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

 

 

‘If the rules aren’t written, you can write your own’ – Flexibility, Elected Mayors and Combined Authorities

Max Lempriere

At the first of a series of workshops hosted in early November by the College of Social Sciences at the University of Birmingham, with input from INLOGOV, The Public Services Academy and City-REDI, practitioners and academics from the world of local government came together to share experiences on the current combined authorities and city-region devolution agenda. In the first of a series of posts Max Lempriere, a doctoral researcher studying the formation of combined authorities, reflects on the day’s major talking points. 

Combined authorities are emerging as the arrangement of choice for local authorities across England keen to harness greater powers and funding from central government. Five have so far been established with another six in the pipeline. More will follow in the coming months and years.

One of the clearest challenges coming out of our discussion is that there is no ‘blueprint’ to follow in their design. It is up to each prospective combined authority to ‘bid’ for a package of powers and funding that reflects local needs and priorities in negotiation with central government. But what does this mean for those on the ground involved in those deliberations?

Underlying much of the discussion was an optimism that this kind of flexibility presents. One participant remarked ‘if the rules aren’t written, you can write your own’. But, accompanying this was also a frustration at the ambiguity and uncertainty that accompanies this kind of design flexibility. The need to ensure public value, a resilient institutional arrangement and a design that can achieve specific foundational objectives certainly raises the stakes.

Take the issue of elected-mayors. Agreeing to adopt an elected mayor is a necessary condition to achieving the full range of powers and funding available, but again there is flexibility in terms of what powers and competencies the mayor will have. If nothing else the mayor will become the figurehead of the combined authority, so a lot rests on ensuring their success.

There is a danger that if not carefully thought through the ‘mayor issue’ could undermine the success or resilience of the combined authority. A functional economic geography may be an appropriate basis from which local authorities can come together but the congruence of economic and political geographies is not a given. Participants agreed that the powers and ‘design’ of the mayoralty must be carefully negotiated to reflect local identities, political priorities and political geographies. Take the West Midlands, for example. Here the development of a combined authority has to navigate the deep historical tensions between Birmingham, the Black Country, and Solihull/Coventry. Would a mayor be able to negotiate these differences? Would any attempts to do so be met with hostility and, if so, what would that mean for the legitimacy of the mayor? Several participants at our workshop were concerned that if the mayor was to be seen as ineffective there is a danger that the whole combined authority could be at stake.

So what does this mean for combined authority designers?  The most obvious conclusion is that local authorities need to be leading the discussions, not central government. In the words of one participant, local authorities need to be ‘feisty’ in their negotiations and unafraid to ‘flex their muscles’. There isn’t a comprehensive deal without an elected mayor and there isn’t a combined authority without an effective mayor. How the mayor is presented, engaged with and positioned within the combined authority is more fluid and contingent than a set of formal powers suggests. Combined authorities should not rest on their laurels and assume that just because their mayor ‘works’ today it will do so tomorrow.

So should we write off their potential? Far from it! There are real, tangible opportunities to seize back control from central government. Everyone involved must be sensitive to both the enormous opportunities this presents but also the potential pitfalls of flexible, negotiable institutional design.

This series of workshops is being supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, Local Government Association and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) and is led by Catherine Staite, Director of INLOGOV and SOLACE’s Research Facilitator for Local Government.

lempriere

Max Lempriere is a final year PhD researcher at the University of Birmingham. His research interests include flexible institutional design, local government policy making, the politics of sustainable planning and construction and ecological modernisation.

In praise of … the Japan Local Government Centre

Chris Game

The Guardian newspaper has what it calls a daily editorial encomium: a short, benign tribute to a person or phenomenon featuring generally somewhere on the fringe of the day’s news. Entitled ‘In praise of’, its recent subjects have included Arunima Sinha – the first woman amputee to scale Everest – half-term holidays, male skirts, and Ringo Starr. This uncharacteristically uncritical blog is a lot longer than a Guardian encomium, but comes in a similar spirit.

