Seeds of Change: English Devolution and Central-Local Relations

Sarah Ayres, Matthew Flinders and Mark Sandford 

‘England’s devolution deals do not constitute a move away from traditional patterns of central-local relationships, though they may contain the seeds of change’.

That is the conclusion from our article, titled ‘Territory, Power, Statecraft: Understanding English Devolution’, recently published in Regional Studies. Much recent debate and commentary has been generated by the priorities of the newly-elected metro-mayors and their implications for the sub-national governance of England. But there is a broader question: will they lead to longer-term change in relationships between central and local government in the UK?

The recent devolution initiatives within England provide an opportunity to reassess the relevance of Jim Bulpitt’s 1983 book, Territory and Power in the United Kingdom. This provided a then-novel portrait of UK territorial political relations. For Bulpitt, the UK central state had long favoured what he called the ‘central autonomy model’ of territorial relations. He saw central government’s priority as keeping its distance from local and parochial matters; and in turn, expecting that local governments will not usurp their authority and attempt to challenge the centre’s role. He coined the term ‘dual polity’ to describe the parallel roles adopted by centre and localities.

Since Bulpitt wrote, central attitudes to local government in England have become more readily interventionist. In that context, the initiatives towards devolution of power in the mid-2010s are of interest. A good deal of commentary has focused on whether this devolution is ‘real’. Does it constitute a challenge to the ‘central autonomy’ model of relations? Drawing on data from three academic research projects, we assessed whether there was evidence of such a shift to date. Does the way in which English devolution has been negotiated and delivered show that central-local relations are changing?

The findings indicated that the ‘territorial management code’ in England remains largely the same as the historical norm. In Bulpitt’s terms, the central autonomy model continues to dominate. Deals have been negotiated in private between civil servants and small groups of local elites. Central government has remained tight-lipped about its policy priorities, dampening the ability of localities to take the initiative. Localities are required to develop business cases for the handling of devolved powers, and to evaluate them against the terms of the ‘devolution deal’. Through the terms and conditions of devolution, central autonomy is retained in place. Even when some devolution deals collapsed following stakeholder and public disquiet, the Government did not deviate from this approach: and this insistence on control is visible in the current impasse over arrangements in Yorkshire.

Bulpitt also noted the prevalence of ‘court politics’, focused on a small number of decision-making individuals. The slowing of devolution policy following the departure from government of its chief architect, George Osborne, bears out the continued importance of this dimension of territorial management.

But there are also hints that the central autonomy model is not as dominant as it once was. The Government has not used its political resources as assiduously as it might have done. Local participants in negotiations reported genuine interest from civil servants in devolving power and encouraging local initiative: one stated that the Government was ‘desperate’ to conclude deals. This is quite different from what a central autonomy model would imply. Central autonomy also assumes a ‘bureaucratic machine’, via which the centre dominates the ‘periphery’. This is visible in the deals’ requirements for central oversight, but there is a constrained capacity for this to happen.

Central government’s governing strategy – to reaffirm its control over territorial relations – is largely hands-on. But again there are signs of change. The democratic mandate of elected mayors is a source of unpredictability: it could import political conflict into a system of governance much of which is designed around broad stakeholder consensus. In the longer term this could presage the evolution of English territorial relationships towards Bulpitt’s ‘capital city bargaining model’, involving local actors’ “interference in the centre’s affairs but often in a cooperative fashion”. This depends on whether metro-mayors can take the opportunity to establish themselves as significant political players, both in the institutional and cultural dimensions of English governance.

In summary, Bulpitt’s framework allows us to look at the attitudes and priorities made evident during the devolution deal negotiations; and to use these to suggest how metro-mayors might be able to extend and entrench their positions in the political landscape. It holds out the possibility that they could drive longer-term change in central-local relations: though this is very much contingent on the tacit permission of central government.

Acknowledgements

The article ‘Territory, Power, Statecraft: Understanding English Devolution’ is based on the following research projects: The Political Studies Association’s Research Commission, chaired by Sarah Ayres (University of Bristol) to examine the role of ‘informal governance’ on devolution to England’s cities. The second, an ESRC project that focused on English regional governance in order to test the utility of different models of citizens assemblies vis-à-vis constitutional policy-making led by Matthew Flinders (University of Sheffield). The third consists of a literature review and analysis conducted by Mark Sandford for the House of Commons Library.

 

image003Sarah Ayres is a Reader in Public Policy & Governance at Bristol University, and Co-editor Policy & Politics. Her research interest focus on the governance of place, space and territory.

 

 

 

MFlinders-new-smallMatthew Flinders is Professor of Politics and Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics. He is also President of the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom and a board member of the Academy of Social Sciences.

 

 

image002Mark Sandford is a Senior Research Analyst at the House of Commons Library specialising in local and regional government.

 

 

 

The local and mayoral elections – and the significance of that 4-2 scoreline

Chris Game

Local elections present the INLOGOV blog with an annual dilemma. They’re the heartbeat of democratic local government, its lifeblood, or something equally vital. So, they must be covered and key results namechecked. But INLOGOV’s not a news service, and, with so many Friday counts nowadays and results instantly available on social media, you have somehow to strike a balance.

The first part of this blog, therefore, will give the headlines, from a strictly local government perspective. That means, first, changes in council control; second, changes in councillor numbers; and third, excluding one minor indulgence, no conjecturing whatever about implications for that other election.

