Professor Francesca Gains and Professor Kevin Ward run The University of Manchester’s Devo Manc hub which brings together researchers from across the University who are exploring Greater Manchester’s devolution future. In this blog they examine what difference the newly directly elected Metro Mayors will make to their regions. They focus particularly on the challenges facing the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, who has the most widespread powers of all the newly elected mayors.
- The new mayors have strengths that other indirectly elected leaders don’t have. Their direct mandate means they can act as an advocate for areas both domestically in Whitehall and in a ‘post-Brexit’ UK developing a region’s international business and tourism links to encourage inward investment.
- The powers of the mayor in terms of budgets and areas of decision making responsibility are small and in times of austerity (and the economic uncertainty of post-Brexit Britain) there is a danger they will find it hard to deliver the economic, social and democratic innovations needed.
- The political geography of Andy Burham’s vote must ensure that he reaches out to all the people of Greater Manchester. His leadership cannot be one that stops and starts at the boundaries of Manchester.
- Inclusive growth is important to many organizations with a stake in the future governance of the Greater Manchester city region. Inclusive Growth should not just be thought about in terms of social inequalities – spatial inequalities also matter.
Whilst general electioneering continues apace, in six metropolitan areas the new ‘metro mayors’ are settling down to their role in governing Cambridge and Peterborough, Greater Manchester; the Liverpool City Region; Tees Valley; West Midlands and West of England. After a week of announcements and appointments from the newly elected Mayors we take stock of what difference these directly elected politicians will make, and of the challenges that face particularly the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham.
As polling day drew to a close on the 4th May, initial attention focused on the turnout – would turnout be as low as for the first Police and Crime Commissioner elections where the overall turnout was only 14 %? In fact turnout ranged from 21% in Tees Valley to 30% in West of England. In Greater Manchester turnout was a respectable 29% – double the turnout for the first police and crime commissioner elections held here on a cold November day in 2012; about in line with normal local government election turnouts but not as high as the turnout for the first Greater London Mayor Election of 35%% back in 2000. It is difficult to know how the unexpected general election announcement may have affected voters’ propensity to vote – certainly space on the news agenda was far more squeezed than was expected to be the case when the metro mayor polling date was set. Turnout might also be affected as these were the first elections of this kind – with voting rates likely to improve as voters get used to new governing arrangements. Certainly the turnout for the second police and crime elections in May 2016 rose to 26% and overall turnout for the four subsequent Greater London Mayor elections have all been higher than the first, with turnout rising to 45% in 2016.
Mayoral election results
The election resulted in the election of two Labour metro mayors in the North West, and four Conservative mayors elsewhere, largely reflecting the voting patterns seen in the local elections held on the same day, notably the squeeze on the Labour vote in the West Midlands and Tees Valley. No women were elected to be metro mayors, with the most likely female candidate, Labour’s Sue Jeffrey, narrowly loosing on the first ballot and subsequently on the second count to the Conservative candidate, Ben Houchen, in the Tees Valley.
Focus on Greater Manchester
The most emphatic victory was former cabinet minister and shadow cabinet member Andy Burnham, whose first round share of the vote at 63% gave him victory after the first ballot. Yet this masks some significant differences across the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester. In traditionally more Conservative Bury, Stockport and Trafford his support was in the 50s, while in the stronger Labour boroughs of Manchester and Wigan it was over 70%. Burnham, as an MP campaigned for remain. Yet in Westminster Burnham represented a constituency (Wigan) in one of seven (of ten) local authority areas in Greater Manchester which voted to leave. His obvious appeal across a region otherwise deeply divided on Brexit is an appeal that his party and party leader must emulate if they are to sustain a serious challenge in the General Election. The Greater Manchester metro mayor also has the most widespread powers of all the newly elected mayors as policing is included in his brief and although with no direct power in some areas, the Greater Manchester Mayor will yield ‘soft’ power for example over the regions devolving health and social care arrangements.
Burnham had a strong start to his term of office in both organisational and substantive policy terms. He swiftly announced the appointment of a (paid) female deputy, Baroness Beverly Hughes a former local MP and Home Office minister. Hughes will hold the police and crime brief. He also sought to benefit from sage advice on economic development and how to work with the combined authority, appointing Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council and a key architect of devolution as his (unpaid) deputy in the combined authority ‘cabinet’. And in a nod to the key need to address the challenges facing young people in the region he appointed Rishi Shori, Leader of Bury Council to be an (unpaid) deputy for young people. These appointments show a deft touch in getting the right leadership team around him. Burnham also made an early policy pledge to end rough sleeping in the region and backed this with a commitment to give 15% of his mayoral salary to a newly established Mayors Homelessness Fund and creating an action network to bring together all those experiencing or working with this issue – again a bold move.
What does this mean for devolution?
But what does the election of this new cadre of directly elected politicians add up to in terms of English devolution? The mayors have strengths that other indirectly elected leaders don’t have. With their direct mandate they are able to act as an advocate for areas both domestically in Whitehall and in a ‘post-Brexit’ UK developing a region’s international business and tourism links to encourage inward investment. Yes the powers in terms of budgets and areas of decision making responsibility are still not great, particular when compared to mayors in other countries in Europe and North America. And in times of austerity and the considerable economic uncertainty of post Brexit Britain there is a danger they will find it hard to deliver the economic, social and democratic innovations needed.
Changes in Greater Manchester
On the immediate agenda in Greater Manchester will be the critical issue of getting a unified transport system to kick start the ability for people to move around the region more freely to access employment opportunities, better housing and local services. Getting investment into business innovation and skills development will be vital as well as getting the best deal possible from the Treasury for Greater Manchester in the new Parliament. In Greater Manchester also, although the mayor has no direct authority over health and social care devolution – as one voice involved in the governance arrangements – it will be critical to use the political authority the Mayor can yield to galvanise and bring together the myriad of other local authority, health and third sector participants.
Over the four year term of office – the longer term agenda is to position the city region in the reconfigured post-Brexit, Trump-infused global economy with inward investment, addressing inequalities and political disillusionment as the key challenges. Moreover, given the political geography of his vote, Andy Burham must ensure that he reaches out to all the people of Greater Manchester. His leadership cannot be one that stops and starts at the boundaries of Manchester. In his manifesto Andy Burham wrote repeatedly of “the city”. This cannot be a short-hand for one city, Manchester. He has to embrace the diversity of Greater Manchester and built upon it to make a better and more inclusive future.
For example, inclusive growth, which is currently near the top of the agenda of many organizations with a stake in the future governance of the Greater Manchester city region, should not just be thought about in terms of social inequalities. Spatial inequalities also matter, and there are plenty across Greater Manchester. So his ability to work across all ten boroughs is going to be central to whether or not history deems his mayor-ship to have been a success.
Evolving devolutionary landscape
In terms of seeking to influence the Mayor’s agenda, many organisations will be seeking to make their presence felt and get their needs met. Within this evolving devolutionary landscape, researchers at the University will continue to use their research on the cultural, economic, political and social challenges facing the ten Boroughs of Greater Manchester to have an impact on policy. The devolution hub is home to a range of projects on the different elements of Greater Manchester’s devolution deal. It includes the joint initiative with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (Future events and publications are planned). We will hold the Mayor to account on his election promises and seek to use our research to contribute to the policy debate to drive transformative changes in the lives of all those who call Greater Manchester home.