and its first incumbents – all currently at a premium.

In the metropolitan West Midlands, then, we’re not going to see on May 4th the probably 60-65% turnout that was the 2015 General Election figure. That would have enabled the new mayor, in his or her meetings with ministers, to claim to be representing not only nearly 2 million electors, but perhaps 1 million who had actually participated in their election. Which in turn would make it that smidgen harder for the centre to cut local funding and resist further devolution, rationalising that few vote for and therefore care about their local government.

But now that’s off, what can we expect? A former student asked me recently – more or less a true story! – what the average turnout had been in all mayoral elections since Ken Livingstone’s first election as London Mayor in 2000. 38.7%, I told him, or thereabouts. He was surprised – and less by the confirmation that I was indeed one of those seriously sad people who know such things than by the figure itself. And of course he was right to be.

He fancied putting a bet (in the low-20s) on the percentage turnout on May 4th, when in the four metropolitan and unitary Combined Authorities (CAs) – West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, and Tees Valley – there are no other significant elections taking place. This year in the electoral cycle is shire county year, which should boost the mayoral turnout a bit in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and West of England, but won’t help the others.

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If only I’d had my table with me, I could have shown my ex-student how that overall 38.7% masked the relatively respectable turnouts when mayoral polls had coincided with other elections, and particularly a so-called ‘first-order’ national (General) election, when voters reckon considerably more is at stake.

But when ‘only’ a mayoralty has been the prize – merely the elected political leadership of one’s city, town or borough – turnouts have been almost unexceptionally feeble. And those have been in established local authorities, familiar to electors, rather than new, huge, amorphous, unelected bodies that most voters have barely heard of.

And the situation gets worse. Most voters with at least some awareness of metro mayors fondly imagine these new politicians foisted upon us will have powers to do the things that we think are most urgent and would like them to do. Tough!

In last May’s Centre for Cities/ComRes poll – still the most comprehensive on metro mayors – of the five issues West Midlands respondents felt should be the priorities for politicians in their city, only one, housing, was something that would be among the responsibilities devolved either to a West Midlands metro mayor or even the Combined Authority.

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Aspects of health and social care, education, and emergency services may possibly be devolved in the future. But on May 5th most of the mayor’s attention will go to business support and inward investment, transport, and colleges and adult skills that only about one in 20 possible voters have as their priorities.

It’s a big disjunction and on the face of it a recipe for yet further voter disillusionment. And a major dilemma for those who genuinely believe that elected mayors represent the best chance we’re likely to have of decentralising serious power to England’s localities and regions: how to ‘big-up’ the potential of metro mayors without misrepresenting and overselling them.

I have neither the answer nor much space, but I was struck this week by the Institute for Government’s latest ‘Local Leadership event’ – ‘How will new mayors work with Whitehall to improve their city-regions?’, and particularly the encapsulation of the IfG’s mayoral case by its Director of Development, Dr Jo Casebourne.

Emphasise, she suggested, these mayors’ difference from either existing or previously rejected mayors; that they’re leaders of place – of functional economic areas, not councils; able to provide visible, legitimate and accountable leadership and wield ‘soft power’, with better access to ministers and to other public sector bodies across their regions; and outward-looking and future-focused, able to attract inward investment and, working with other mayors, to secure, as in London, more devolved powers, both functional and financial, in the future.

 

Chris Game - pic

 

Chris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

De-reformation of the Local Government System in Turkey?

Saban Akca

Local government in Turkey has a two-headed structure: a centrally appointed governor with a plethora of responsibilities on the one hand and popularly elected municipal authorities on the other. This dualism dates back to the days of the Ottoman Empire, but in this blog I am not going to barge into historical details; rather I will discuss the current situation of the Kurdish municipalities that are now being seized one by one by Mr Erdogan, the Turkish President, and his political party, the AKP (Justice and Development Party), particularly after an infamous coup attempt last July. An upcoming referendum on 16 April this year – which is considered a pivotal move for transforming the country’s democratic parliamentary system to a presidency and creating a powerful sultan-president – will be also taken into consideration.

