It’s been a big week for city governance issues in Westminster. In the same week that saw the Lords vote down proposals for elected police commissioners, Caroline Flint has tabled an amendment to the Localism Bill which would revise the provision to turn council leaders in England’s cities into shadow mayors. Labour’s proposed amendment has garnered support over the last couple of days, and there are arguments for and against shadow mayors that should be given full consideration.
One of the key potential strengths that a mayor is likely to have will be his or her local accountability. The problem with the cabinet leaders that will become shadow mayors is that they are elected by a single ward only rather than by the whole local authority.
Another key issue is the implications of the local elections next year. As the Bill stands, Eric Pickles will appoint the shadow mayors this year ahead of the 2012 elections. But what of those shadow mayors whose political parties are voted out of power in city councils next year? In Birmingham, where Labour is currently the biggest party but short of an overall majority, what will happen to Conservative Leader Mike Whitby if his party is defeated by the Labour group? As it stands, shadow mayors in this position will retain their role and could hold their position for up to two years; there are questions about democratic accountability which will need to be answered.
A stronger focus on local enterprise partnerships recently appears to have pushed mayors lower down the agenda, and we know that not everyone in central Government is a fan, let alone in local authorities themselves. But with mayors now the only proposed reform to city governance in the Localism Bill, will they start to gain prominence again? And will policymakers start linking mayors to the economic growth agenda?
The issue of shadow mayors is only a side show to the main policy: the potential of mayors to make a difference to cities. Centre for Cities has long been an advocate of metro mayors – mayors whose remit would cover the ‘real’ economy rather than local authority boundaries (the proposal currently on the table) – because of the potential they have to support economic growth.
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