Mayors are better able to overcome the challenges faced by cities.
This week Yorkshire council leaders have released a devolution wish-list of the 27 ‘asks’ they want from the Government in return for introducing a mayor. The list includes more control over policy areas including transport, skills, education, energy generation, business support, innovation and inward investment.
Leaving aside the question of whether a Yorkshire-wide deal is either sensible or appropriate, what’s particularly interesting are the new powers council leaders have requested. These include enabling a mayor to raise funding from Yorkshire businesses and residents, in order to help pay for infrastructure projects such as the Supertram or a Yorkshire version of Crossrail. As the Yorkshire Post rightly notes, asking residents to contribute towards major projects through a council tax precept, or businesses through a supplementary business rates levy, is likely to be controversial. But as the experience of London shows, it’s the right approach.
For a start, having a Mayor with strategic overview and authority has been of considerable benefit in enabling London to fund and deliver infrastructure projects. Since the mayoral role was first introduced in 2000, London has become known across the globe for three big projects:
Funding and delivering these types of projects raise several challenges for cities:
The role of the London Mayor has been pivotal in overcoming these challenges, both in making the case to the public, business community and Government and in funding the schemes, wholly or in-part, using the GLA’s own money, and by levying London residents and businesses.
No other city in the UK has been able to introduce these sorts of projects to date. But as Yorkshire’s devolution wish-list demonstrates, in the future they’re going to need to. And having a mayor with tax-raising and borrowing powers, as well as control over the policies that really underpin city economic success – transport, skills, housing – will help considerably.
Having a mayor that sets out the case for such projects, and why residents and businesses should fund some or all of the costs, as well as representing the area on a national basis, making the case to Government of the importance and need for projects like the Supertram or Yorkshire Crossrail, could be the difference in ensuring that future schemes are actually delivered, rather than being ‘paused’ as in the case of the TransPennine train redevelopment.
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