Conservatives, of course, were the big winners, almost everywhere. So, to be perverse, we’ll start with a titbit of consolatory Labour news, from the seven unitary polls. Durham it still controls, and Northumberland – thanks to the Conservative candidate in the potentially decisive ward literally picking the short straw – stays technically hung, though no longer under Labour minority control. After mass gains from particularly Independents, Conservatives are the largest party in Cornwall and back in control in the Isle of Wight.

Of the 27 non-metropolitan counties, even before last Thursday Labour had majority control in only Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and shared minority control in Cumbria and Lancashire. Conservatives are now in control of the first and last of these and are easily the largest party in the other two. Cambridgeshire, East Sussex, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Suffolk and Warwickshire all swung from minority to majority Conservative control.

As was widely, and even gleefully, reported, UKIP too lost heavily, its single gain in Lancashire being rather more than counterbalanced by at least double-figure losses in Cambridgeshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and West Sussex.

Turning to overall councillor numbers, the Conservatives gained what for a party in national government was an almost mind-boggling 563 seats: 319 in England, 164 in Scotland, far more than doubling their previous representation, and 80 in Wales – the latter, according to more knowledgeable commentators than I, putting the party on course (in that election I’m not mentioning) for its first nationwide Welsh victory since the Earl of Derby managed it in 1859.

Labour’s car crash involved losing net 382 councillors – bringing to 15 years the period since, in terms of councillor numbers, it was the largest party in GB local government – UKIP 145, and the Liberal Democrats what must have been a deeply dispiriting 42.

And so to what, for the immediate future of at least England’s sub-national government, were surely last week’s most important elections, and collectively way up there amongst the most mind-boggling: those of our first(?) six metro mayors. I can hardly imagine the odds you could have got, even a week ago, on four of the six being Conservative. However, it’s there in my table, in blue and pink. And, whatever one’s reservations about elected mayors and the whole limited, top-down, Treasury-driven, fiscally minimal devolution model, I’d suggest that nothing over the past 11 months has given it a greater boost.

MetroMayoralresults-3

The first several months of May’s premiership she spent almost visibly dithering over what to do about the severed agenda of devo deals and elected mayors she’d inherited from the axed George Osborne and shuffled ex-Communities Secretary, Greg Clark. Then – I simplify enormously – two things happened.

First, Andy Street decided he’d stop being MD of the John Lewis Partnership and run as a Conservative for the biggest and politically most attractive metro mayoralty of all, the West Mids – in time to be adopted, and then paraded with May at the party’s October Birmingham conference.

At the same time, something else helped change her view that one big reason why metro mayors were a bad idea was that most, if not all, would be Labour. Several of Clark’s nine envisaged metro-mayoral city regions, during the May-created devo vacuum, started for various reasons to lose interest or patience and drop out – West Yorkshire, Sheffield City Region, the North East – and the political arithmetic began to alter. To the extent that I suggested she could realistically conceive of the first set of mayoral elections producing three Conservative and three Labour mayors. Even for the sake of an eye-catching headline, though, I’d never have contemplated 4-2.

And, as the table shows, three of the four results, after the two counts involved in the Supplementary Vote (SV) electoral system, were extremely close. Street’s majority was exceptionally so – 0.71979% of over half a million votes cast, to be precise. This in itself would weaken any victor’s mandate, particularly when achieved in what, by the standards of anything other than Police and Crime Commissioner ballots, were very low-turnout elections.

The SV system was adopted for mayoral elections almost by accident, and many consider that the more familiar Alternative Vote – that we rejected for parliamentary elections in the 2011 referendum – would be fitter for this particular purpose. Its defenders, though, claim it has worked well in London, is voter-friendly, produces clear winners, and is accepted by all concerned.

My table would suggest otherwise, at least on its first showing. In the West Midlands, in a hugely significant election decided by well under 4,000 votes, over 40,000 votes that might have contributed to the result didn’t do so. They were either not used at all, or were cast for candidates who, highly predictably in this instance, had already been eliminated after the first count.

It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that large numbers even of the small minority who turned out didn’t fully comprehend the system they were voting in – for which the Electoral Commission must be held chiefly responsible. As also for the huge disparities in candidate expenditure permitted before the ‘regulated’ campaign period, which again in such a closely run race can and will be alleged to have been decisive. In short, the Commission, as well as the mayors themselves, have plenty of work to do in what is only a three-year term to 2020.

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.

Briefing Paper: Elected Mayors

Prof. Catherine Staite and Jason Lowther

 

In this long-read, INLOGOV’s Professor Catherine Staite and Jason Lowther provide an in-depth brief on the role of the new elected mayors, how they relate to the devolution agenda and the things we should watch out for ahead of the upcoming mayoral elections on May 4th. 

 

1. Introduction

The role of elected mayor for regions, such as the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, has been created as part of a move to greater devolution of power over resources and policy, from central government to consortia of local authorities known as Combined Authorities, through which individual authorities have agreed to collaborate in applying these new powers and resources. The Combined Authorities have negotiated individual ‘devo deals’ with central government and, as a result, the extent of their devolved powers varies enormously (see Table 1 below). For example, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, formed in 2011, has been granted the most extensive powers of any Combined Authority, including powers over the NHS in the GM region. One of the prerequisites of the devolution of significant powers and resources to Combined Authorities has been the creation of a new elected office – that of a directly elected regional mayor.

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 08.44.59.png

Table 1: Powers to Devolved in Devolution Deals. 