The Japan Local Government Centre (JLGC) is the London (Whitehall) office of the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) a joint organisation of Japanese local authorities, supported by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and dedicated to ‘localised internationalism’: the fostering of international relations at the local level in Japan and the promotion of local Japanese culture and activities abroad.

It is the institutionalisation of a Japanese instinct that the British, not least in local government, tend not to share: a belief in the benefits, both intrinsic and instrumental, in seeking to understand how other countries do things. In addition, therefore, to its branches in each of Japan’s 47 prefectures (similar to our counties) and 20 designated cities (a case in point of a practice from which we could well learn), CLAIR also has seven overseas offices. The London office’s remit covers bits of northern Europe and Scandinavia, plus a responsibility for responding to research requests from the Japanese local authorities who provide most of its funding and a majority of the dozen or so staff.

That research function is one explanation of the extensive contacts we in INLOGOV have enjoyed over the years with JLGC, its rotating directors – mostly seconded from the Ministry of Internal Affairs – and both Japanese and UK staff. But far from the only one.

My personal association dates back to 1997, when I had the good fortune to be selected as a member of one of the Centre’s early annual study tours – in my case as one of a group of 10 mainly local government officers for a heavily subsidised and enormously enjoyable 10-day visit centred on Yokosuka City and Kanagawa Prefecture, just south-west of Tokyo. Unforgettable is almost as overused an adjective nowadays as incredible, but in this instance it is literally true and it paved the way for numerous succeeding contacts, relationships and revisits – from the latest of which, as it happens, I have recently returned.

I might well have blogged about it anyway, but that wouldn’t have justified the ‘In praise of’ peg, which by Guardian convention requires a relevant news item. That news item is (I shall resist typing ‘of course’) Japan400. In truth, the title refers to the yearlong programme of cultural events commemorating 400 years of diplomatic, trading and cultural relations between our two countries – as conducted through myriad organisations like CLAIR and the JLGC.

But the undoubted focal point of the year’s celebrations came on June 11th – exactly 400 years since the Clove, an aptly-named ship of the East India Company, finally made it across the East China Sea, up past Nagasaki to the south-west island of Hirado, and became the first British-commanded vessel to land in Japan.

The nautical detail is vital – especially for any like me, who, on first hearing of Japan400, were confused by thinking we’d already celebrated this quatercentenary more than a decade ago. I recalled clearly a fellow member of that 1997 study tour – Peter McLean, from the then Gillingham Borough Council’s Business Liaison Office (and the first UK local government officer I met who had a bilingual English/Japanese business card) – impressing upon us at every conceivable opportunity how the first Englishman to set foot in Japan, in 1600, had famously and indisputably been William Adams, a seaman from, yes, Gillingham in Kent.

Indeed, Peter, as was his wont, went further: presenting us all with a little book about the great man, The Blue-eyed Samurai, and his remarkable story of finding favour with the Shogun, becoming his trusted adviser, shipbuilder and the only officially recognised Western samurai, being granted a house and land, and spending the rest of his life in his adopted country.

All true and authenticated, and duly celebrated in 2000 in what by then, following Gillingham’s merger with Rochester, was the unitary Medway authority. William Adams was indeed Japan’s first English tourist, but – the big BUT – the ship on which he sailed was equally irrefutably Dutch: part of a Dutch fleet, owned by the Dutch East India Company, and commanded by a Dutch captain.

The Clove’s arrival 13 years later was very different. Though the voyage itself was hardly, as it were, plain sailing, it was heading from the outset to a known and at least minimally settled destination, and there was none of the drama occasioned by Adams’ landing. Quite the contrary, for the convoy commander, John Saris, brought official letters and gifts from King James I, and in turn was warmly welcomed by the local ruler – which I suppose makes it the more appropriate event from which to date the establishment of diplomatic and cultural relations.

