Will new elected mayors have the necessary powers to succeed?

As the ballot boxes open tomorrow for mayoral referendums in ten of the UK’s biggest cities, it seems a good time to consider the role of elected mayors and whether they can help drive local growth.

In theory, elected mayors are a good idea. They can unify fragmented local government structures, give business a single point of contact and take a strategic view across a city region. Yet there are significant factors which must be addressed if this next generation of elected mayors are to have the powers and scope they need to succeed. If unchanged from the current model, the result could be de-stabilising at a time when local authorities are already struggling with massive spending cuts.

In 2009 the Conservatives published, Control Shift: Returning power to local communities, which signalled their intention to legislate to hold referendums in the 12 largest cities outside London.

The cities were: Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Wakefield, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Leicester already has an elected mayor and Liverpool decided by a council resolution to have a mayoral form of government and hold a mayoral election which takes place today alongside the referendums in the remaining 10 cities.

The drive for elected mayors is not, of course, entirely new. Since the adoption of the Local Government Act 2000, any English local authority, or five per cent of its electorate, can require a referendum to be held on whether to have an elected mayor. With this in mind, it seems at odds with the localism agenda for government to compel local authorities to hold these referendums.

Lizzie Crowley

Lizzie Crowley is a researcher at The Work Foundation and author of Streets Ahead: What makes a city innovative?

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