Report calls on an elected mayor to be installed in Manchester Town Hall
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Report recommends elected
mayors for Britain’s big cities
By Andrew Stevens, UK Editor
2 March 2006: Greater Birmingham and Greater Manchester should have elected mayors who control spending on transport, regeneration, skills and the power to raise business tax according to a recently published report. It recommends England’s two biggest ‘city-regions’ should be in charge of their own economic development. It argues for around £1.2 billion a year to be devolved from regional development agencies, transport boards and the Learning and Skills Council.
Update November 2007:
In October 2007 the UK government’s Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act was finally approved by Parliament and overhauled the system of governance in most English councils, seven years after the landmark Local Government Act, which introduced the elected mayor model for the first time. The new Act requires council leaders to be installed for four years, thus almost creating a Swedish-style indirectly elected mayor. More
The report, City Leadership: Giving City-Regions the Power to Grow, is published by the Insitute for Public Policy Research’s Centre for Cities, a think tank set up by the New Labour-friendly body to stimulate debate around city regions as an alternative to the regional assemblies dropped after the referendum defeat of November 2004. The report follows that of the City Regions Commission set up by the New Local Government Network (NLGN) last year.
The centre’s director, Dermot Finch, said: “Our biggest city-regions need more power. Greater Birmingham and Greater Manchester are big enough to control their own economic development. This is the best way for them to increase jobs, improve transport and drive economic growth. Unelected regional quangos are too big and undemocratic but local authorities are too small. Directly-elected mayors will be controversial but they provide clear leadership and a visible line of accountability, as Ken Livingstone has shown in London.”
Other large city-regions such as Leeds and Liverpool could follow Manchester and Birmingham’s lead, the report says.
Tony Travers of the London School of Economics, who sat on the New Local Government Network’s City Regions Commission, argued that the report’s findings should be taken seriously, particularly in relation to transport authorities for other cities: “For too long the scatter-gun approach to local transport has hurt the economic vitality of many cities in the country. Setting up TfL has been a success and it is a model that should be copied across the country.”
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) welcomed the report as a contribution to the debate around elected mayors: "The government is convinced that strong leadership for our cities is essential if they are to achieve their potential economically and socially.”
The report received a lukewarm reception elsewhere. The Liberal Democrats’ Communities and Local Government spokesperson Sarah Teather said: “This report is like the curate's egg. It's packed full of good ideas, but is marred by New Labour's blinkered pre-occupation with mayors.”
Similarly, the Conservative Party’s spokesman Eric Pickles responded negatively to the idea: “A new tier of government isn’t going to change the current centralisation of power or make people more involved in their local communities.” he said. However, suggesting some inconsistency in Tory policy, party leader David Cameron had previously called for a new generation of city mayors in his leadership campaign launch last autumn and subsequently backed the NLGN report on city regions.
City regions are certainly high on the government’s agenda at the moment. The ODPM has asked England’s eight ‘Core Cities’ to submit their own plans for city regional structures in advance of this summer’s local government white paper. The government has also tasked Sir Michael Lyons with producing a report on the future of local government funding, which was later widened to include the form and function of local councils. On the city regions report he said: “This report is an important and welcome contribution to the debate on the future of local government. I don't agree with all of its conclusions, but we must consider accountability issues alongside questions of what local government should do and how it should be paid for.”
The report coincides with the conclusion of the ODPM consultation on widening the powers of the Mayor of London, with observers claiming the promise of more power to London is being pushed an incentive for cities like Birmingham and Manchester to adopt the city region mayor model.
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