Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Strong local partnerships will not benefit from an elected mayor

New city mayors will add little to local governance – and may prove a costly extravagance
As published in The Guardian on 30th January 2012  http://www.guardian.co.uk/local-government-network/2012/jan/30/local-economies-partnerships-elected-mayor?INTCMP=SRCH  I would suggest reading the comments on the article via the link for interesting debate.

Lorna Gibbons

Guardian Professional, Monday 30 January 2012 09.05 GMT Article history

Elected mayors for England's cities will not prove comparable to London's Boris Johnson. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

The profile of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) is on the rise. Boards and chairs are in place; funding has been awarded; a new project to support rural business is open to the partnerships; Greater Manchester has approved a new investment vehicle to spend £75m on economic growth; Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have even taken their priorities out on the road.

It seems that LEPs can provide the "larger than local" geography needed to drive growth within economic areas. Funding is available, and LEPs are being trusted to deliver.

So how will a directly elected mayor fit with the LEP system? The coalition agreement set out a commitment to create directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities outside London. Referendums will be held in these cities to let local people choose whether they want a mayor.

A consultation, asking what a mayor can do for these cities, has recently been completed. Greater Manchester does not want a mayor; it says its 25 year history of voluntary collaboration puts it in a good position to deliver its economic priorities building on its LEP, rather than "create a new form of governance".

Barbara Janke, leader of Bristol city council, suggested that a mayor for the city would add very little without new powers from government – and even if they were granted, their partner unitary authorites would not agree to those powers extending into their boundaries.

It is also unlikely that Leeds will want a mayor, given that the LEP is at city region level, and councils outside of the city are unlikely to give up their powers to its newly elected chief. In Liverpool, Lord Heseltine is trying to encourage city leaders to elect a high-profile mayor as a way of attracting investment. Surely a high-profile LEP chair could do the same job?

Where an LEP works well, an elected mayor would not add very much except another costly layer of governance. Coventry city council has already earmarked £130,000 for a mayoral referendum; similar taxpayer costs will also go towards a second vote – on who the elected mayor would be – and a further £120,000 is set aside for a potential mayor's salary. Meanwhile, an LEP board member is appointed after a open and transparent recruitment process, and remains unpaid.

How does this all fit into cities minister Greg Clark's recently launched city deal? The eight core cities and their surrounding LEPs are being offered a menu of transformative new powers that the government wants to explore as the basis of a series of bespoke deals. The idea is that the government will free these cities from Whitehall control, with the aim of stimulating growth.

As with any deal, there is a trade off. Here, cities will have to offer something in return for their new powers and investment. They must guarantee they can provide strong and accountable leadership, improve efficiency and outcomes and be innovative in their approach. This wish list sounds like it has come straight out of the consultation document "What can a mayor do for your city?", which stated that mayors have the potential to provide strong and accountable democratic local leadership.

So what about where we already have an elected mayor? Stoke did have one but has abandoned the post due to the cost, the size of the job and the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual. Leicester has an elected mayor – but it no longer has a chief executive.

What about the London mayoral model? It is easy to argue that the capital does still have regional government. Among other things, the mayor holds almost all of the executive power in the GLA. In fact, the London set up is so different you could argue that it doesn't actually need an LEP. London already has all of the powers other cities might expect from the city deal.

What is clear is that a vote for an elected mayor is not the same as a vote for Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone in London. The exact powers available to elected mayors are not yet clear, but via the city deal LEPs will also be able to negotiate with Whitehall for control in a number of areas to give local communities more flexibility, access to new opportunities and help to stimulate growth across the country.

We need to ensure that power is delegated to the most appropriate level. The solution seems to be to give LEPs at least some of the powers that may go to a mayor, providing they can show appropriate scrutiny arrangements. This works with existing structures, at minimal cost, and includes local authority leaders (via the LEP Board) in decision processes that are led by the private sector.

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