In the immediate aftermath of the coup, Mr Erdogan and his government started a brutal witch-hunt against all dissenters in Turkey, including liberals, leftists, seculars and followers of the Gulen Movement. Tens of thousands of public servants have been dismissed for allegedly being behind the coup and most of them arrested on not-so-clear charges. Their names have been publicised on the Turkish Official Gazette and almost everybody now treats them as terrorists or traitors. Companies that are deemed to be associated with the Gulen Movement have had their assets seized, been filled with appointed trustees and finally sold. Journalists have been jailed as their newspapers and TV stations have been closed down. The country is now in a constant state of emergency rule, in which everything is done with decrees streaming down from the presidential palace and where all kinds of illegalities committed by authorities are protected.

Municipal authorities in predominantly Kurdish towns and cities have their shares in these atrocities. After sending Kurdish deputies to jails, the government began to seize power in Kurdish local governments, particularly in the east and south-east of the country. Elected mayors have been replaced by appointed trustees, chosen from local governors in districts or provinces. However, removing mayors did not suffice, so they were jailed too.

Under the stretched state of emergency rule, with no visible and effective opposition remaining, Turkey is holding a referendum to turn its current political system into a presidency. This, unsurprisingly, will work best for the benefit of Mr Erdogan, who is trying to establish a de-facto sultanate. However, one of his referendum promises is to increase the number of greater municipal authorities by over 20, from the present 31. Considering that the country has 81 provinces, increasing the number of popularly elected local municipalities and enlarging their responsibilities across the provincial border is a bold move and may transform the local administration system and add more fuel to the discussion of devolution that has emerged since the 1980s.

The President’s referendum promises and his seizing of popularly elected municipal authorities in the country’s Kurdish regions represents a very problematic sphere in Turkish politics in terms of the empowerment of local governments. Increasing the numbers of democratically and locally elected mayors and devolving power to municipal authorities, as well as enlarging their territories and overlapping provincial borders is a powerful move in the case of strengthening local government reforms. However, only time will tell whether Mr Erdogan and his government are only merely tolerating those who he considers to be his political allies in local governments across Turkey. What we can say though is that this move will certainly bring more uncertainty to the country’s already troublesome local government system.

 

Saban Akca is a doctoral researcher in INLOGOV at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on leadership in public administration, and his doctoral thesis examines the leadership exercises of local-level district governors in Turkey.

Troubled Families: So what can we learn?

Jason Lowther

Over the last five blogs I have looked in some detail at the Troubled Families Programme and in particular its independent evaluation. I’ve argued that the evaluation shows some important impacts from the programme, but has so far missed valuable learning by failing to capture the local angle, covering too short a time horizon, and not designing in a theory-informed experimental approach. This week I want to reflect on four lessons from the experience.

The TFP has delivered real impacts. We know that the TFP has changed how services for these families are delivered. The independent evaluation finds it has mainstreamed “whole-family” approaches, stimulated local multi-agency working, opened up previously impossible data sharing and made employment support more responsive. Families on the programme feel (and told the researchers) that it’s made a big difference to their lives. And the figures local authorities submitted about the changes in families who were classified as “troubled” (out of school, out of work, committing crime, etc) are audited and truthful – they do represent actual changes in people’s circumstances.

The TFP evaluation questions whether these impacts would have occurred in any case, without the TFP itself. But the evaluation was hamstrung by being undertaken too early and for insufficient time, by limited data (for example because academy schools are not required to co-operate on sharing vital information), and by the lack of an experimental and theory-based approach.

So what can we learn from the TFP experience?

First, the TFP isn’t the panacea ministers claimed – trumpeting an incredible 99% success rate whilst delaying publication of the independent evaluation set up the department to face a storm of media criticism. But it has made a big difference: the TFP changed how these services are delivered, the families noticed a significant improvement, and councils have rightly claimed for progress made.

Secondly, the department and evaluators have done a good job at trying to rigorously assess whether the TFP worked better than “business as usual”. Next time, it would be best to build a rigorous experimental approach into the programme design up front – and to develop some testable theories of how the programme is supposed to effect change.

Thirdly, national summaries can only take us so far. The real diamonds of learning are at local level. Departments should fund and support local areas to learn quickly from the natural experiments that happen when different councils adopt and adapt national policy which is based on limited prior knowledge and evidence.