It also offers a really clunky segue back to my own recent visit, during which I too met and was welcomed by local rulers, although they tend nowadays to take the form of elected prefecture governors and municipal mayors, rather than daimyo and samurai. I’m hoping to write something loosely comparative on local government leadership in the UK and Japan, and thought I’d take advantage of the invitation of a friend and former colleague to observe his ‘campaign’ for re-election as mayor of Setouchi, a ‘new city’ of about 40,000 residents in Okayama prefecture, roughly midway between Osaka and Hiroshima.

There are two sets of inverted commas in that last sentence, both intended to signal distinctive usage. First, the city. Though in area roughly the size of Manchester, Setouchi isn’t in truth a city at all, but rather the product of a 2004 merger of three real towns that now, of course, have lost most of their governmental identity – rather like Gillingham and Rochester. And Setouchi too is an artificial name, derived from ‘Seto inland sea’, in which as few people actually live as in the River Medway.

In much the same way as we have been relentlessly merging real places into ever larger and artificial constructs like Medway, the Japanese have been engaged on a fiscally incentivised merger spree that has to date cut the number of municipalities from over 3,200 in 1999 to barely 1,700 – one striking difference, though, being that some of the meaningless names adopted by their new creations at least sound more attractive than ours – Sakura (cherry blossom) City, Asagiri (morning mist) Town, and the like.

That, however, is not my point here. Rather, it is to note that this governmental engrossment, and the substantial reduction in the number of local politicians, seems to have done little to stimulate either greater electoral competition or greater voter participation. Japanese mayoral elections can take place in almost any month, but in over a quarter of the 80 held in April of this year the mayors were elected or re-elected without a contest; and in over 60% of the cities in which elections did take place, voter turnout hit record low levels. Political parties in this country aren’t the most popular of institutions, but democratically a weak and ineffectual party system is surely worse.

My friend was also re-elected unopposed, and, while I’m sure that was a testament to the breadth of his personal appeal, the excellence of his mayoral record, and his undoubted political negotiating skills, even I would be that much more reassured, had he not also been unopposed when first and previously elected.

It did not, incidentally, mean that there was no ‘campaign’ at all for me to witness, following my 6,000 mile journey. There were the personal posters, on publicly provided display boards, that are an integral part of all Japanese elections; loudspeaker campaign cars, organised hospitality, and endless meeting, greeting and exchanging of business cards. But it’s the final picture – the triumphal and collective BANZAI! (in which the ‘distinguished foreign guest’ enthusiastically participated) – that most truly captures the spirit of this particular election: considerably more acclamation than confrontation.

game japan

None of which should be taken to suggest that Japanese mayors, particularly of larger cities, aren’t important political figures with substantial powers and influence, or that the country’s local politics is invariably low key. Last November’s mayoral election in Okinawa, for example, became effectively a referendum on the challenger’s platform of removing all US bases from the city and replacing the US-Japanese Security Treaty with a treaty of friendship – albeit one that he lost by quite a distance.

As for the politician currently receiving by far the greatest media coverage, both nationally and internationally, and performing the Farageiste role of scaring the hell out of the established political parties in the run-up to next month’s Upper House elections, Toru Hashimoto isn’t in Parliament at all, but the mayor of Osaka.

More of which possibly in the nearish future. For the present, though, simply a grateful reflection that, were it not for the JLGC, it’s quite likely that I’d never even have got interested in this stuff.

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Chris 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.

Having the ear of George Ferguson: Bristol, elections and the mayoral model

Thom Oliver

Its election time in Bristol and there is a strange feeling in the air, something has changed and it’s not the colour of the mayor’s trousers. George Ferguson is now the sole power and the culture of politics is perhaps changing in the City.

oliver pic

In a recent news article BBC Bristol Reporter Robin Markwell stopped short of asking the question ‘whats the point of councillors’ in favour of ‘why bother voting‘? As the ‘no’ campaigners warned in their literature about the dangers of placing all the power of the hands of one person, the election of an Independent mayor in Bristol has got some councillors re-evaluating their role and redoubling their focus. With a third of the council up for election and the Lib Dems with potentially the most to lose the mayoral model is also changing the focus and content of campaigns.

