WMCA shouldn’t have to mean (almost) Wholly Male Combined Authority

Chris Game

Combined Authorities, elected mayors, women’s representation, Greater Manchester CA, Liverpool City Region CA, West Midlands CA, Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram, Andy Street, Fawcett Society, Liverpool Women’s Leadership Group

Combined Authorities have had a women problem – or rather, a lack-of-women problem – pretty well from their inception, and the much recycled picture of 11 very male and pale, if not stale, Greater Manchester council leaders signing an even paler George Osborne’s first devolution deal (see below). It was re-emphasised with the 32/7 m/f imbalance of mayoral candidates and 6/0 imbalance of the victors. In the West Midlands, though, we have a mega-problem – to which this blog, about CAs’ governance arrangements, will suggest there are two dimensions: why it exists, and what isn’t being done about it.

It exists first because the WMCA is both bigger and more complex than the other mayoral CAs. In addition to Mayor Andy Street, it comprises seven constituent members – the metropolitan boroughs, whose leaders are the Mayor’s ‘Portfolio holders’ or cabinet – plus 13 non-constituent members: three Local Enterprise Partnerships and 10 of the councils they cover.

All are represented on the CA Board, constituent councils by two elected members each (rather than other CAs’ one), non-constituent bodies by one each. Adding several accredited Observers and a Co-optee makes 33 – three or more times the size of other mayoral CAs. Finally, and with potential representational significance, all members have a nominated Substitute Member to attend and act, if required.

Of the WMCA’s 33 members, all but one are men, the single, albeit distinguished, exception being Councillor Izzy Seccombe, Leader of Warwickshire County Council, a non-constituent member. The other CAs are smaller, but their gender disproportionality similar. None have more than one woman board member, the overall split being 71-3 or 4% women – a situation, moreover, that was both predictable and predicted.

In March, the Fawcett Society published an ‘Evidence Document’ on Women in Greater Manchester in conjunction with the local women’s campaign group, DivaManc. It concluded by asking all candidates to respond to five fairly demanding “Mayoral Pledges and Calls to Action”, headed by “Gender-balanced leadership and representation across Greater Manchester”.

All candidates duly signed, including odds-on favourite, Labour’s Andy Burnham. The Fawcett document then outlined the hurdles involved in the “gender-balanced representation” pledge, and the likelihood that, whatever the election result, “only one of 11 GMCA members will be a woman”. For the ten constituent councils had already chosen their leader/elected mayor as their single permitted GMCA member, and only one at the time was a woman – Jean Stretton, Labour leader of Oldham Council, whose own cabinet, probably not by chance, is gender-balanced.

Signing the Fawcett pledge, therefore, would commit the new Mayor to:

 

  • Call for the Government to amend this policy, requiring each constituent council’s CA representation to comprise a man and a woman.
  • If that failed, request that 50% of the councils nominate a senior woman councillor to attend in place of the leader/mayor; or ensure that all substitute members are women, that they attend on an equal rota, and have substantial roles and responsibilities.
  • If a man, appointing a woman as Deputy Mayor.

 

The day following his election, new Mayor Andy Burnham demonstrated his commitment to the pledge by appointing two deputies, one being Baroness Beverley Hughes – former Leader of Trafford Council, Labour MP and Minister – as Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, making 11 cabinet portfolio holders, including two women. Hughes is the only salaried deputy, her appointment enabled by the previous portfolio holder (as GM Police & Crime Commissioner) being interim mayor Tony Lloyd – whose own multi-ethnic selection of six men and 14 women deputies had, even if temporarily, presented a strikingly un-stale-pale-male picture.

 

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Unable to replicate that picture, Mayor Burnham has nevertheless demonstrated that constitutions are there to be reconstituted. An amended GMCA constitution now requires appointed portfolio holders to nominate assistant leads of a different gender to ensure balanced representation in meetings and decision-making. Committees, panels and boards that advise the Mayor will also be gender-balanced wherever possible.