Of course, mayors are nothing new. Joseph Chamberlain, who led the foundation of this University, was elected Mayor of Birmingham in 1874 and acted as catalyst for hugely significant improvements to the lives of the people of Birmingham in the 1870’s and 80’s; clean water, better pavements and roads, as well as the iconic municipal buildings which still give the city its distinctive character today.   District, Borough and City Councils across the country already have civic mayors, who are appointed from among the council members, not directly elected by the public. They are easily identified, when carrying out their largely ceremonial roles, by their robes and chains of office.  More recently, directly elected “executive” mayors have been created in some local councils.

The question about whether we should have more elected mayors has been hotly contested. Conservative governments have demonstrated a surprisingly enduring enthusiasm for elected mayors for many years, in the face of opposition from many of their own MPs, local politicians of all political hues and the demonstrable apathy and mistrust of the public.

 2. What can we learn from international comparisons?

 There is an international trend towards directly elected mayors, especially in cities. The number of countries and cities that have decided to introduce directly-elected mayors has increased markedly since the 1980s (Hambleton and Sweeting, 2014).   In Europe, directly elected mayors were introduced into systems of local government in Slovakia (1990), Italy (1993), Germany, Hungary (1998), the UK (2000) and Poland (2002).

Outside Europe directly-elected mayors are now in place in many countries including New Zealand.

Hambleton and Sweeting (2014) suggest the mayoral trend is linked to four key themes in urban leadership:

  • The institutional design of local government: the attempt to enable effective civic leadership.
  • The drive for outward-facing leadership: responding to the trends of global competition and the need for “networked” governance where local authorities work with other statutory and non-statutory providers in multi-agency partnerships to deliver social policy.
  • The changing relationships between politicians and officers: including issues around the potential politicisation of the bureaucracy.
  • The relationships between city leaders and followers: with direct election challenging traditional party political models.

Hambleton and Sweeting (2015) summarise the arguments for and against directly elected mayors. Arguments in favour of directly elected mayors include:

  • Visibility – citizens and others know who the leader of the city is, generating
  • Interest in public issues
  • Legitimacy and accountability – arising from the direct election process
  • Strategic focus and authority to decide – a mayor can make tough decisions for a city and then be held to account
  • Stable leadership – a mayor typically holds office for four years and this can underpin a consistent approach to government
  • Potential to attract new people into politics – creative individuals may be able to stimulate innovation in citizen activism and business support
  • Partnership working – a mayor is seen as the leader of the place, rather than the leader of the council. This can assist in building coalitions

The arguments they present against directly elected mayors are:

  • A concentration of power – the model could place too much power in the hands of one person, who is overloaded
  • Weak power of recall – elect an incompetent mayor and the city is stuck with this person for four years
  • Celebrity posturing – the model could attract candidates more interested in self-promotion than sound policy-making
  • Wrong area – the Localism Act 2011 provided for mayors to be elected for unitary authorities when many consider that metropolitan mayors, covering a number of unitary areas, on the London model are needed
  • Cost – having a mayor will cost more money if the rest of the governance architecture of an area is unchanged
  • Our over-centralised state remains – without a massive increase in local power to decide things, the mayor will be a puppet dancing on strings controlled in Whitehall

Gains (2015) suggests that the current weak engagement between electors and representatives argues for a more visible and accountable leadership. She argues that calls for more participation require an activist leadership reaching out to citizens and bypassing entrenched interests such as political parties.

The Warwick Commission on “Elected Mayors and City Leadership” argued that “directly elected mayors offer the possibility of greater visibility, accountability and co-ordinating leadership as well as re-enchanting the body politic, and much of this derives from their relative independence from party discipline through their direct mandate and through their four year term. But they also hold the dangers of electing mayors whose popularity obscures their inadequacy in leading their communities” (Warwick Commission, 2012:7).

They pointed to five reasons often cited for the rise of the elected mayor as follows:

  • A response to the rise of the network society that otherwise disperses responsibility and a demand for greater accountability from political leaders
  • An attempt to reinvigorate democratic politics and civic engagement in the face of apparently widespread political apathy
  • A localist and decentralising reaction against the rise of the centralising power of the state or super state (European Union)
  • The realisation by some local politicians in certain areas that they can make the most impact through elected mayors, not traditional party politics
  • The return of ‘personality’ to the political agenda in place of depersonalised party systems.

 

 International case studies

  • Italy
  • Directly elected mayors since 1993.
  • Mayor appoints executive including non-councillors (often during the election campaign).
  • Limited to 2 consecutive terms.
  • Wide executive powers including roads, education, social services, housing, social security, planning, police, transport.
  • Mayor “acts as a powerful focus point of political decision making and is able to speak to all tiers of Italian government as a legitimate political leader and ambassador for the area. Indeed, mayors are often important players in the distribution of national resources to the localities” (Copus, Leading the Localities, 2006:145)
  • Council can either approve Mayor’s programme or table “no confidence motion” which results in resignation of both the Mayor and the council.

 

  • USA
  • “Strong” mayors predominate in larger cities, directly elected with mayor-council form of government (“weak” mayoral model in smaller towns with mayor indirectly elected by council).
  • Mayor acts as chief executive officer, directs administrative structure, sets policy agenda for the city, determines the details of the budget, and has a veto over council decisions (though may be over-ridden by two-thirds council vote).
  • New York City Mayor elected for maximum of three 4-year terms. The Council is a “deliberative and investigative body” monitoring performance, making land use decisions and passing local legislation.

 

3. How widespread are elected mayors in the UK?

 

The first directly elected mayor in the UK was introduced in Greater London in 2000 as part of the statutory provisions of the Greater London Authority Act 1999.

In England, elected mayors were established by the Local Government Act 2000. Eleven councils adopted a mayoral system (3% of councils), with over 80% adopting the leader-cabinet system.

