Six months ago this week the first ever metro mayor elections took place in six of England’s biggest city regions. Since then, the new mayors have already changed the landscape of British politics, offering a voice for urban Britain which had previously been missing, and taking tangible steps to improve the lives of the people living and working in their city regions.
Their influence has been felt at both national and local level. Take, for example, the role played by Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram (mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool city region respectively) in this summer’s row over investment in transport in the north. When the Government announced it was scrapping the electrification of the Manchester-Leeds train line while giving the green light to Crossrail II in London, it was Burnham and Rotheram who led the way in representing the frustrations of people living in northern cities. Their intervention was pivotal in making this issue a national political story, and a headache for the Government which is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
This encapsulates what the new mayors offer their city regions, and which other places yet to introduce a mayor lack: high-profile leadership and representation on the issues that matter most to their places. It also exemplifies why at Centre for Cities we have long called for the introduction of metro mayors as a crucial part of empowering UK cities to drive growth in their local economies.
Moreover, all of the new mayors have started to show the difference they can make for the people they represent in their city regions: from Andy Street’s newly-launched ‘Mayor’s mentors scheme’ to help young people in the West Midlands, to James Palmer’s ambitious plans for improving transport in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and Ben Houchen’s drive to repurpose the former SSI steelworks in Tees Valley. This impact and influence will only grow in the years to come, as the mayoral institutions become more embedded and developed in their city regions.
And when leadership has been sorely lacking at national level in recent months, the mayors have stepped into the breach in moments of crisis – most notably in the aftermath of the Manchester and Borough Market terrorist atrocities, and the Grenfell Tower disaster. In these cases, it was Burnham and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan who provided leadership and accountability which was absent from national leaders.
Significantly, the six metro mayors have also shown a willingness to work beyond party political lines, in order to learn from each other and to get the best deal for their city regions. This was illustrated last week when the metro mayors came together with Sadiq Khan to call for more powers from central government, and in particular greater control and responsibilities over spending in their city regions. At a time when animosity between the major parties is growing in Westminster, the mayors have demonstrated a maturity and pragmatism in working together that national politicians could learn from.
To build on these foundations, next month Centre for Cities is holding the first ever UK-International Metro Mayors’ Summit in London, bringing the UK mayors together with counterparts from US cities to discuss the challenges they face, how they might be overcome, and how they can make the most of the opportunities available to them.
Before that, from today onwards we will be publishing a series of blogs looking at the experiences of the UK metro mayors so far – the progress they’ve made, the challenges they’ve faced, and what their priorities should be for the coming months and beyond. We will also be showcasing views from experts and prominent commentators on the devolution agenda, and will be featuring views from some of the mayors themselves. Watch this space for more details in the coming days.