I chaired the launch event for our report on elected mayors this morning, and we got #electedmayors trending in Birmingham. We were hosted by KPMG and speaking on the panel were Lord Adonis, Jerry Blackett, Jim Hancock and KPMG’s John Atkinson.
A number of interesting points came out of the discussion:
- There is a strong case for Metro Mayors, operating at the functional economic area of a city – although Lord Adonis warned of the “best being the enemy of the good” and gave the examples of schools and buses as two areas where a local authority mayor could make a big difference to a city.
- The idea of shadow mayors was given short shrift– with Lord Adonis describing the idea as a “democratic nonsense”, that he thought was unlikely to get through the Lords.
- Jim Hancock, reflecting on his 35 year career as a political commentator, welcomed the potential of elected mayors to raise the profile of local government and the important functions it serves. But he warned of the potential “dead hand” of local council opposition being a threat to a “Yes” vote in May 2012.
- Jerry Blackett was concerned about how the relationship between LEPs, which are only just now finding their feet in the institutional landscape, and elected mayors would work – with a local authority mayor being potentially destabilising, and a LEP mayor perhaps being an undeliverable outcome. He was clear that leadership relies on partnership and “followership”, however, saying, “Strong city leadership doesn’t have to take the form of a 'big man'."
- Jerry also called for more clarity from central government on what additional powers an elected mayor in Birmingham would have. A survey of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce members revealed that while 36% of those surveyed were supportive of the idea of an elected mayor, compared to 22% against, 42% didn’t know or hadn’t decided. His question – and I’m sure it’s one being asked across the 11 cities - was “What could we do tomorrow with a mayor that we can’t do today?” It’s clear that there is more still to be done to make the case for elected mayors in the cities that will be voting next May.
The mayoral debate is one that will continue to be high on the agenda in the coming months as the Localism Bill progresses, and it’s important that these outstanding issues and concerns are addressed if cities are to get the opportunity to make the most of mayors’ potential.
See more photos from this morning's event on flickr: ttp://www.flickr.com/photos/52038120@N03/sets/72157626835223135/