As of May 2016, there had been 52 referendums on the question of changing executive arrangements to a model with an elected mayor. Of these, 16 have resulted in the establishment of a new mayoralty and 36 have been rejected by voters. The average “yes” vote was 45%. Typical turnout was around 30%, varying from 10% to 64%. There have been six referendums on the question of removing the post of elected mayor, of which three have been disestablished.

The Localism Act 2011 permitted central government to trigger referendums for elected mayors in 10 large English cities. On 3 May 2012, referendums were held in these cities to decide whether or not to switch to a system that includes a directly elected mayor. Only one, Bristol, voted for a mayoral system.

In 2014 it was announced that a Mayor of Greater Manchester will be created as leader of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. From 2017 onwards there are expected to be directly elected mayors for Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City Region, the West Midlands, and Tees Valley as part of the devolution deals introduced by the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016.

3.1     UK case studies

Greater Manchester

Greater Manchester (GM) has a long history of cross authority working and infrastructure. In 2011 they became the first group of authorities to establish a combined authority. Recently GM has been granted devolved decision-making which is (in UK terms) remarkably extensive. The “price” of this has been to agree to the imposition of a “metro mayor”.

The GM mayor will have devolved powers around housing, transport and (subject to unanimous approval by the constituent councils) spatial planning. They will also become the Police and Crime Commissioner for GM. They will chair the GM Combined Authority (GMCA).

GMCA will have responsibilities around devolved business support, further education, skills and employment, and housing investment.   It will jointly commission (with DWP) the next stage of the Work Programme, and has recently taken on responsibilities around health and social care integration.

In GM, the mayor’s decisions can be rejected by two-thirds of the cabinet consisting of the leaders of the ten constituent councils. The Statutory Spatial Framework is subject to unanimous agreement by this cabinet.

The new elected mayor will be subject to scrutiny by the existing scrutiny committee of the GMCA: the ‘GMCA Scrutiny Pool’, made up of 30 non-executive councillors drawn from the ten Greater Manchester boroughs.

The Government passed an amending Order to create an eleventh member of the GMCA (alongside the ten borough leaders) to be the ‘interim mayor’ until the first mayoral election. Tony Lloyd, Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner, was appointed to the post (by the existing members of the GMCA) on 29 May 2015.

The March 2016 Budget announced the following additional powers for the GMCA:

  • bringing together work on Troubled Families, Working Well, and the Life Chances Fund into a single Life Chances Investment Fund;
  • working with the Government and PCC on joint commissioning of offender management services, youth justice and services for youth offenders, the courts and prisons estates, ‘sobriety tagging’, and custody budgets;
  • taking on adult skills funding
  • further discussion over approaches to social housing.

 The 2016 Autumn Statement further announced devolution of the budget for the forthcoming national Work and Health Programme and the beginning of talks on future transport funding in Greater Manchester.

West Midlands

The West Midlands mayor will represent a population of over 2.8 million people, compared to the average MP parliamentary constituency of under 96,000 people – almost 30 times as significant. The powers of the elected mayor are not yet proportionately significant.(see https://westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk/media/1572/adocpackpublicversion0001.pdf)

The West Midlands mayor will have limited independent powers, mostly relying on building consensus with local council leaders.

The constitution of the WMCA was approved on 10th June 2016 and published here:

https://westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk/media/1171/ca-draft-constitution-24-5-16.pdf

The constitution suggests that “any matters that are to be decided by the Combined Authority are to be decided by consensus of the Members where possible”. Where consensus is not achieved, each Member is to have one vote and no Member including the Chair is to have a casting vote.

Usually votes will require a two-third majority of constituent members, however several areas required a unanimous vote of all members, including:

  • approval of land use plans;
  • financial matters which may have significant implications on Constituent Authorities’ budgets;
  • agreement of functions conferred to the Combined Authority;
  • use of general power of competence within the Local Democracy Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, including in relation to spatial strategy, housing numbers and the exercise of any compulsory purchase powers;
  • approval to seek such other powers
  • changes to transport matters undertaken by the Combined Authority.

Non-constituent members will be able to vote on defined issues (where a simple majority is required) including around:

  • adoption of growth plan and investment strategy and allocation of funding by the Combined Authority
  • the super Strategic Economic Plan strategy along with its implementation plans and associated investment activity
  • the grant of further powers from central government and/or local public bodies that impacts on the area of a Non Constituent Authority
  • land and/or spatial activity undertaken by the Combined Authority within the area of a Non-Constituent Authority
  • Public Service reform which affects the areas of Non-Constituent Authorities
  • all Combined Authority matters concerned with education, employment and skills, enterprise and business support, access to finance, inward investment, business regulation, innovation, transport, environmental sustainability, housing, economic intelligence, digital connectivity and regeneration
  • future use of business rate retention funding generated beyond that retained within new and existing Enterprise Zones

The WMCA “cabinet” (council leaders) will examine the Mayor’s draft annual budget and the plans, policies and strategies, as determined by the Mayoral WMCA, and will be able to reject them if two-thirds of the Mayoral WMCA Cabinet agree to do so. In the event that the Mayoral WMCA reject the proposed budget then the Mayoral WMCA shall propose an alternative budget for acceptance by the Cabinet, subject to a two-thirds majority of those present and voting. The Mayor shall not be entitled to vote on the alternative Mayoral WMCA proposed budget. In terms of specific functions:

  • “Mayoral functions” will be devolved to the Mayoral WMCA by central government, exercised by the Mayor and subject to the provisions in the Scheme.
  • “Mayoral WMCA/Mayoral joint functions” are subject to the Mayor’s vote being included in the majority in favour with the two-thirds of the Constituent Members voting.
  • Mayoral “WMCA functions” are not subject to the Mayor’s vote being included in the majority in favour with the two-thirds of the Constituent Member voting. The items reserved for unanimous voting of the Constituent Members are also not subject to the Mayor’s vote in favour.