Down the M62, though, Liverpool City Region CA Mayor, Steve Rotheram, was finding life tougher, his seven-member, all-male cabinet, plus three male co-optees, prompting considerable local protest.  He had “attempted to bring two women into his cabinet, but was blocked by other members”.  One – Merseyside Police & Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy – has since become a non-voting co-optee, and six of his seven specialist Mayoral Advisors are women. Liverpool City Council Mayor Joe Anderson has also nominated Councillor and former Merseyside Police Commissioner Ann O’Byrne to represent him on the LCR cabinet, making her the only woman with voting rights.

Liverpool Women’s Leadership Group, though, are unappeased.  In a recent open letter referring to Greater Manchester’s example, they are “appalled that the LCR cabinet is made up entirely of men”, and call on all cabinet members with voting rights “to redress the enduring gender imbalance by nominating a woman from your cabinet to take your place”.

And so back to the West Midlands, where new Mayor Andy Street appears to acknowledge the WMCA’s socio-economic unrepresentativeness – an issue that was “referenced many times on the campaign trail [and] would need addressing in the weeks and months ahead”. It wasn’t, however, mentioned in his 48-page, nearly 250-pledge manifesto, and the emphasis now was clearly on months, not weeks. Rather than follow the Fawcett/Burnham route, his single Deputy is fellow Conservative, Solihull Council leader, and former CA Chairman Bob Sleigh.

Over the now months, there have been several impressive appointments of women as WMCA Chief Executive and senior officers. Also an announced WM Leadership Commission, chaired by Anita Bhalla, OBE, “to improve opportunities for communities and groups currently under-represented in the leadership of the West Midlands.” No specific reference to women, though, or their Board representation, let alone to doing anything or amending the WMCA Constitution.

In conclusion: I fully recognise that some, women undoubtedly included, will argue that women’s inclusion and representation by themselves say little about either the significance of any posts to which they’re appointed, or women’s status in the political system – and of course they’re right. My simpler point is that exclusion and non-representation DO say something – something rather important.

 

Chris Game - picChris 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.

The stardom of tsardom – but are policy tsars actually useful?

Chris Game

I’d have bet money on at least one turning up in time for my recent round-up of the six Combined Authority mayors’ first 100 days.  We’re talking policy tsars, and I’d thought surely one CA mayor would see unveiling, say, a Homelessness or Youth Unemployment Tsar as an irresistible ‘First 100 Days’ publicity opportunity. I was wrong – but only just.

Here in the West Midlands, Mayor Andy Street had other, more inclusive, ideas. Like London, we’ll have a Mayor’s Task Force to tackle homelessness and the alarming rise in adult rough sleeping, chaired by Jean Templeton, CE of St Basils young people’s housing charity. And addressing youth unemployment will be a thousand-plus Mayor’s Mentors.

But, so far, no tsar – unlike Liverpool City Region, still without a Chief Executive, but who can now boast a Fairness Tsar. Moreover, with Mayor Steve Rotheram’s cabinet being even more overwhelmingly male than most, a ‘Fairness Tsar’ could hardly NOT be female, and indeed is: TUC Regional Secretary Lynn Collins. A good start, then, ticking the Mayor’s manifesto pledge “to put fairness and social justice centre stage”, though detailed objectives for Collins’ part-time role – as ‘critical friend’ and Chair of the Mayor’s Fairness and Social Justice Advisory Board – have still to be revealed.

Mayor Street also made a key appointment last week – a permanent, full-time, top-tier one. The WMCA’s Director of Strategy will be Julia Goldsworthy, whose varied career is in itself a useful introduction to the somewhat shadowy world of policy advice. A Liberal Democrat MP from 2005, she (narrowly) lost her Cornish seat in 2010. Whereupon she became a SPAD (Special Political Advisor) to Danny Alexander, Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the Coalition Government, following which she has been “devolution driver” at the professional services firm PwC.

Goldsworthy has thus moved from politician to being now a permanent regional/local civil servant, providing expert and politically impartial advice to policy makers – the Mayor and CA – as opposed to the politically partial advice expected of her as a temporary civil servant or SPAD.

