Everything you need to know about metro mayors

The most frequently asked questions about metro mayors

What are metro mayors and what do they do?

Briefing published on 29 February 2024 by Centre for Cities

On this page you can find the answers to the most frequently asked questions on what the metro mayors do and what that means for other local politicians and councils.

If you have a question on the topic that has not been answered below, please email info@centreforcities.org.

 

 

What is a metro mayor?

A metro mayor is the directly-elected leader of an area. Once in place, metro mayors have executive powers and funding available to make strategic decisions over a range of issues including skills, business support and transport, and in some cases crime and health. They are also the chair of the combined authority which is made up of the area’s constituent councils.

The Mayor of London is not a metro mayor and has a different legal basis and powers, but is often included alongside the metro mayors in the public debate on devolution.

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Why do some places have metro mayors?

Metro mayors are established when local councils in England agree a devolution deal with the Government to establish a combined authority and an elected mayor to lead it, in return for more funding and powers. As of May 2024, there are eleven combined authorities made up of 75 constituent local authorities.

Metro mayors were introduced in England as part of the Coalition Government’s devolution agenda. The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act, which became law in early 2016, states that in order for a combined authority to be given additional powers, a metro mayor must be elected for the area. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Act, which became law at the end of 2023, made it easier to establish combined authorities and mayors in shire counties.

At the outset, the devolution agenda had a clear economic rationale – to address the longstanding underperformance of the UK’s major cities, such as Manchester and Birmingham. By devolving strategic powers over housing, transport, skills and business support to highly visible and accountable leaders operating at the scale of the local economy rather than local authority, with the intention that would help to improve jobs, wages and quality of life in cities.

The exact functions the combined authority and metro mayor manage vary from place to place, depending on the content of the devolution deal reached with central government.

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Why do some places not have a metro mayor?

Metro mayors have been introduced in areas where groups of councils and the Government could agree to a deal. There is no requirement to agree a deal, so places without a metro mayor have chosen not to pursue a deal, for different reasons.  It does mean they are missing out on powers, funding and profile that metro mayors can bring.

The Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Act has introduced a devolution framework which will encourage metro mayors further beyond larger urban areas and reform local government with ‘county deals’, whereby county and unitary councils can form combined authorities. This framework preferences full counties or Functional Economic Areas (FEAs) as the geographies over which these institutions should be established.

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Which areas have metro mayors?

Figure 1 shows the existing and forthcoming mayoral combined authorities across England as of May 2024, and the constituent authorities for each combined authority are listed below:

Figure 1: Metro Mayors and the Mayor of London, May 2024

 

Source: Office for National Statistics licensed under the Open Government Licence v.3.0

Contains OS data © Crown copyright and database right 2023

The combined authorities are made up of mostly constituent authorities with a few places also having non-constituent authorities. Constituent authorities have full voting rights and cannot be a member of another combined authority.  Non-constituent authorities can be non-constituent members of another combined authority, but it is the decision of the combined authority whether or not non-constituent members have a full vote.

The following combined authorities have elected a metro mayor:

  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough:
    • Constituent: Cambridge DC, Cambridgeshire CC, East Cambridgeshire DC, Fenland DC, Huntingdonshire DC, Peterborough City UA and South Cambridgeshire DC
  • East Midlands
    • Constituent: Derby UA, Derbyshire CC, Nottingham UA, Nottinghamshire CC
  • Greater Manchester:
    • Constituent: Bolton MBC, Bury MBC, Manchester MBC, Oldham MBC, Rochdale MBC, City of Salford MBC, Stockport MBC, Tameside MBC, Trafford MBC and Wigan MBC
  • Liverpool City Region:
    • Constituent: Knowsley MBC, Liverpool MBC, St Helens MBC, Sefton MBC, Wirral MBC and Halton UA
    • Non constituent: Warrington UA, West Lancashire DC
  • North East:
    • Constituent: Gateshead MBC, Newcastle upon Tyne MBC, Northumberland CC, North Tyneside MBC, South Tyneside MBC, Sunderland MBC
  • Tees Valley:
    • Constituent: Darlington UA, Hartlepool UA, Middlesbrough UA, Redcar and Cleveland UA and Stockton-On-Tees UA
  • South Yorkshire:
    • Constituent: Barnsley MBC, Doncaster MBC, Rotherham MBC, Sheffield MBC
    • Non-constituent: Bassetlaw DC, Bolsover DC, Chesterfield BC, Derbyshire Dales BC and North East Derbyshire BC
  • West Midlands:
    • Constituent: Birmingham MBC,Coventry MBC, Dudley MBC, Sandwell MBC, Solihull MBC, Walsall MBC, and Wolverhampton MBC
    • Non-constituent: Cannock Chase DC, Nuneaton and Bedworth DC, Redditch DC, Tamworth DC, Telford and Wrekin
  • West of England:
    • Constituent: Bath & North East Somerset UA, Bristol UA, and South Gloucestershire UA
  • West Yorkshire:
    • Constituent: Bradford MBC, Calderdale MBC, Kirklees MBC, Leeds MBC, and Wakefield MBC
  • York and North Yorkshire:
    • Constituent: North Yorkshire UA, and City of York UA