The functions which are proposed to be “Mayoral functions” are:

  • HCA CPO powers (with the consent of the appropriate authority(ies)
  • Grants to Bus Service Operators
  • Devolved, consolidated transport budget
  • Reporting on the Key Route Network (in consultation with the authorities)
  • Mayoral precept
  • Raising of a business rate supplement (in agreement with the relevant LEP Board(s) and the Mayoral WMCA)
  • Functional power of competence (but no general power of competence).

 

4       How do mayors fit with the wider devolution agenda?

The Government’s approach to devolution has been to negotiate the transfer of powers through a series of “devolution deals” or agreements. The House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee concluded that “the Government’s approach to devolution in practice has lacked rigour as to process: there are no clear, measurable objectives for devolution, the timetable is rushed and efforts are not being made to inject openness or transparency into the deal negotiations” (CLG Committee, 2016).

The 2015 devolution agreements are a development of a series of “city deals” between 2011 and 2015; first with the eight core cities and later with 20 smaller cities and city regions.

The devolution deals agreed so far have many similarities in terms of powers to be devolved (Sandford, 2016). The core powers devolved include the following:

  • Restructuring the further education system.   Some areas will also take on the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers.
  • Business support. In most areas, local and central business support services will be united in a ‘growth hub’.
  • The Work Programme. This was the Government’s main welfare-to-work programme, subsequently replaced by a much smaller Work and Health programme. Many areas are to jointly develop a programme for ‘harder-to-help’ benefit claimants.
  • EU structural funds. A number of areas are to become ‘intermediate bodies’, which means that they, instead of the Government, will be able to take decisions about which public and private bodies to give EU structural funds to. The future of these funds is of course in doubt following the EU referendum.
  • Fiscal powers. Many deals include an investment fund, often of £30 million per year. Elected mayors will have the power to add a supplement of up to 2p on business rates, with the agreement of the relevant Local Enterprise Partnership.
  • Integrated transport systems. Many deals include the power to introduce bus franchising, which would allow local areas to determine their bus route networks and to let franchises to private bus companies for operating services on those networks. Each deal also includes a unified multi-year transport investment budget.
  • Planning and land use. Many deals include the power to create a spatial plan for the area.

Further details are provided in the Annex to this paper.

 

5       How well have other elected mayors performed?

Mayors in England have had a mixed picture of performance. In Stoke and Doncaster they did not deliver improvement, but in some areas they are linked to significant progress. The Warwick Commission concluded “our evidence suggests that elected mayors offer a real opportunity for change in a place where change is needed and also a way of invigorating a body politic”.

Gains (2015) concludes that “the evidence base for improved performance under mayoral governance is weak”. However, reviewing evidence on the introduction of the first city mayors she notes that “compared to areas operating a leader/cabinet model where the leader was indirectly elected, respondents to surveys of councillors, officer and local stakeholders in mayoral authorities agreed more strongly that there was quicker decision-making, that the mayor had a higher public profile, that decision-making was more transparent, that the council was better at dealing with cross cutting issues that relationships with partners improved and disagreed more strongly with the statement that political parties dominated decision-making”.

The Bristol Civic Leadership Project has explored the question “What difference does a directly-elected mayor make?” since September 2012. An early analysis published in 2014 identified that the Mayor had enjoyed access to central government ministers, that he had emphasised leading the city rather than the council, and that he was a more prominent public figure in Bristol city life than any previous leader.

The project’s final report in Sept 2015 (Hambleton and Sweeting, 2015) concluded that there has been a changed perception of governance in Bristol, in particular:

  • Many perceive an improvement in the leadership of the city, in areas such as the visibility of leadership, there being a vision for the city, the representation of Bristol, and leadership being more influential than previously was the case.
  • However, there are areas where the model is seen as performing inadequately. There are concerns about the levels of representation of views within the city, trust in the system of decision-making, and the timeliness of decision-making.
  • Frequently there are considerable differences of view about the mayoral model of governance from those situated in the different realms of civic leadership in Bristol. Councillors tend to display considerably more negative views about the impacts and performance of the new model compared to those in public managerial, professional, community and business realms.
  • Members of the public in different parts of Bristol tend to think somewhat differently about the impacts of the reform. Often, but not universally, those people living in better off parts of Bristol are inclined to see the move to, and the impacts of, the mayoral model more positively than those living in less well off parts of Bristol.

Assessments of the impact of the London Mayor are complicated by the evolving powers linked to this role. The initial model was largely restricted to transport, and led to the successful introduction of the congestion charge and cycling initiatives. The subsequent successful bid for the London Olympics 2012 perhaps demonstrates the wider “power” of the role.

Analysis suggests that leadership turnover in places with mayors is 50% lower than those with council leaders (Warwick Commission, 2012:29).

6       What issues remain to be resolved?

 

6.1     Scrutiny, checks and balances

The Warwick Commission argued that the relationship between mayor and full council needs to be constructed so the mayor is visibly held to account, yet their mandate should not be undermined by a body which has been separately elected. There needs to be an appropriate recall process which enables the removal of an elected mayor in office in extremis.