Policy tsars offer a third channel of advice, different again, and ideally complementary. While a novelty at CA level, there have been far more nationally than certainly I imagined. Not that long ago, some academic colleagues, excited by a clearly exploitable new research topic, asked several of us how many we reckoned there’d been since New Labour – as you might guess, tsars’ chief progenitors – took office in 1997. Not one of us got to within a hundred of the actual figure, which at the time was approaching 300, including 46 appointed by Gordon Brown alone, as Chancellor and Prime Minister.

Our ignorance was obviously due largely to most of these tsars not being commonly known as such, even to their nearest and dearest. Indeed, the genuinely famous or those with serious clout have often preferred alternative titles: Joan Bakewell – insistent that she was not Older People’s Tsar, but the Voice of Older People; Keith Hellawell – Anti-drugs Co-ordinator; Maggie Atkinson and successors – Children’s Commissioner; Sir Michael Parkinson – Dignity (in Care) Ambassador; Sir Steve Redgrave – 2012 Sports Legacy Champion; Lord Digby Jones – Skills Envoy.

True, some do appear to relish the stardom of tsardom, like Dame Louise Casey, ‘Tsar for All Seasons’, who, as, inter alia, Homelessness Tsar, ASBO Tsar, Respect Tsar, Victims Commissioner, and Integration Tsar, has seemingly made a career of what for most are one-off, short-term, part-time appointments.

Personally, though, while accepting that the T-word’s four letters usefully fit media headlines, I find it meaningless and objectionable. To me, Tsars – whether the Slavic autocrats or the Caesars from whom the name derives – summon up images of seriously unpleasant macho males, who exercised their absolute powers pretty ruthlessly, and weren’t terribly concerned about issues like the needs of children and the elderly in an elective and supposedly accountable democracy.

But, however they introduce themselves, in media shorthand they’re all Tsars. More importantly, while their qualifications vary – some being specialists, some generalists, others advocates – in the public administration lexicon too they’re all the same. Not permanent, or temporary, civil servants; not SPADs; but individuals from outside government, publicly appointed by (until now) government ministers, to advise on policy development or delivery on the basis of their personal expertise.

So what’s not to like? In our exceptionally closed political system – where ministers, drawn only from Parliament, are heavily dependent on advice from a permanent and also narrowly recruited civil service – surely a bit more openness is good? Tsars are publicly appointed, and their popularity amongst ministers is seen in their increasing numbers – roughly a tripling by each government since 1997.

On the other hand, how much is the system opened up when, by 2012, 85% of all appointees had been males, 83% over 50, 98% ethnically white, 38% Lords, Baronesses, Knights or Dames, and 18% themselves politicians? In short, where’s the transparency and public accountability concerning all those publicly funded tsars that don’t fascinate the media: the openness and scrutiny of the ‘public’ appointments procedure, the evaluation of their work, its impact (if any), and their Value for Money?

Generally – albeit sometimes because it’s required to – local government tends to do pretty well all these things better than central government, so let’s hope CA tsars are no exception.

 

Chris Game - picChris 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.

Combined Authority logos – do they do it for you?

It’s 100 days since the election of our first six Combined Authority mayors – a symbolic juncture that a year ago prompted quite a debate about new London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s impressive output of announcements and initiatives and also the substance behind them.

It would be good to attempt a similar overview of the records of the new CA mayors, but, sad to admit, that’s beyond the capability of this blogger at this time. But even sadder, I felt, to ignore the date completely, and I’ve therefore pinched (sorry, was inspired by, as we say in academia) the thought behind the opening musings of Local Government Chronicle editor Nick Golding’s recent column on CAs.

By their choice of corporate logos, at least, he was unimpressed: “curiously similar symbols … series of coloured dots or slivers that come together in a wheel or a line”, and likely to leave their wider populations cold and/or bewildered. They could easily represent, he suggested, a legal partnership, or one of the management consultancies involved in their design, none being “as emotive as Warwickshire’s bear and ragged staff, Liverpool’s liver bird, or the white rose of Yorkshire.”