Fourthly, although challenging for politicians with an eye on their ministerial career, pilots need to be given chance to bed-in before being pulled up for evaluation, and evaluation needs to run long enough to know whether we are getting results. Evaluators can learn from past experience and “new” approaches such as theory-based evaluation.

As TFP and other government programmes roll out in future, these four lessons can make sure that we learn and improve outcomes as quickly as possible.

 

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Jason Lowther is a senior fellow at INLOGOV. His research focuses on public service reform and the use of “evidence” by public agencies.  Previously he led Birmingham City Council’s corporate strategy function, worked for the Audit Commission as national value for money lead, for HSBC in credit and risk management, and for the Metropolitan Police as an internal management consultant. He tweets as @jasonlowther

The obstacle course of women’s representation in national and local government.

Chris Game

With last month’s Conservative by-election win, the Cumbria constituency of Copeland secured its place in parliamentary history. But exactly what place?

Throughout the campaign we were regularly reminded how Copeland (quite likely) or Stoke-on-Trent Central (conceivably) could produce the first government party by-election gain since 1982, and, without a defecting incumbent or the poll-topping candidate being disqualified, since 1960. And serious nerds knew it would be the first (pay attention here!) to overturn a main opposition party majority of more than 3%, without a defection, disqualification or significant change in the contesting parties, since 1878.

Copeland indeed proved to be the history maker, and yet … every one of these records (believe me, there were others) could in theory be overturned. For Copeland’s irremovable place in parliamentary history – and certainly to justify its heading a commemoration of March 8th as International Women’s Day – we should look first not to its voters, but to its MPs.

The by-election was instigated by Labour’s Jamie Reed announcing his intention to swap his MP’s job for one with Sellafield, the local nuclear decommissioning authority. In January, when he formally ceased being an MP, for the first time, sitting male MPs (454) were outnumbered by the TOTAL number of women MPs EVER (455) – that is, in all the 99 years since women first got the vote.

Feminist history had been made, but, slightly unsatisfactorily, by the action of a male. However, on March 1st Copeland’s victorious Conservative MP, Trudy Harrison, was sworn in as the 196th female MP in this parliament and the 456th ever.

Recalling that it was the Commons of just 20 years ago that Tessa Jowell famously reckoned contained more Johns and Jonathans than its 60 women MPs, it obviously does constitute progress. Even if she had to slip in the odd Jack or Jimmy, her point was made: the fewer than 1 in 10 women was a national embarrassment.

But the 30% that today’s 196 women represent, and the resulting 47th position in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Women in Parliaments listing, will strike many, as it did the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, as little less embarrassing, and “a serious democratic deficit” (para 7).

A description it would presumably apply to English local government too, since the numbers now are virtually the same. When Jowell did her John count, women members of England’s principal councils totalled over a quarter. Since when, while the proportion of women MPs was tripling, that of women councillors increased at the gastropodal rate of 1% every 3 years, to (based on the most recent English national councillors’ survey) an overall 32%.

In the other UK nations, women’s representation in local government is significantly lower than in England (p.7) – Scotland 24% of councillors, Wales 26%, Northern Ireland 25% – but their representation in their respective devolved bodies is in each case relatively higher – Scotland 35%, Wales 42%, and Northern Ireland, following last week’s elections to the new, smaller Assembly, 30%.

Which brings us to the next big English local elections – those in May for the elected mayors of six recently created Combined Authorities (CAs). What kind of visibility will women have in the governance of these new bodies? To which the regrettable answer at present appears to be: precious little. Otherwise there’d be no need for ‘The People’s Powerhouse’ (provisionally May 9th at Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat football ground) – the retort of some enterprising, and outraged, women to last month’s glitzy but shamefully mishandled Second UK Northern Powerhouse (NP) International Conference.

The NP, of course, is the large-scale devolution vehicle devised by former Chancellor George Osborne, with the Greater Manchester CA as its major driver. Its consciously macho name is enough to goad some, and the conference advertising did the rest, oozing clichés about delegates’ £450 + VAT opportunity to “network with the key players, potential business partners and stakeholders in the Northern Powerhouse economy”. For unfortunately it seemed that all the really KPs, PBPs and Ss – and certainly all 15 originally advertised main speakers – were male.