As the second largest group on the council, and not a member of the multi-party cabinet, Labour’s campaigning at first glance seems quite generic. It stresses a national stance against the bedroom tax and champions the NHS, which in the light of national events may strike a chord with many. Their local pledges focus around making Bristol a Living Wage City (something Ferguson has spoken against in the past), a piggy-backing onto the campaign of local non-political activist Daniel Farr against the Fares of FirstBus, along with a desire for more affordable homes and childcare places. The movement to pushing these broader campaigns is unsurprising in the light of the movement to a mayoral model.

Across the city the Liberal Democrats have perhaps grasped the nettle of change more strongly, a campaign leaflet reads:

‘This election won’t decide who runs Bristol, or the country. It’s about the best person to stand up for our local area and fight our corner on the council’.

This focus is not so much a change, but perhaps a re-assertion of the community politics and community champion focus which served the party so well before any conception of the party as one of national government. Yet for a party which until the election of Ferguson was running the council, it’s certainly a re-evaluation.

Elsewhere across the City the Conservatives are hugging the mayor tight in their campaigns and the Green party (contesting all seats) are concentrating their efforts on two wards including the one where they already have one councillor. Independents for Bristol remain a bit of an enigma, and it is difficult to even estimate their electoral chances. Their campaigning led with a leaflet about the Independents for Bristol umbrella group, followed by a ‘Magnificent seven’ leaflet (although they are in fact standing 8 candidates) which again made little of localised campaigns or individuals as candidates, with the final leaflet due to hit letterboxes soon it’s a short time for candidates to assert their independence and individuality, this work is presumably being done on the doorstep.

With party politics a dirty word, Independents for Bristol have focused on the Nolan principles for politicians and appointees as an ideological basis, on the evidence thus far in terms of group organisation, the messaging on campaign literature and the existence of selection panels some are beginning to ask the question: if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck… The challenge for IfB is and will remain in giving independent candidates a competitive platform against better resourced local parties without impinging on the independence of individual candidates. This was highlighted by Helen Mott (IfB Candidate) in her recent blogpost.

As the campaign plays out questions on the composition of Ferguson’s all-party cabinet remain of interest to locals and politicos. Recently the mayor moved with great relief to fill the void left by Labour councillors as both the local party and National NEC vetoed any Labour involvement in George’s new politics. He appointed two Lib Dems and a Conservative to join his skeletal and stretched cabinet of one a Conservative, a Liberal Democrat and a Green. As George and the group leaders look over their coffee cups the morning after the count the spectre of this debate will re-emerge asking questions about George’s new politics and how councillors, independents, parties can promote campaigns, champion their local areas and ultimately get the man in the red trousers to listen.

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Dr Thom Oliver is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes Business School. He completed his PhD, exploring the representative role of councillors on appointed bodies, at INLOGOV in 2011. He currently lives in Bristol and has recently rejoined INLOGOV as an Associate. Follow his Twitter account here, and read his own blog here.

My journey from political independence to independent politician

Helen Mott

In 2012 the people of Bristol sent a clear message to the political parties. That message was, “You are not connecting with us”. On a turnout of 24%, the city voted to introduce a directly elected Mayor. Bristol was the only city to do so – and in analysing why, it may be significant to note that a high profile local candidate – George Ferguson, who went on to be elected the city’s Mayor – had already declared that he would run as an Independent candidate should the referendum deliver a “Yes”. As Catherine Durose has pointed out on this blog, the size of the “No” vote in other cities’ referenda probably points to a lack of enthusiasm among the electorate for electing ‘more of the same’ party politicians.

Recent research shows that only 1% of the UK population are now members of the main political parties. I am one of the 99% who are not. It may be that the offer of a new breed of independent politician – crucially, quality-assured to the exclusion of bigots, egomaniacs and the unprincipled – has a chance of restoring some faith and interest in local politics. That in itself is a worthy goal.

