The Greater Manchester Mayor: Theory and Practice
Following on from our last piece , it took only 45 days from the Prime Minister's pledge "to empower our great cities" to the Chancellor standing in Manchester, announcing plans for "the first metro-wide elected mayor outside of London." The speed with which a new metropolitan structure of governance was negotiated and agreed between Whitehall and ten local authorities, run by three parties, suggests the real political will that now exists to get the deal done. Similarly, the agreement to impose an elected mayor without a referendum reflects a desire to ensure that power is devolved swiftly, particularly because, as of the last decade or so, voters seem to have been wary of new elected offices.
The announcement provided clarity about the role of the Greater Manchester Mayor. The proposal builds on the framework provided by the existing Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The Mayor's Cabinet, consisting of the Leaders of the ten authorities, would have the power to overrule mayoral decision-making in some areas. We'll have a better understanding of the extent of local authority influence once a Mayor has been elected, though a little-known provision of the devolution agreement means we'll have some advance notice, because Greater Manchester will have an appointed mayor "as soon as Parliamentary time allows."
The new Mayor will be responsible for transport, planning and housing across Greater Manchester. They will control relevant central funding in those areas, and have the statutory power to create a spatial planning framework, subject to the unanimous approval of their Cabinet. The alert and astute will have noted that this calls into question the status of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework that GMCA is currently developing, and it will be interesting to see how that progresses. Those similarly affected by the move include Tony Lloyd, the city's Police and Crime Commissioner, who will lose all his powers to the new office.
The office of Mayor of London is a good example of how charismatic individuals can raise the profile of their role, and use that profile to wield a wide influence. While the role of Greater Manchester Mayor as currently envisaged is a limited one, constrained by the GMCA framework and the limited powers, it is possible to envisage an effective Mayor making much more of it. Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council and a potential candidate for the office, has already made clear that he wants to see "full devolution of all public spending," describing the settlement as "a road map for the future." Indeed, the devolution agreement contains the germ of much wider powers, with pilot programmes and initiatives in health, welfare and social policy suggesting that in future the Mayor could command more authority.
The prospect of an elected mayor for Greater Manchester underlines the importance of political engagement. The Greater Manchester Mayor will undoubtedly become an important consultee on strategic planning applications, and early and effective engagement with the Mayor will be vital for those bringing forward such plans. The fact that spatial planning frameworks will need the unanimous agreement of the Mayor and their Cabinet also reinforces the need for those that wish to influence this important document to engage with political Leaders across the city region, if the objection of any one is enough to scupper it.
National and local leaders clearly believe that allowing more money to be spent locally will mean it is spent more quickly and efficiently, as locally accountable figures look to implement an agenda and leave a legacy. If they are right, then this step could help inject further vitality into the already impressive regional economy. If Manchester makes a success of the model, then other cities will surely look to follow its lead.
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