Overlooking that Googling ‘white rose logo’ nowadays will get you an insurance company, a shopping centre, and a facelift long before you get anywhere near a council, you can see his point. And if you don’t, see what you make of this lot:

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These certainly colourful creations include the logos of – and in five cases specifically commissioned for – our six new CAs, presumably designed to communicate at a glance to local residents something really distinctive about their identity and function. Just to remind you, and in case most seem worryingly interchangeable, we’re looking for Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, and Cambridge/Peterborough. Oh yes, and, assuming they’d surely be easily distinguishable, I added in a couple of popular private sector logos.

Of course, the CAs – and indeed you – could reasonably point out that these symbols are generally accompanied by the CA’s actual name. Which is true – but in turn prompts the question: so why bother with the indecipherable and hardly costless logo?

As it happens, one – the proverbial granddaddy CA,Greater Manchester – hasn’t bothered. The pile of building blocks – each representing, as generally in these logos, a constituent council – is actually the logo of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA), the GMCA’s longstanding and still extant predecessor, and the CA presents itself to the world logo-free.

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 18.09.52

There is, I think, a serious point here. I know nothing worthwhile about the advertising business, but I do know that a logo’s primary, if not sole, purpose is to identify the product or business, and establish instant brand recognition. These CA logos don’t come close to doing either. Which is why they look fundamentally so different from pretty well all really successful brand logos, which have the product name as an integral part of the logo.

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 18.09.57

In these earliest versions of the “most iconic brand logos of all time”, before the instant recognition was almost universal, the product name is absolutely central, if not the logo itself – the one exception here being the crazy guy who thought it might be a fun idea to name his computer after part of his fruitarian diet.

Even the Nike ‘Swoosh’, the sole symbol of the company for over two decades now, was for the previous two accompanied by the Nike name. Yet we’re expected to remember whether our CA is the one represented by a pile of coloured plates, a child’s windmill, or a curly string of different-sized hexagons.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, though, comparing these admittedly quite pretty images with those designed to sell some of the most popular products on the planet. So I looked at the logos of the seven constituent councils of our WestMidlands CA. They’re collectively a bit yesterday, but most do at least attempt to integrate their name into the logo design, rather than just sticking it alongside as all the CAs except West Yorkshire do.

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 18.10.04

West Yorkshire CA’s slightly more artistic effort, if you hadn’t already checked, is the string of hexagons, representing its five constituent authorities plus the non-constituent City of York – another possibly ‘inspired’ idea, in this case from one that Sandwell made earlier.

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You can see why Sandwell councillors were keen on a makeover. Even without the dreadful events of recent weeks, you probably don’t want tower blocks as a prominent feature in your corporate identity, especially if your housing policy claims to have knocked more of them down than anywhere else in Europe. Surely almost anything’s better than that, even a design that looks disconcertingly like a question mark: possibly ‘What are we all doing here?’ or even ‘Where on earth is Sandwell?’

It derives (of course!) from Sandwell Priory, a small Benedictine monastery near West Bromwich, which, dissolved 450 years previously, could be trusted to cause only moderate offence to councillors representing the six real towns whose civic names would disappear in the 1974 local government reorganisation.

As for Coventry, when you’ve got a genuine 11th Century Lady Godiva with even an embroidered erotic backstory, you wonder how the city’s coat of arms with, in clockwise formation, a black eagle, wild cat, mythical phoenix, and elephant (don’t ask!), lasted so long.

Which brings us to Birmingham’s logo, and what my students used to reckon is the cheekiest bit of corporate political propaganda in English local government.  Earnestly as I’d explain about it depicting the city at the heart of England, they’d see two arrows, a smaller Conservative one pointing backwards and a bigger red one pointing forwards, and speculate on how the councillors got away with it.

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 18.10.15

 

gameChris 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.

