Metro mayors: from election to implementation

17 May 2017

A week on since last week’s local elections and six new metro mayors face a challenging task: how can they make an impact and deliver on their promises?

Their election represents a significant milestone in devolution – a power shift in momentum from central to local government. So what kind of approaches should mayors consider to help them succeed in their missions?

Focus and prioritise – the new mayors need to quickly make a demonstrable impact – certainly in time for their re-election campaigns in three years’ time. This is all the more challenging given many of their areas of responsibility – transport, housing, skills – have long lead times to demonstrate the impact of investment. Mayors will need carefully to choose their priorities and show that they can get things done.

Collaborate to deliver – if they are to solve some of the most intractable problems in their areas, the new mayors need to use their new powers and influence to convene local leaders, often of different political colours, as well as the wider public sector and business to galvanise behind a shared vision. 

Some have already made a fast start in deploying this approach. Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham and Andy Street in the West Midlands both used their first day in office to launch task forces to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. Although not a direct responsibility for either mayor, we can expect their counterparts across England to play a similarly high visibility leadership role on pan-regional issues.

Create common cause – while each mayor will be looking out for their own patch, truly grown up devolution will require mayors working as a cohort together across geographical, party political and administrative boundaries, to make common cause where there is common interest. Working together, as combined authority chief executives have been for the past year, will be particularly important for building relationships with central government. 

It could also prove a valuable forum for the development of new policy initiatives. For example, in areas like fiscal devolution, full consideration of the broader funding system will be as important an understanding the local impacts to securing progress. 

Be accountable – The metro mayors were established to create a focal point of accountability for the devolution of powers and resources – when a politician is known by their first name, voters know who to blame or where to give credit. The challenge ahead for mayors is whether their powers and resources map with their responsibilities. 

Their powers over transport, infrastructure, skills and housing put them squarely on the hook for economic growth, but in taking responsibility for integrated health and social care budgets, Greater Manchester is making the case that a broader range of public services have important economic impacts too, which aligns with our work on Good Growth for Cities with Demos. Wider public services reform, fiscal devolution and ‘whole place budget’ approaches are likely to rise up the agenda as a result. 

Engage communities – citizen engagement needs to reach far beyond the ballot box. Turnout in last week’s elections ranged from 21% in Tees Valley, to 33% in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, broadly consistent with polling ahead of the elections that showed three quarters of voters knew little or nothing about them. 

But there is hope for improvement. In London we have seen turnout increase – from 34% in 2000 to 45% last year – as the mayor’s profile and powers have grown. Success in improving voter engagement will depend on mayors being able to communicate effectively with citizens, and demonstrate the power of the office in making a difference to people’s everyday lives. 

The People’s Powerhouse Convention, due to take place in Doncaster in July, will make a further important contribution to this evolving debate as it widens the focus of the Northern Powerhouse beyond infrastructure, transport and business by engaging citizens directly on the broader suite of issues that support happy, successful communities.

With the focus increasingly on delivering inclusive growth, the new cohort of mayors must individually and collectively demonstrate they are part of the solution. Rising to this challenge requires effective use of existing powers and a clear vision of what needs to be delivered for their expectant electorates. Let's hope they can rise to this challenge.

This article first appeared on the

Tina Hallett | Government and Public Sector Lead Partner
Profile | Email | +44 (0)20 7804 1704

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