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What percentage of the population are covered by metro mayors?

Following the addition of three new metro mayors elected in May 2024, eleven areas now have metro mayors, covering 18.8 million people, or 34 per cent of England. Including the Mayor of London, exactly 50 per cent of the population of England, or 27.7 million people, have a directly-elected or metro mayor.

Figure 2: Half of England now has a directly-elected mayor

 

Source: ONS 2023, Business Demography; BRES, Population Estimates; ONS 2024, UK small area gross value added (GVA) estimates

Figure 2 shows that the metro mayors’ share of economic activity – businesses, output, and jobs – is below their share of the population, with London making up the difference with the rest of England due to its strong economy. This underperformance shows how important improving the economies of the metro mayors’ areas is both for their residents and the rest of the country.

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What powers do the directly-elected metro mayors have?

The directly-elected metro mayors are responsible for setting out a strategy for growing the economy in their area, and have certain powers over issues such as housing, transport and skills. Previously, most of these powers lay either with individual local authorities, such as planning or local transport decisions, or with national decision makers, such as the adult skills budget administered through the Skills Funding Agency.

As the deals were negotiated with each place case-by-case, there is variation between the mayors in their powers, as set out by the chart below. These deals have been revisited and the power of the mayors has tended to grow over time. Figure 3 sets out the powers of the different mayors below:

Figure 3: The powers of the metro mayors

Note: Not all mayors have used the powers available to them (e.g. council tax precepts)

The Levelling Up White Paper set out a process to tackle this variation while still pushing devolution forward. First, it committed to unifying the powers of the existing mayors under a “Level 3 deal” (with Level 1 and Level 2 deals referring to devolution deals without mayors).

Second, it committed to negotiating ‘trailblazer deals’ with Greater Manchester and the West Midlands. This has established a new ‘Level 4’ devolution tier, which has in turn become available to the other metro mayors.

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What are the ‘trailblazer’ deals?

The Levelling Up White Paper committed the Government to ‘trailblazer’ deals for Greater Manchester and West Midlands, to establish a new ‘Level 4’ tier of devolution in England. These deals have been agreed and are being implemented, and the Government has stated its ambition that the trailblazer deal will become available to other metro mayors.

The most significant part of the trailblazer deals is the ‘single settlement’. This will see the metro mayors drawing down from a single Whitehall pot with greater flexibility to spend on what they decide are their local priorities, instead of multiple funding streams provided by different Whitehall departments with spending conditions and ringfenced pots. The single settlement will come into force at the next departmental Spending Review, and remain unchanged until the subsequent Spending Review.

In addition, the Level 4 tier established by the trailblazer deals includes additional powers over post-19 skills policy, transport and especially highways, and powers over affordable housing and net zero.

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What have the metro mayors done?

Metro mayors have delivered changes at both the local and national level. For example, the Mayor of Greater Manchester is currently developing a London-style bus franchising system; the Mayor of the West Midlands is expanding the local tram network; and the Mayor of the Liverpool City Region has pioneered a UCAS-style system for apprenticeships.

At the national level, the metro mayors advocated for their areas during Covid and argued for increased railway investment in the form of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

As the metro mayors have fewer powers than other mayors around the world, they still have a limited ability to deliver rapid change. For instance, bus franchising in Greater Manchester was made legal in 2017; announced in 2021; and won’t be complete until 2025. Deepening devolution further is important to strengthen the ability of the metro mayors to improve their areas.

