The Localism Bill proposes to hold mayoral referenda in 11 cities in England. If introduced, directly elected city mayors would mark a significant shift in the local governance landscape and local economic policy making. A yes vote for mayors could have large potential implications for local economic development policies in some of England’s largest cities.
Previous Centre for Cities research has found that growth across these cities is highly uneven – places such as Leeds and Manchester have performed much more strongly since 1998 than places such as Bradford and Birmingham. Policy needs to respond flexibly to this uneven growth to enable cities to address the specific and varied challenges that they face.
Local economic policy making has the potential to work better with a mayoral model of governance. A mayor could use both the formal and informal powers attached to the mayoral model to overcome four key governance challenges to economic policymaking; a mayor has the potential to help city governments be decisive on issues of strategic economic importance, to act as a representative to local business and central government, bring coherence to the actions of the public sector and collaborate with local authorities, business and other players in the wider local economy.
However, the model as currently proposed could go further. The economies of England’s largest cities would benefit from a governance structure that takes the best from the Mayor of London model. They need greater powers over issues such as transport and strategic planning. And they need a remit that effectively covers the whole economy of a city. Economic policy should be matched to the geography of the economy if it is to be most effective.