I am enormously interested in politics and I have great respect for (most) politicians I have worked with, in my role co-ordinating the campaign group Bristol Fawcett and in other local campaigns. But I have never wanted to join a political party – and this is largely because of the oppositional nature of party political posturing. Frankly I have been given enough grief in my life for being a card-carrying feminist – constantly being required to explain that feminism is for the liberation of mind and body, not against men, against fun, against sexuality, etc etc. As a social psychologist I have a heightened wariness of seeking to be a member of any group that is in danger of becoming an ‘in-group’; required to define itself against and plot against an ‘out-group’ of others. This seems the more ill-advised when to be a member of a group means agreeing to do what you are told by the leadership, even if the motivation of the leadership appears unprincipled.

I am disturbed and disheartened by the levels of vitriol and plotting and spinning directed by members of one or other party towards others. We seem to be living in a topsy-turvy world where nationally the deadliest policies can be adopted and executed without a mandate and without effective opposition. Meanwhile and locally, party representatives bait each other on Twitter, seem to put the good of the party above the good of local people (a caricature of Labour in Bristol) and claim to want to protect the most vulnerable in society while representing the parties whose centrally dictated policies seem to be playing out locally in the ruination of the lives of the most vulnerable (a caricature of the Conservatives and to a lesser extent the Liberal Democrats in Bristol). Many of our politicians appear to be fiddling whilst [insert name of your region here] burns. I believe that most people in local politics are principled and public-spirited, and I am sorry that the public have grown to distrust and disrespect party politicians. But the fact remains that they have.

I think that Martin Stott, writing for this blog in November, was right to suggest that we may be seeing the beginning of a ‘march of the independents’. The signs so far in Bristol are good in terms of the ability of “Independents for Bristol” to encourage a diverse range of candidates to stand – and to support those candidates with basic help and advice when it comes to campaigning, logistics and so on. Some of the challenges ahead for IfB will be to maintain the strong focus on principles, to resist the natural pull of ‘groupthink’ among its members, and to be creative about continuing to support a diverse range of candidates to stand. This last challenge is a very practical one but without the offer of campaign funding, socio-economic diversity among candidates is unlikely to blossom.

There are eight candidates standing in May under the “Independents for Bristol” umbrella – we will find out in a few short days whether this is indeed the beginning of a revolution.

mott

Dr Helen Mott is the co-ordinator of Bristol Fawcett which campaigns for equality between women and men. Bristol Fawcett recently published the report The Right Man for Bristol? about gender and power in Bristol in the context of the 2012 Mayoral elections. Helen has worked closely with Bristol’s voluntary, community & statutory sectors and is a regular participant in local government committees and partnerships. Following the establishment of the new umbrella group “Independents for Bristol” Helen has been selected to stand as a candidate for her ward in May’s local government elections. Follow her on Twitter here.

Bring Me the Head of George Ferguson: Is Bristol the Last Stand for Elected Mayors?

Thom Oliver

The ultimate Zombie Idea of Local Government lives on in the West of England but will budgetary and party political challenges spell an end for the directly elected mayoral model?

Proposals for an elected mayor model first emerged in a Department of the Environment consultation paper in 1991 as part of another comprehensive review of local government. It was part of that same review that led to the replacement of the ‘community charge’ with the council tax and the creation of the Local Government Commission.  Whilst given little attention at the time ‘The Internal Management of Local Authorities in England’ consultation gave us the first mentions of cabinets in local government, council managers and directly-elected mayors. Since then the idea of directly elected mayors has been dealt near fatal blows but still emerges as one of the battery of central government medications to cure the ills of local government.