Reflections on the election of the West Midlands Metro Mayor

Prof. Catherine Staite 

Thursday’s mayoral elections brought some surprises.  There was a higher than expected turnout in areas like the West Midlands where public interest in the election had been worrying low during the campaign.  There were two notable cases of political revolution; Tees Valley and the West Midlands.  Like Ben Houchen in Tees Valley, Andy Street won by a slim majority – 238,628 votes against Labour’s Sion Simon’s 234,862.

While commentators ponder on what the mayoral results will mean for national politics, the new Mayors will have very little time for reflection.  Their first terms are only for three years and all have set out challenging agendas for their areas.  Three years isn’t a long time for the new Mayor to make an impact, yet the progress made in these three years will determine the value the public place on the role and the extent to which central government are willing to devolve more powers.

Here in the West Midlands, Andy Street’s focus is on renewal and he’s seeking quick wins on improvements to the transport network to reduce congestion and improve air quality. He’s also keen to see land released for both industry and housing. He recognises the importance of technology, not only to drive economic growth in the region but also to have a beneficial impact on people’s lives

It’s notable that these and other ambitions, such as improving health and wellbeing, can only be achieved by collaboration with major stakeholders in the region.  For example, he will have some compulsory purchase powers but responsibility for planning remains with each of the individual local authorities.  Many of his key goals can only be delivered if he is able to bring a wide range of competing and conflicting interests together under his leadership and influence them to do their part to deliver his ambition to shape ‘a region that works for everybody, no matter how strong or weak you are’.

The ability of the Mayor to bring people together, not only councils, other statutory services, business and the voluntary and community sectors but most importantly the residents who have become disengaged from local politics will be vitally important as he seeks to demonstrate the added value of  the mayoral role. His effectiveness in harnessing  and mobilising collective energy and resources to tackle complex social and economic challenges, will be crucial to his success.

Andy Street will be exercising his leadership and influence in a complex political and organisational landscape. The West Midlands Combined Authority, which Andy Street will chair, is made up of seven local authorities, Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton. The Leaders of those authorities will form the Mayor’s Cabinet.  The WMCA is a new organisation but it has made good progress in developing its capacity to deliver, with the support of the chief executives of the member councils who have each taken on a key leadership role, on top of their demanding day jobs.  Now the WMCA is recruiting a chief executive and a small strategic team to help drive delivery of the Mayor’s agenda.

How will we measure success?  Increased public recognition of Andy Street and his role will be not only an important soft measure of the success of his first term but will bode well for his ability to gain more devolved powers from central government. Progress will also be measured by the speed with which major infrastructure projects are planned and delivered and better opportunities provided for people who are currently socially and economically disadvantaged.  The hardest test of all is the extent to which the public perceives that their lives have been changed and improved as a result of his election as Mayor for the West Midlands.

Catherine Staite 02

Catherine Staite is Professor of Public Management and Director of Public Service Reform at the University of Birmingham. As Director of Public Service Reform, Professor Catherine Staite leads the University’s work supporting the transformation and reform of public services, with a particular focus on the West Midlands.  As a member of INLOGOV, Catherine leads our on-line and blended programmes, Catherine also helps to support INLOGOV’s collaboration with a wide range of organisations, including the Local Government Association  and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives as well as universities in the USA, Europe, Australia and China. She was named by the Local Government Chronicle, in 2015 and 2016 as one of the top 100 most influential people in local government.

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.

 

Combined Authorities – Why Birmingham doesn’t have a city region like Leeds

Chris Game.

“Cornwall leapfrogs West Midlands in devolution race” was the headline over one report of the Government’s recent devolution deal with Cornwall Council, giving the county greater control over adult skills spending and regional investment, and, with the Isles of Scilly, the prospect of integrating health and social care services.

For a West Midlands resident it seemed a depressing message – almost depressing enough to make one contemplate shooting the messenger. However, I happen to know him, so I’ve settled for shooting his metaphor, and in doing so providing a further update of events that could bring what I described in a previous blog as the most significant power-shift in English government in generations.