Gains (2015) argues that democratic considerations initially received insufficient attention in Greater Manchester. These relied on the cabinet of local council leaders provided strong veto powers and the four-yearly direct election of the mayor. However, she points out that the potential for wider and innovative public engagement and effective formal scrutiny were not fully explored initially. The latter could not rely on the cabinet because “their executive role precludes the kind of independent scrutiny expected elsewhere in local government”. She points out the more active public engagement and transparency arrangements are now being developed in GM.

The CLG Select Committee review of Devolution Agreements found “a significant lack of public consultation and engagement at all stages in the devolution process” (CLG Select Committee, 2016)

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill 2016 sets out key requirements for overview and scrutiny arrangements. Each combined authority will be required to establish at least one overview and scrutiny committee, consisting of backbench councillors from the constituent councils, to review and scrutinise its decisions and actions and those of the elected mayor.

Alternative models have been suggested through local decisions on a clear governance framework (Centre for Public Scrutiny) or introducing “second chambers” of people from the business, voluntary and community sectors and citizens’ panels (Institute for Public Policy Research North).

6.2     Public engagement and consultation

 A number of criticisms have been made of the lack of public consultation in most devolution negotiations. The House of Commons Local Government Select Committee found “a significant lack of public consultation and engagement at all stages of the devolution process” (CLG Committee, 2016).
There have been some examples of innovative engagement, for example the University of Sheffield and the Electoral Reform Society, with other partners, held two “citizens’ assemblies” in autumn 2015, in Sheffield and Southampton. Over two weekends, invited members of the public discussed devolution options in their local areas. Details of the assemblies and the outcomes of the public discussions can be found at http://citizensassembly.co.uk/. Similarly, Coventry held a one-day citizens’ panel on 9 September 2015, discussing whether the city should participate in the West Midlands combined authority. (Sandford, 2016).

6.3     Mayoral Powers

The Warwick Commission stressed that “the difference between ‘powers’ and ‘power’ is critical in discussing elected mayors. Whilst the debate about clarity over which powers (and budgets) Whitehall will hand to cities with directly elected mayors will continue, it is also important to recognise the soft and invisible power that has often been accumulated by elected mayors that sits outside their statutory remits has been considerable. In many cases, it has led to the granting of more powers” (Warwick Commission, 2012:8).

That said, they argue that “Mayors should examine the totality of the public spend in a place and hold bodies over which they do not have budgetary control to public account in a wider sense, e.g. the combined impact of social care, recidivism amongst low level offenders, impact of welfare and work and training”.

In terms of the national legislative framework, many powers are now available to elected Mayors. The list in Table 1 (below) is taken from NLGN’s publication “New Model Mayors: Democracy, Devolution and Direction” (2010) updated for powers subsequently provided to elected mayors.

 

 

Table 1: Comparison of current mayoral powers with NLGN proposals

 

NLGN Proposal Current position
The financial flexibility to balance budget over the 3 final years of a term, instead of being limited by in-year balancing No
The creation of a single capital investment pot for the area, so that all relevant monies are pooled and control over spend maintained by the mayor Yes?
The power to introduce a supplementary business rate of up to + or – 4p, with any extra funds raised to be spent on economic development within the locality as deemed best by the mayor Partly – currently limited to 2p and subject to agreement with the local business-led LEP.
Permission to use TIF mechanism through the establishment of an ADZ Yes (through New Development Deals)
Ability for mayor to appoint or dismiss Chief Executive, giving the council an advisory role but the final decision to rest with the Mayor No
Similar transport powers to those that the Mayor of London currently enjoys, in particular to have a say in local transport provision within the authority’s boundaries through chairing (or the nomination of chair) of the local transport body Yes?
The introduction of a new post of Police Commissioner, with the Mayor taking up this position or appointing a councillor to this position Yes
The power of appointment for the position of PCT Chief Executive and in addition power to nominate one person to sit as a non-executive member on the board of the PCT No
Alignment of PCT priorities with local Mayoral health priorities GM only
Responsibility, powers and funding for 14-19 and adult skills Yes
The formation of a statutory Employment and Skills Board, chaired by the Mayor or a representative of the Mayor, to devise strategy Yes?
Fast-tracked to a devolved commissioning model for welfare-to-work provision No – DWP resist devolved commissioning but promise to engage with local areas.
A seat in the second chamber of the Houses of Parliament No

 

6.4     Gender balance

Recent research by the Fawcett Society (Trenow and Olchawski, 2016) concludes that the current approach to devolution “risks handing power to male-dominated structures and shutting women out of the decision making process”.

Their analysis shows that for the Northern Powerhouse area (NP in the chart), 40% of councillors are women, rising to 50% in Manchester City Council. In this respect they outperform Westminster, where only 29% of MPs are women, and Police and Crime Commissioners (16% women).

Diagram 1: Representation of women

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 08.55.53

However, the proportion of women falls significantly when considering senior positions in the Northern Powerhouse. For these roles the figures are: to 28% of senior leadership roles and 14% of chairs of established and proposed combined authorities. More generally, so far only four out of 16 existing directly elected mayors in England are women.

 

 

 

References

 

CLG Select Committee, Devolution: the next five years and beyond, First Report of Session 2015–16, January 2016.

Gains, Francesca. “Metro mayors: devolution, democracy and the importance of getting the ‘Devo Manc’ design right.” Representation 51.4 (2015): 425-437.

Hambleton, Robin, and David Sweeting. “Innovation in urban political leadership. Reflections on the introduction of a directly-elected mayor in Bristol, UK.” Public Money & Management 34.5 (2014): 315-322.