It almost beggars belief, and yet the organisers’ initial response to the women’s protest was reportedly one of ‘defiance’. And it’s not as if the NP hadn’t been warned – back in 2014 with a widely mocked picture of a dozen “pale, male” and rather self-satisfied council leaders signing the first Greater Manchester devo deal. And again more recently, in the Fawcett Society’s actual “analysis of women’s representation” in the Northern Powerhouse.

Defining the NP’s ‘senior leadership roles’ as council leaders/mayors, deputy leaders, CA chairs, and chief executives, the Society’s researchers found that only 28% of these 134 posts across the NP’s seven CAs were occupied by women, including just one of the CA chairs – with even that 28% owing much to non-politicians: the 40% of women CEs.

Here in the West Midlands the 7-borough WMCA figures are even more unbalanced. 7 constituent authority leaders and 5 non-constituent authority leaders – all male; (currently) 11 CEs – 10 male; 3 LEP chairs – all male.

And, like most CAs, the signs are that we’re heading for a male mayor. Of the 33 currently known mayoral candidates, 27 are male (82%), including 12 or the 14 Conservative and Labour candidates – the two latter exceptions, both Labour, being Lesley Mansell in the West of England, and, perhaps the most likely ‘First Woman Metro Mayor’, Sue Jeffrey in Tees Valley.

I feel the final words on this International Women’s Day, that at least in its present form originated with the UN, should go to the Women and Equalities Select Committee, mentioned briefly above. Clearly unconvinced by the various parties’ earnest but unsubstantiated commitments to improve their selection performance, the Committee calls on the Government to recognise its role: to set a “target of 45 per cent for representation of women in Parliament and local government by 2030 in response to the UN indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 5.5; [and] set out how it plans to achieve this target, working with political parties.” Now if only the head of that Government were a woman …

 

Chris Game - pic

Chris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

 

Troubled Families: How Experimenting Could Teach Us “What Works?”. Part 2.

Jason Lowther

In my last blog I looked at how designing a more experimental approach into this and future programmes could yield lots of insight into what works where. This week I would like to extend this thinking to look at how “theory-based” approaches could provide further intelligence, and then draw some overall conclusions from this series.

As well as rigorous analysis of quantitative impacts, theory-based approaches to evaluation can help to test ideas of how innovative interventions work in practice – the “how?” question as well as the “what works?” question[1].

For example the Troubled Families practitioners might have developed theories such as:

  • Having consistent engagement with a key worker, and working through a clear action plan, will increase families’ perception of their own agency and progress.
  • Having regular and close engagement with a key worker will enable informal supervision of parenting and reduce risk around child safeguarding concerns.
  • Having support from a key worker and, where needed, specialist health and employment support, will increase entry to employment for people currently on incapacity benefit.

Interestingly each of these appears to be supported by the evaluation evidence, which showed much higher levels of families feeling in control; lower levels of children in need or care; and reduced benefits and employment (compared to controls).

  • Having consistent engagement with a key worker, and working through a clear action plan, will increase families’ perception of their own agency and progress. The evaluation showed almost 70% of TFP families said they felt “in control” and their worst problems were behind them, much higher than in the “control” group of families.
  • Having regular and close engagement with a key worker will enable informal supervision of parenting and reduce risk around child safeguarding concerns. The TFP “final synthesis report”[2] shows the number of children taken into care was a third lower for the TFP families than for the “control” group (p.64).
  • Having support from a key worker and, where needed, specialist health and employment support, will increase entry to employment for people currently on incapacity benefit. Again, the final synthesis report suggest that the weeks on incapacity benefit for TFP families was 8% lower than the controls, and the entry into employment 7% higher (pp.56-57).

 

The TFP evaluation probably rightly writes off these last few examples of apparent positive impacts because there is no consistent pattern of positive results across all those tested. Given that the evaluation didn’t attempt to test particular theoretical hypotheses like this, it is possible that they have occurred through natural random variation. But if a much more targeted search for evidence built on theory delivered these results consistently, that would be worth celebrating.

Next week I will conclude the series by reflecting on the four key lessons we can learn from the TFP evaluation experience.

