Burnham and other Metro Mayors must ensure they are under scrutiny

Andy BurnhamThree months into the tenure of Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and no scrutiny committee has met to look at his plans.

Just as companies tend to get lazy and make poor decisions when they have a monopoly, politicians who aren’t being properly scrutinized often let things slide.

To combat this the UK Government faces quizzing across the dispatch box and in select committees. The Mayor of London must take questions from members of the London Assembly. Local authorities have Full Council meetings and scrutiny committees.

But for the new Metro Mayors things are a little more complex. There are no Combined Authority council chambers for them to stand up in and take questions.

Greater Manchester cabinet

In Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham’s Conservative opponent now sits as a member of his cabinet. Sean Anstee stood against Burnham in May, but as leader of Trafford council he automatically gets a seat at the table. There are clear advantages to this so-called “weak mayor” model. But it is harder for the Conservatives to attack the Mayor when they are in a de facto coalition with Labour on the Combined Authority.

For many years, Greater Manchester has held a monthly public scrutiny committee. Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors have looked at the decisions AGMA and the Combined Authority have taken. It is a well-understood model used in councils across the country and can work well.

That committee was disbanded at the time of the Mayoral election in May. Three months on no meetings have been scheduled for any replacement committees.

Little public scrutiny

In the critical first hundred days of Andy Burnham’s term of office, there has been little public scrutiny of his decisions. He has held some public question time events, such as with the Manchester Evening News. But that’s not the same as having councillors looking at the detail of a policy line by line.

There is no reason to think this is a deliberate ploy. Good scrutiny leads to better decisions and that should be of benefit to the Mayor, the Combined Authority and the people of Greater Manchester. In the wake of terrorism, Grenfell and a lack of progress on the GMSF it becomes even more important. Rather than being an attempt to evade scrutiny, it’s more likely that it just hasn’t been a high enough priority.

Iain has sat on both the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – as deputy leader of Stockport Council – and on the GMCA Scrutiny Committee.

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For effective scrutiny, we need directly elected Metropolitan County Councillors.

By Christopher John Green