Hambleton, Robin, and David Sweeting. “The impacts of mayoral governance in Bristol.” (2015).

Osborne, “Chancellor on building a Northern Powerhouse”, HM Treasury and The Rt Hon George Osborne MP, 14 May 2015

Sandford, Devolution to local government in England, House of Commons Library briefing paper number 07029, 5 April 2016

Svara, James H. Official leadership in the city: Patterns of conflict and cooperation. Oxford University Press on Demand, 1990.

Trenow, Polly and Jemima Olchawski, The Northern Powerhouse: an analysis of women’s representation, Fawcett Society, 2016

Warwick Commission. “Elected mayors and city leadership summary report of the Third

Warwick Commission.” Warwick, Warwick University (2012).

 

 

 

As DirectoCatherine Staite 02r 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.  Her role is to help support creative thinking, innovation and improvement in local government and the wider public sector. As a member of INLOGOV, Catherine leads our on-line and blended programmes, Catherine teaches leadership, people management, collaborative strategy and strategic commissioning to Masters’ level.  Her research interests include Combined Authorities, collaboration between local authorities and the skills and capacities which elected members will need to meet the challenges of the future

lowther-jason

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

 

 

West Midlands’ “Independence Day”?

Catherine Staite & Jason Lowther

With the dust nowhere near settling from the fallout of last month’s national referendum on membership of the EU, some English regions are following Scotland’s lead in demanding greater autonomy. London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, is looking for the devolution of fiscal responsibility, including tax raising powers, as well as more control over business and skills, housing and planning, transport, health and policing and criminal justice.

West Midlands residents are now being asked for their views on a new elected mayor for the region’s Combined Authority.

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Time for an end to parent/child relationship with central government and sibling rivalry between local authorities

Catherine Staite, Director of INLOGOV

It is universally recognized that England has the most centralised government in the western world. This is the result of many years of effort on the part of successive Conservative, Labour and Coalition governments. Motivations have varied between different governments but some key drivers have operated for the past 30 years.

Ideologically motivated governments don’t like power to rest with anyone they can’t control, including other parties or dissident factions within their own party. Even when the centralising motivations are more benign, for example, the avoidance of ‘postcode lotteries’, the results are rarely better.

Self-belief trumps evidence and makes governments vulnerable to airport book management gurus. For example, ‘Nudge’ theory is not the magic key to changed behaviour and reduced demand for public services.  There is a wealth of evidence about how a variety of approaches, applied coherently and intelligently, can have a significant and lasting impact on behaviour. To understand that, politicians would either need to read more than one book on their holidays or commission some research.

Centralisation creates a trap for central government because, by controlling so many aspects of local services, they set themselves up to fail. If they claim the ability to solve all ills, they become responsible for all ills. Central governments make disastrous micromanagers in spite of misplaced confidence in their superior intellect and technocratic abilities. They may take a helicopter view of a complex system and believe that by tinkering with one part of the system they can resolve all the problems within the system. The result is inevitable; a myriad of unintended consequences that then drive more centralized tinkering.   The numerous attempts to integrate health and social care demonstrate how helicopter-height theory doesn’t survive contact with ground-level cultural, professional and financial realities.

Centralisation disempowers local government and reduces its ability to work innovatively and creatively with the wider local public sector, business and community partners. The apparent empowerment, purportedly offered by policy or statute, is continually undermined by the constraints of the parent/child relationship characterised by regulation (‘my house, my rules’) as well as messy and inequitable funding arrangements (‘no you may not have more pocket money’).

But are these long established patterns of structural, functional and psychological centralization about to change? Talk of devolution and financial independence may lead you to think so – but think again. The underpinning relationship is still parent/child, as highlighted recently by Analysis on Radio 4 .

Now, some local authorities are making matters worse by demonstrating plenty of dysfunctional behaviour of their own, in the form of sibling rivalry. The mantra, ‘its not fair’ is used by many local politicians – about the actions of the county, the neighbouring unitary or by the next door district. True, there is plenty of unfairness built into the system but there is no hope of resolving that while different parts of the sector are engaged in internecine battles that only result in more inequity, more vitriol and more hostile takeover bids driven by more by narrow interests than the creation of public value.

Many local authorities do demonstrate heroic and commendable behavior, collaborating and supporting each other. Even the best of them find it hard going in the face of so many systemic challenges. Local government is too complicated. There are too many local authorities, capacity is spread too thinly and the costs of democracy are too high. Piecemeal tinkering, in the form of small-scale reorganizations, minor changes to functions and governance, spin-offs and bolt-ons, have only made matters worse. This has been going on for so long that everyone now takes it all for granted – but it’s not inevitable. Some grown up actions would put local government on the road to adulthood and more in control of it’s own destiny.

  • Establish a cross party commission to review all the key drivers for financial and structural change in local government. Perhaps the LGA, SOLACE and CIPFA could work together to set up a commission.
  • Agree Terms of Reference – ideally to be driven by evidence and the public good and as bold, radical and creative in their recommendations as possible, to;
    • Design a new geography – that combines economies of scope and scale with recognizable places. It won’t be perfect because there are always borderlands but it will at least be underpinned by some design principles, as opposed to the current system which is the creature of a series of historical constructs and the intermittent application of political whims.
    • Design a new geometry – that enables local authorities to have much greater impact on all the ‘wicked’ issues – from low educational attainment to obesity – which are at the root of many of the relentless and unsustainable pressures on public services. This geometry could include flexible, integrated governance arrangements, ranging from large clusters of councils tackling the infrastructure challenges (let’s call them Combined Authorities), to neighbourhood level engagement which co-produces solutions to local issues.
    • Design a new funding model – with a system of income generation and redistribution, that combines maximum autonomy with maximum equity, agreed and managed by local government for local government.