I get knocked down but I get up again

The policy ideal of elected mayors has been advocated by a range of politicians of different hues, each of whom have championed the idea only to find themselves confronted with new setbacks. First up, of all the responses to the 1991 consultation from county councils, district councils, London and metropolitan boroughs not one was in favour of elected mayors. Labour under Blair grabbed hold of the idea and in government legislated for elected mayors through the Local Government Act 2000. However when offered the option of a move away from committee based structures, few opted for a directly elected mayor and cabinet model with the majority choosing the leader and cabinet model. Whilst the Act succeeded in moving councils away from the committee system, very few referendums were held to move to elected mayors. As the tide ebbed back to committees, plans for directly elected mayors were seemingly left high and dry.

That was until the Localism Act 2011 and the mandated referendums of May 2012 when directly elected mayors became the solution again. The voters of Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, Wakefield, Coventry, Leeds and Bradford all kicked the idea to the long grass. However the policy ideal lives on, and eyes are on Bristol and its newly elected independent mayor. But what are the prospects for success for both the man and the idea, and just how has this idea survived such a tumultuous ride in the face of significant and regular challenges to its worthiness and legitimacy?

The challenge for the newly elected mayor of Bristol

bristol

George Ferguson, architect, entrepreneur and purveyor of red trousers, is the man tasked with carrying forward the brow beaten ideal of directly elected mayors and championing a cause in the face of numerous challenges.

Whilst there are hopes of an independents revolution as argued by Martin Stott following George’s cannibalism of votes from the Lib Dems, Conservatives and Labour, party politics seemingly lives on and has surfaced abruptly as he tries to form his Rainbow cabinet. Surprising some by offering a composition based on vote proportions in the mayoral vote all parties were offered a place at the table (3 for Labour whose candidate Marvin Rees had come in a solid second place, 1 Liberal Democrat, 1 Conservative and 1 Green). George invoked a game of party political unpluralist ping pong. The Greens, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats moved to embrace the ‘new mood’ but Labours decisions were more protracted. First the local party voted against their councillors sitting on the cabinet, next up the council group voted by a small margin that they would join George only to be denied later through being overruled by Labours National Executive Committee. A flurry of press releases, resignations and regretful declines of cabinet offers later, George has been left with a cabinet of three and three empty seats, the vacant cabinet posts being taken on by Ferguson himself.

At first look it would seem a politically expedient option for Labour to not sit at George’s table as he makes a prospective £36million worth of cuts. However some have stressed they have misread the mood of the city. The pre-Ferguson Lib Dem administration through star chambers and cross party working had steered through over £55million worth of cuts impressively without drawing protests onto the streets of the city. Labour has seemingly chosen to sit back in ‘constructive opposition’ remaining untainted by Ferguson’s budget and potentially riding back in as white knights to join George once the budget has been passed.

It remains to be seen whether Ferguson will ask other parties to fill the Labour gaps or whether he will issue a now or never ultimatum for them to join now or remain out of the cabinet for the considerable future.

Killing the zombie?

The challenge for George as an Independent in the party political world is hard but if he fails would that be the end of the line for the idea of elected mayors? All eyes will be on Bristol. The yes to mayor vote in Bristol and the election of George Ferguson showed there was an appetite for something different, if not for elected mayors.

The idea of directly elected mayors has survived this long as the model hasn’t proved itself but it hasn’t been disproved. A recent guardian piece posited much hope for George in Bristol but if George and his rainbow cabinet in Bristol don’t succeed, it may be the final straw in killing the Zombie.

… Or perhaps Michael Heseltine will re-awaken the zombie idea of British Local Government:

I was disappointed that more cities did not choose to opt for a mayor. It confirmed my fear that relatively few would vote and that party loyalties would determine the outcomes. I believe this issue needs to be revisited to give our cities the influence and leadership commonly found in similar economies.

thom

Dr Thom Oliver is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes Business School.  He completed his PhD, exploring the representative role of councillors on appointed bodies, at INLOGOV in 2011. He currently lives in Bristol and has recently rejoined INLOGOV as an Associate.  Follow his Twitter account here, and read his own blog here.