If you thought 2016 was chaotic, 2017 looks set to be equally as interesting, especially in the North West, writes Tom Morrison.
The balance of power is set to change in May 2017, with two elected mayors, one in Greater Manchester and one in Merseyside, taking over two of the biggest metropolitan regions in the country. With powers over health policy, strategic planning, investment decisions and transport, the successful candidates, whoever they may be, will become two of the most powerful people in England.
Not only will elected mayors change the decision-making in these regions, but they will also change how the relationships between councillors, council leaders, and to some extent, council officers can dictate the political direction of local authorities.
In my experience, it’s relationships that drive local councils; whether it’s the relationship between a leader and their chief executive, or a cabinet member and their colleagues on a planning committee, the day-to-day interactions between these people govern how decisions are made and, importantly, how they are going to be implemented. Throwing a position such as a Metro Mayor into the mix is only going to complicate things further. Just how complex these relationships will become, we will see.
Following this political thread, we cannot dismiss the chance we could see a snap General Election in 2017. The arguments over Brexit and the future of Britain’s place in the world will not die down and, if anything, are only going to get louder and more high-profile. Theresa May, sitting on a wafer thin majority of 11, appears to have very little political capital left and has already faced two resignations from sitting MPs.
That said, May is riding high in the polls, with over 40% of the population preferring her over Jeremy Corbyn. The embattled Leader of the Opposition has had a dreadful year, with his tweets about jam and not being able to find a seat on a train garnering more media coverage than many of his policies. There must be a temptation for the Conservatives to call an election in order to increase their majority and deliver a more workable mandate.
Finally, 2017 will see a ‘wind of change’ for the North West in terms of transport. Transport for the North, which is aiming to become a statutory sub-national transport body in the next year, will continue to grow and become a more influential voice in delivering the Northern Powerhouse across the region, whilst the decision to run high-speed rail through Birmingham and into the North West and Yorkshire will not only drive investment, but also create huge job opportunities locally.
In the recent past, HS2 was seen as a political hot potato, with only a few spokespeople championing its development. Yet now, political consensus seems to have been reached, so much so that the likes of Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram (Labour’s candidates for the Manchester and Merseyside mayoralties) are leading calls for the creation of HS3 to better connect the North West and North East. How will this play out? There have been many supportive voices so far, but as we have seen from the journey taken by HS2, there is likely to be a long way to go.
So 2017 looks set to be an interesting year. With mayoral elections, a potential General Election and HS2 becoming tangible, the North West will be one of the most interesting regions in the country to watch political change unfold next year. Maybe 2016 could even be outdone…
- Tom Morrison is senior account manager at Remarkable Engagement