Following the Prime Minister’s surprise announcement regarding a snap election, we’re all headed to the polls on the 8th June for what will be the second general election in the last two years. Before that, however, many of us will be taking part in another vote when new metro mayors are elected in six combined authorities on the 4th May. The areas in question are Cambridge and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands and the West of England. Once elected the new mayors are going to be responsible for a sizable portion of the UK economy. In total the six areas are home to almost 10 million people, more than 4 million jobs and they account for around 13% (£214 billion) of UK economic output.
The remit of each mayor is determined by the individual devolution deal that their area has agreed with the government, but broadly speaking, they will work together with local authorities in their respective combined authority to focus on issues around economic growth. The hope is that they can show that devolved powers represent a viable way of addressing challenges such as an undersupply of housing, lack of investment in transport and skills shortages.
With the mayors being accountable to the people who elect them, one of the main challenges they will face will be to make a positive impact in the short-term (they’ll be up for re-election in 2020), while at the same time putting in place mechanisms to secure long-term inclusive economic growth. Richard Cook, Associate and economics expert at Pegasus Group, outlines what the mayors should be doing to achieve this in their first few months of office.
• There’s no need to start from scratch: The areas have already agreed a range of powers as part of their devolution deals, so the mayors aren’t starting with a blank piece of paper. Nor are the challenges that areas face going to completely change because of another general election. Powers will evolve over time, but the deals already agreed mean the opportunity is there for the mayors to quickly implement many of the programmes agreed around transport, planning and housing.
• Building relationships with national and local government: A strong working relationship with central government is essential, given a large part of devolution funding comes from Whitehall. The relationship with local authorities is also going to be critical, with districts implementing many of the powers at a local level. Political allegiances need to be put to one side if the Mayors are going to balance national and local priorities.
• Building relationships with the private sector: The private sector accounts for more than 80% of the jobs in the six combined authority areas and this share is only going to increase in the future. At the same time as working with national and local government, the mayors will need to develop a relationship with the wider business community to ensure that as much growth as possible is private sector led.
• Inclusive economic growth: The six areas voting for a mayor cover almost 40 local authorities and the challenges facing these districts will vary significantly. The whole point of devolution is that local areas have argued they are better placed to address the myriad of challenges to ensure that as many people as possible can benefit from economic growth. The mayors must now prove this.
• Measuring impact and reporting success: the mayors will need to show that they are making a real difference to their areas. One way of doing this is to put in place a monitoring framework to measure the impact of programmes they implement. The combined authorities should be well down the line in terms of looking at how they measure the impact of their devolution deals. Having a monitoring framework in place will not only allow successes to be identified and reported, but it will also identify programmes that aren’t working and where challenges need to be made.
Richard Cook is an Associate at Pegasus Group, a leading national planning consultancy specialising in economic analysis, as well as design, environment and every aspect of the planning process. For more information about Pegasus Group and its services, please contact us.