First thing to concede is that, predictably from this wholly centralist and Osborne-choreographed devolution exercise, it absolutely is set up as a race – certainly against time. It was outlined on p.63 of the Summer Budget’s Red Book:

“To fulfil its commitment to rebalance the economy and further strengthen the Northern Powerhouse, the government is working towards further devolution deals with the Sheffield City Region, Liverpool City Region, and Leeds, West Yorkshire and partner authorities, to be agreed in parallel with the Spending Review.”

We’ll return to the detailed wording later. The point here, apart from the redundant reminder of the Chancellor’s tunnel-visioned insistence on an elected mayor as the only acceptable accountability mechanism, is the Spending Review deadline, repeated a few paragraphs later:

“The government remains open to any further proposals from local areas for devolution of significant powers in return for a mayor, in time for conclusion ahead of the Spending Review.”

This week, a fortnight after the Budget and just seven summer holiday weeks before his chosen submission deadline, the Chancellor realized it would be useful for others to know the relevant Spending Review dates. Its conclusions, we learned, will be outlined on 25 November. But deal-seeking councils need to check p.15 of another Treasury document:

“City regions that want to agree a devolution deal in return for a mayor by the Spending Review need to submit formal, fiscally neutral proposals and an agreed geography to the Treasury by 4 September 2015.”

Numerous race analogies suggest themselves – obstacle, hurdle, handicap – but I see the devolution race less as a single race and more like the London Marathon – several races taking place simultaneously with different categories of participants starting off from different places at different times.

Take Cornwall. As the first rural council to negotiate a devolution deal, it clearly deserves credit, and doubtless its methods are being studied closely by other counties rushing to recruit partners and submit bids by the Chancellor’s deadline.

These county areas, though, are effectively in a different race from the big city regions. Their bids will vary greatly, in scale and aspiration, and in London Marathon terms their equivalents are perhaps the ‘Good for Age’ racers, who secure guaranteed entry by running a specified time considered good for their age group. They’ll hopefully win the appreciation of their friends and residents, but the big prizes will inevitably go to the Elite runners, the 150 miles a week guys, who need a certified 2 hours 20 time just to qualify, and sub-2 hours 10 to get into the serious prize money.

In the devolution race there’s only one elite entrant even to have glimpsed serious fiscal devolution-type money – Greater Manchester. The region starts with natural advantages, with its geographical and political coherence, and its 10-council team of runners was first out of the blocks in 2011, in applying to become the first Combined Authority (CA).

Moreover, they run as a team, agreeing to accept the race sponsor’s favoured elected mayor along with all that devolved funding, and now the prize money keeps arriving on a regular basis – most recently on Budget Day, when they won £30 million funding for ‘Transport for the North’ plus control of the fire service, Land Commission, children’s services and employment programmes.

Following the elite runners in the London Marathon are the Championship entrants – registered members of an athletics club, with a certified 2 hours 45 race time. The devolution equivalent is the exclusive Combined Authority club – still just the five members, those joining Greater Manchester being, to give them their official names, West Yorkshire, the North East, and the Sheffield and Liverpool City Regions.

West Yorkshire, Sheffield and Liverpool are actual or, in Liverpool’s case, near reincarnations of the areas’ 1972-86 metropolitan counties, and in that sense similar to Greater Manchester. The North East CA is different – hugely bigger than the former Tyne & Wear met county, but having at least the coherence of covering the same area as the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

As we have seen, the three former met county CAs were all name-checked by George Osborne in his Summer Budget speech – though few seemed to notice the precise names he used: “the Sheffield and Liverpool City Regions and Leeds, West Yorkshire and partner authorities” (my emphasis).

Having undertaken a serious resident and stakeholder consultation exercise back in March, North East leaders were rather peeved not to have made Osborne’s list. Since then, though, they’ve moved fast – not exactly embracing, but at least dropping their outright opposition to, an elected mayor, and opening talks on a “radical devolution deal” with Communities Secretary Greg Clark.

