As the prospect of seeing a generation of new directly-elected mayors in our major cities comes into focus ahead of referendums in our 10 largest cities on May 3rd, an influential new report says mayors can offer “greater visibility, accountability and co-ordinative leadership as well as re-enchanting the body politic”.
The Warwick Commission into Elected Mayors and City Leadership, formally launched today, sets itself the task of answering “What is the role of elected mayors in providing strategic leadership to cities?”
Led by Professors Wyn Grant and Keith Grint from Warwick University, the 42-page interim report says that elected mayors:
“May provide a viable alternative for invigorating some locales, especially at a time when the forces of globalisation are setting city against city across the globe in their competition for capital, labour and knowledge.”
Cautious of making a recommendation about whether there should be big city mayors or not ahead of the local referendums, the report nevertheless argues:
“Directly elected mayors offer the possibility of greater visibility, accountability and co-
ordinative leadership as well as re-enchanting the body politic, and much of this derives from their relative independence from party discipline through their direct mandate and through their four year term.”
Claiming that local government has “progressed incrementally with little strategic direction” over the years, the report argues that central government usually only gets involved to “address the byzantine local structures and processes that have embodied the consequences of this reactive incrementalism”. In terms of judging their performance, it calls for a “mature debate about the indicators of success by which we can evaluate the performance of mayors”.
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The report goes on:
“Unless mayors are unlike every other kind of organisational leader then it will prove very difficult to establish a series of objective metrics to hold them to account: there are usually just too many variables involved to apportion responsibility accurately - including the difficulty of assessing what time period we should judge to be useful.”
The government’s new Localism Act compells Newcastle, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Wakefield, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Coventry and Bristol to each hold a local referendum on 3 May about whether to switch to an elected mayor, replacing the existing council leader model. In addition, Salford and Liverpool are pressing ahead with creating elected mayors of their own volition, using different legislation.
Meanwhile, in Doncaster, there is a referendum on whether to keep the mayoral model, which the town adopted in 2002. A recent BBC poll showed 59 per cent of residents favoured retaining their mayor, while 85 per cent of businesses in a local Chamber of Commerce poll did.