Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

A mayoral-led devolution revolution

Andy Burnham’s manifesto launch was a glimpse into the potentially transformative role England’s new metro mayors could play, writes Luke Raikes

Today, the race to govern Greater Manchester moved up a gear. Andy Burnham has just published his manifesto, in his campaign to be mayor of our de facto second city. He will soon be followed by other candidates in Greater Manchester and five other city regions across the country.

If elected, on 4 May he would be one of six new mayors to step forward. Together, they will govern a large swathe of England: in total, almost 10m people and city economies worth £214bn will fall under the remit of these new mayors. A greater population, incidentally, than Scotland and Wales put together.

This is a new type of governance for England; these mayors will not govern alone. And while we are used to having mayors of local authority districts, and a mayor of London, nobody has yet had to govern across a city region in close collaboration with a cabinet of elected leaders.

They have quite a task ahead of them. Anyone visiting cities like Birmingham or Manchester will see the great cradles of opportunity their city centres have become. But look again and it is clear that, while some citizens have indeed prospered, others have been locked out. These cities are home to the poorest in the country, their full potential held back by poor health, homelessness and low pay.

And within this manifesto, there is a flavour of what mayors could achieve. A combination of hard and soft power will enable these mayors to deliver.

In a forthcoming report from IPPR North, we will set out 30 things these mayors could do; policies they could implement that would improve the everyday lives of their citizens: the quality of the air they breathe, the efficiency of the public services they use, the jobs and prospects of families and children within their city region.

But this is just the beginning. These mayors will want to hit the ground running and demand more powers from central government. The United Kingdom is the most centralised major country in the developed world, which holds back investment, and means less responsive public services. Mayors, working together, could start to chip away at this power.

They should push for fiscal devolution – control over their own revenue streams – as a top priority. Remarkably, less than five per cent of tax revenue is raised locally in the UK – far less than in other countries. This does not just mean retaining business rates – which introduce all sorts of problems around equality and incentives. It means the power to raise a hotel bed tax, to expand the business rate supplement, or to roll out workplace parking levies.

With this further devolution, these mayors could be transformative. They could tackle the challenges central government has systematically failed to address, and build cities which are truly inclusive. For those locked out of power in Westminster, they are an opportunity to show leadership, responsibility and progress. The elections on 4 May will be an important first step.

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Luke Raikes is a research fellow at IPPR North. He tweets at @lukeraikes

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Luke Raikes

is a researcher at IPPR North

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