If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got – a messy, sub-optimal system of local government riven by in-fighting and self-interest. If local government continues to divide itself, it will always be ruled by others.

 

Catherine Staite

Catherine Staite is the 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.

Local Government Studies – virtual special issue on budgeting

Alison Gardner & Vivien Lowndes

Anyone following the news over the last nine months might be forgiven for thinking that the UK’s relationship with austerity had taken a rollercoaster ride.  In June 2015, George Osborne told central government departments to plan for 25-40% spending cuts, citing his aim for the UK to become ‘a country that lives within its means’.  His ‘fiscal charter’ signalled a departure from a historic reliance on government borrowing financed through economic growth, towards an aspiration to consistently deliver a budget surplus from 2019-20 onwards.  Then in the 2015 autumn statement and Comprehensive Spending Review, forecast cuts to many departments were mitigated, prompting parts of the press to herald an ‘end to austerity’.  Nonetheless Osborne has since been keen to emphasise ongoing threats within the global economy, arguing that austerity remains a necessity.

From the point of view of English local authorities, continuing austerity – including a reduction in central grant funding of 60% – has been balanced against a ‘devolution revolution’: a promise of increased powers and fiscal autonomy for councils that are prepared to join together to create ‘combined authorities’ reflecting  ‘functional economic geography’.   For some local government advocates, devolution represents a long-sought opportunity for the sector to break free from Whitehall’s straightjacket of fiscal control.  However, from a critical perspective, devolution may also represent a diversion:  a convenient sleight of hand that allows the government to disavow responsibility for underfunded local services, whilst breaking Labour’s urban power base in the cities, and increasing central leverage over core areas of policy.

Our new article ‘Local Governance under the Conservatives: Super Austerity, Devolution and the Smarter State’ argues that – despite reports of a ‘flat’ comprehensive spending review funding settlement –  local government is in fact entering a period of super-austerity, underpinned by a consistent trajectory towards reducing the size of the local state.  Cuts, such as the recently announced 6.7% real terms reduction in spending power, are downplayed or obfuscated, while assumptions of growth in local sources of income will be realised unequally.  Under the Coalition government , spending cuts impacted most severely upon the poorest localities, and (despite recent changes to the DCLG grant funding formula)  future funding reductions – as well as unequal opportunities to raise income – threaten  to reinforce a distinctive geography of austerity with deepening  spatial inequalities.

Optimists point to the opportunities of devolution, reform and efficiency.  Devolution has gathered cross-party parliamentary support, and large cities such as Manchester have been keen to be at the forefront of governance innovations such as combined authorities, and devolved health spending.  Proposals to localise business rates, and allow (limited) flexibility to elected mayors in increasing council tax have also been welcomed.  However, the economic benefits arising from devolution are uncertain and disputed, playing out unevenly and over the longer term, whilst spending cuts are front-loaded.   ‘Devolution’ also effectively provides for some key functions – such as economic development – to be centralised from local government to a new sub-regional level.

In addition, rather than emerging organically as a symbol of local confidence, devolution has in recent months been focussed on strategies to mitigate local deficits, driven forward under conditions of compromise and constraint.  Progress on creating combined authorities, initiated cautiously under the 2010-2015 Coalition, was rapidly accelerated by a Treasury invitation for all local authorities to submit ‘fiscally neutral’ devolution proposals in advance of the comprehensive spending review.  The summer of 2015 saw an unseemly scramble to submit hastily negotiated proposals, with some awkward alliances constructed under the threat of further spending cuts.  The Government has also insisted on directly elected mayors as a cornerstone to devolution deals, despite a rejection of the principle across many English cities in 2012, in a move that could potentially short-circuit existing local political structures, and diminish local democratic representation.

In relation to the wider public sector, David Cameron has outlined a vision for a “smarter state”, but proposals appear to rehash new public management principles, with relatively little focus on local government.    Most local authorities are already well advanced in implementing the reforms which the government describes, and multiple studies suggest that local authorities are reaching the limits of ‘efficiencies’.   Increasingly local communities are being called upon to construct their own safety nets.

In effect, the direction of local governance under the Conservatives appears to point towards a form of ‘roll-out’ neo-liberalism, signalling an active construction of an alternative and right wing model of the local state, in contrast to the deconstructive ‘roll back’ neoliberalism practiced by the Coalition.  Whilst this brave new world will create opportunities – especially for areas that are already prospering – prospects are less certain for areas without strong local economies.  This radical transformation also implies a technocratic transfer of power, taking place with minimal public engagement.

Dr Alison Gardner and Professor Vivien Lowndes have just published Local governance under the Conservatives: super-austerity, devolution and the ‘smarter state’ in Local Government Studies. You can get free access to the paper through the virtual special issue on local authority budgeting. 

 

Alison Gardner

Alison Gardner has recently completed a PhD at the University of Nottingham.  Her research interests include local responses to austerity, and the changing relationship between civil society and the local state.  She previously worked in policy roles with local authorities, the IDeA, Local Government Association and the civil service.

Vivien Lowndes photo

Vivien Lowndes is Professor of Public Policy at the Institute of Local Government Studies, University of Birmingham UK.  She has been researching institutional change in local governance for 25 years, including recently Why Institutions Matter (Palgrave 2013).  Current work looks at gender and institutional change and the impacts of migration.