When the victorious Greater Manchester Mayor emerges next May, they will find themselves with significant transport powers – but strong leadership and beefed-up accountability will be needed to realise the full benefits, argues Luke Raikes.
This time next year, Greater Manchester will be experiencing its first ever mayoral election campaign. This will be a significant moment. At 2.8 million, Greater Manchester is not far short of Wales’ population – and its economy is in fact bigger. And in some ways, this mayor could hold more power over Greater Manchester than the Mayor of London does over the capital.
The combined authority structure means they could become essentially a ‘leader of leaders’ – working closely with their constituent districts to make sure public services respond to the needs of their citizens. They could be just the catalyst required for these local authorities to become greater than the sum of their parts.
Transport will be a vital area of policy, and a key political battleground. Londoners might be surprised to learn that in the rest of the country buses compete on the street for passengers, in what can either be a complete free for all, or can leave some people with no services at all. This makes Oyster-style or contactless ticketing impossible, prevents investment and makes public transport significantly harder to use. Greater Manchester’s Mayor should soon have the power to ‘franchise’ their buses in the same way TfL does – a welcome but long overdue step.
But they could do far more. With the right leadership they could use their transport networks to radically change both the daily lives of their citizens and the long-term future of their city. The Mayor could connect their more deprived citizens with the jobs they need with new bus routes; they could prioritise cleaner air or environmental sustainability.
To do so they will need to invest, and that means raising revenue from the right sources. Each city is different and will require a different approach. But the candidates should first look at the powers they’re already set to have: workplace parking levies, congestion charges and the 2p business rate premium.
But central government should enable them to go further. Whitehall should make implementing these charges far easier, and lift the cap on the business rate premium. It should allow mayors to spend this money on whatever mix of transport investments their city needs.
For this to happen, it will require firm leadership. But while executive power can be a great enabler, in isolation it can lead to poor decisions and wasted public money. The Mayor will therefore need to be held accountable with firm checks and balances. So Greater Manchester also needs a beefed-up local transport committee, which enables the representation of the diverse communities that make up the city.
With the right leadership, Greater Manchester can compete with similar cities across Europe and in other developed countries. But in order to do so, the Mayor must first bind the city together with the transport network it needs and deserves.
- These issues are explored in a special Devolution edition of the journal Representation, which brings together expert analysis from academics and practitioners in the field. Subjects explored range from the role of the Mayor to transport, and from housing to health, as well as the complexity of relationships within the new Greater Manchester health and social care structures.