[1] See Sanderson, I. (2002) ‘Evaluation, policy learning and evidence‐based policy making’, Public administration, 80(1), pp. 1-22. And White, M. (1999) ‘Evaluating the effectiveness of welfare-to-work: learning from cross-national evidence’, Evaluating Welfare to Work. Report, 67.

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/560499/Troubled_Families_Evaluation_Synthesis_Report.pdf

 

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Jason Lowther is a senior fellow at INLOGOV. His research focuses on public service reform and the use of “evidence” by public agencies.  Previously he led Birmingham City Council’s corporate strategy function, worked for the Audit Commission as national value for money lead, for HSBC in credit and risk management, and for the Metropolitan Police as an internal management consultant. He tweets as @jasonlowther

Business models in local government?

Lasse Oulasvirta & Ari-Veikko Anttiroiko

 

Business models in local government?

Since the 1960s a range of business management models have been introduced in the public sector, including accrual accounting, management information systems, activity-based cost management, human resource management, customer relationship management and the like, which in most cases are in line with the tenets of New Public Management (NPM). One of the newcomers in this list is comprehensive risk management, known as Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) in the private sector. This normative risk management model, of which the most well-known version is COSO ERM, developed by the privately run Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO), has been promoted widely to all organisations, local governments included. Using survey data, our article in Local Government Studies describes and explains the diffusion and adoption of comprehensive ERM in local government in Finland.

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(Source: Kuntajohtajan johtajasopimus (”Director contracts for municipal chief executive officers”), a publication of the Finnish Association of Local and Regional Authorities, 2016, p. 20)

What explains local governments’ reluctance to buy the idea of comprehensive risk management? 

Our survey results support the argument that if comprehensive risk management is not obligatory, it is not widely used in local government. Our statistical analysis reveals that financial constraints explain to some extent the existence of comprehensive management in municipalities, while structural factors such as the size of municipalities do not, even though risk management is slightly more advanced in larger cities than in smaller local governments.

This compels us to ask whether the slow adoption is because of the special nature of RM as a managerial innovation. Such considerations direct our attention to the kind of intuitive cost-benefit assessment public managers are likely to go through when evaluating the needs and preconditions for the introduction of a comprehensive risk management model. Our assumption is that as a managerial innovation ERM lacks immediate benefit when assessed against the efforts and costs of its introduction and maintenance. It seems that the risk environment and institutional characteristics of public sector entities, including persisting silo mentality, do not provide a particularly strong incentive neither for politicians nor public managers to pursue voluntarily the adoption of such a model.

A need for tailored solutions

The question is not only about the nature of comprehensive RM as such (and the COSO ERM model in particular). We claim that part of the slow adoption is due to the insensitivity of the developers of such models and consequently also their models and tools to the needs and realities of public sector organisations. Thus, if business management models are not sufficiently tailored to the factual needs of local governments, their voluntary adoption is likely to be meagre.

This observation relates to the interplay between developers, consultants and local authorities, and points to private sector parties in particular, who should do their homework before rushing their potential clients in the local government.

Local choice matters

Lastly, our research implies that providing a condition for proper local choice may produce system level benefits, for local politicians, public managers and the front-line staff are in the best position to assess the suitability and benefit of each business model. In the case of comprehensive RM, for example, representatives of local government may see that this particular models is not cost-effective or may even appear to be insignificant in terms of its added value. This hints that new business models and management tools should not be too lightly imposed by the legislature on local governments – spontaneous evolution is as a rule better for creating cost-effective and resilient solutions. We may conclude that local government organisations, when given a general competence to decide on the conduct of local affair, are generally more rational and selective in adopting business models than generally assumed.

 

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Lasse Oulasvirta is Professor of Financial Administration and Public Sector Accounting in the University of Tampere, School of management. His research interests include public sector financial management, budgeting, accounting and auditing. He holds PhD (Administrative Sciences) and M.A. (Business Economics) degrees.

 

 

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Ari-Veikko Anttiroiko is an Adjunct Professor based in the School of Management, University of Tampere, Finland. He holds a PhD (Administrative Sciences) and MPhil and Licentiate (Philosophy) degrees. His main research areas include local governance, local economic development, smart cities, creative cities and public sector innovations.