Elected mayors can make a big difference, ensuring local government reaches its full potential for the community, writes Robin Wales
I am a great supporter of elected mayors which, as the mayor of Newham in London’s East End, may not come as a surprise. But I think there is compelling evidence of the benefit that elected mayors can deliver in terms of accountability, impact and localism.
There are many excellent leaders across local government. However, local politicians of all parties share the frustration of the dominance of Westminster. As mayors are elected directly by, and accountable to, voters, they have a clear mandate for decisions. This also boosts visibility. Here in Newham, 60 per cent of residents are aware of me as the mayor and half know about what I am doing locally – far higher than an average council leader.
Elected mayors are better able to make things happen. The London mayoralty has had a major impact in tackling city-wide issues, from the congestion charge to securing investment in Crossrail. Locally, the mayoral system has enabled me to deliver bold policies including universal free school meals, free musical instruments and tuition for kids in years five and six, and an effective employment offer.
Mayors can play a vital role in driving growth. My aim is to make Newham a major business location and we have attracted massive investment to the area including the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre which has delivered 2,500 jobs for local people. I know businesses value having an individual who they can work with. It is no surprise therefore that business leaders in Birmingham and elsewhere support the mayoral system.
Finally, elected mayors can be the drivers of localism. All major parties claim to be localist yet our system remains overwhelmingly centralised. This is a shame as central government has consistently shown it is incapable of delivering efficient services tailored to local needs.
Mayors can help turn the rhetoric of localism into reality. They could work alongside local authorities to co-commission services such as transport, skills and housing. And instead of expensive police and crime commissioners, why not have elected mayors undertaking the role as we now have in London?
Of course I believe that there is a distinct role for local authorities and there should be a clear delineation of responsibilities between city mayors and councils. Take Workplace, our council-led employment service which provides bespoke support for those looking for a job, helping 5,000 into work this last year alone. I do not believe this sort of locally tailored provision could be delivered by City Hall.
But devolution need not be a zero-sum game. Elected mayors have proven their worth in terms of delivering accountability and visibility, in getting things done and in strengthening localism. I sincerely hope our great cities have the confidence and the ambition to seize this opportunity and that this generates further debate about devolution from Whitehall to cities, towns and boroughs across the country.
Robin Wales is mayor of Newham
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