Temporarily at least, therefore, this might seem to put them ahead of Sheffield and Liverpool, but what exactly is happening in West Yorkshire? How is Leeds – unlike Birmingham, which has to make what noise it can under the ‘West Midlands’ banner – apparently managing to retain its nominal identity in its devolution deal?

Prior to the election, it was assumed that big city devolution deals would be negotiated with, where they existed, Combined Authorities. But then, in late June, Greg Clark delivered his remarkable eulogy to LEPs. These partnerships between business and councils were evaluated recently by the Royal Town Planning Institute as having “an opaque remit”, lacking “firm institutional foundations”, and being overly responsive to central government direction. In the new minister’s view, however, they represent:

“a phenomenal revolution [that has] completely changed the way investment and growth is done in this country. The areas that combined authorities are now following are the same areas defined by LEPs as being the true economic geography of our nation. As such, no devolution deal will be signed off unless it is absolutely clear that the LEPs will be at the heart of arrangements (my emphasis).

Anyway, whoever’s verdict you prefer, LEPs are where Leeds City Region comes in. A city region is an economists’ and planners’ term to describe the functional region around a city – its ‘true economic geography’, as Greg Clark might put it. The label dates back at least to Derek Senior’s Memorandum of Dissent in the 1969 Redcliffe-Maud Report. But institutionally not much happened until the arrival in the late-2000s of Multi-Area Agreements (MAAs) – voluntary agreements between a number of local authorities and the government to work collectively to improve local economic prosperity.

There were eventually 15 of them. Of the big cities, those for Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire, Liverpool, and Tyne & Wear took the forms their respective CAs now do. But, instead of West Yorkshire, there was Leeds City Region, as shown in the accompanying map: the five former West Yorkshire metropolitan county boroughs, plus Barnsley from South Yorkshire, and Craven, Harrogate, York and Selby from North Yorkshire.

Leeds 1

MAAs were formally wound up by the incoming Coalition, but in practice most, like Leeds City Region’s, accompanied their authorities into their new LEPs. Which explains why West Yorkshire’s devolution bid is focused, as the Chancellor convolutedly but correctly described, on ‘Leeds, West Yorkshire and partner authorities’, or, more succinctly, Leeds City Region.

Not surprisingly, Birmingham also had a Multi-Area Agreement and a city region partnership, but in its case the emphasis is firmly on the past tense. It went under the catchy name of the Birmingham, Black Country and Coventry City Region and produced, among other things, an MAA for Employment and Skills. But it was short-lived, with Coventry soon opting out to concentrate on developing its links with Solihull and Warwickshire.

And there’s Birmingham’s devolution problem in a nutshell: no convincing city region. Instead of the pubescent MAA partners developing together, perhaps with the addition of adjoining authorities, into a single LEP corresponding to Clark’s ‘true economic geography’ of the city region, it split instead into three: Greater Birmingham & Solihull, which struggles to look convincing even on the map, the Black Country, and Coventry & Warwickshire.

west mids

The present situation is – how to put this – not exactly setting pulses racing. We have a recently, and for some unenthusiastically, agreed proposal for a Combined Authority of the seven former West Midlands metropolitan council boroughs – Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and, Wolverhampton – to run transportation, regeneration and economic development.

It clearly can’t claim, in Greg Clark’s words, to have any of its three LEPs “at the heart of arrangements” – although that could change with the possible addition of some or more councils in Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire – a state of uncertainty that Police & Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, the West Midlands only elected official, described this week as “an absolute dog’s breakfast”.

Finally, far from it having been agreed that the CA should have accountability through an elected mayor, it apparently won’t have any individual leadership at all. Apart from numerous commitments to “collaborative working”, the Launch Statement has nothing to say about governance, although the understanding is that each council leader will take responsibility for an individual policy portfolio.

Returning to the London Marathon analogy, Greater Manchester obviously crossed the Mall finish line some time ago, has donned its foil blanket, collected its Virgin Money finishers’ medal, and is heading back up the M6. Several others are on that home stretch between Big Ben and Buck House, but it seems the WMCA still has some miles to go to reach the Embankment.