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How have the metro mayors changed over time?

The initial devolution deals that established the first metro mayors were agreed from 2014 to 2017, and were preceded by earlier deals from 2009 onwards that established the first non-mayoral combined authorities. The overall trend is towards places steadily agreeing more responsibilities and more flexibility over funds from central government.

Different places have moved at different speeds, and local politics has made the pace of change somewhat unpredictable. For example, the West Midlands was a relative latecomer to the first phase of devolution – with the first combined authority only founded in 2016, and the first metro mayor elected in 2017 – but has since established itself as a trailblazer. In contrast, West Yorkshire established a non-mayoral combined authority in 2014, but only elected its first metro mayor in 2021.

Aligning the combined authorities with economic geography has remained a consideration throughout the devolution process, and the abolition of the North of Tyne and North East combined authorities to be replaced by the North East Mayoral Combined Authority in 2024 was done to improve this alignment. This will remain important for devolution to improve outcomes as the process expands to outside the big cities to the shire counties.

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What powers should be devolved next to the metro mayors?

The obvious next step is the granting of trailblazer ‘Level 4’ deals to the metro mayors who currently have ‘Level 3’ deals.

For those metro mayors that have already or will soon have agreed trailblazer deals, there is not yet a formal pathway set out for the next stage of devolution. From an international comparison, the obvious missing piece of the puzzle is fiscal devolution – giving metro mayors greater control over local taxation.

The goal of fiscal devolution is not to increase local taxes, but ensuring that growth in the local tax base is kept by the metro mayor and local authorities. If the mayors are successful in growing the local economy under fiscal devolution, they could cut local taxes for residents. Fiscal devolution would as a result give a strong incentive to the metro mayors to do things that help the local economy succeed, and by extension, help the national economy succeed too.

Reforming local taxation is complicated, but Centre for Cities has previously set out a proposal for a ‘triple deal’ to Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, and London, advancing fiscal devolution through reform of council tax (that would give 74 per cent of households a council tax cut), devolution of business rates, simplification of the grant system, and retention of a slice of locally generated income tax revenues.

In addition, this triple deal proposal would see the metro mayors gain greater control over urban transport, over planning which would move up from the local authority to the mayoral level, and changes to the electoral system in these areas.

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How do metro mayors govern and who do they work with?

The metro mayors can appoint a deputy mayor, drawn from one of the constituent authority leaders.  The deputy mayor can also step in if the metro mayor is incapacitated. Together they work with the combined authority cabinet (i.e. local authority leaders) to govern the mayoral area.

The metro mayor can hand certain functions to their deputy mayor, or any of the local authority leaders within the combined authority. The metro mayor can also hand these functions down to a committee that they appoint, made up of members of the combined authority.

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What checks and balances are the directly-elected metro mayors subject to?

An important part of the devolution deals negotiated between combined authorities and national government was deciding how the metro mayors would be scrutinised and held to account.

In the current devolution deals, the metro mayor chairs the combined authority cabinet, which is made up of the leaders from each local authority.  Rather than the stronger executive powers and assembly scrutiny model that is used in London, most of the deals have agreed that the metro mayors have to consult the combined authority cabinet on their strategies. These can be rejected if two thirds of the cabinet members do not agree with them. The cabinet also reviews the metro mayors’ spending plans, and is able to amend these with a two-thirds majority.

In addition, the 2016 Bill requires all combined authorities to set up at least one overview and scrutiny committee. Each local authority within the combined authority will appoint one member. The committee has the power to suspend decisions put forward by the metro mayor and combined authority cabinet.

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Some local authorities used to have a mayor but don’t anymore – could this happen with metro mayors?

Bristol and Liverpool local authorities have recently abolished the position of city mayor and returned to leader and cabinet structures. In both cases this was a decision taken by the local authority’s councillors after consultation with the public in each city.

There is no similar local mechanism for abolishing metro mayors. Combined authorities, along with the mayor, could be abolished by Parliament. For example, the North of Tyne metro mayor has been abolished as part of the creation of the North East metro mayor.

Abolishing a metro mayor would require abolishing the corresponding devolution deal, and the powers, funding, and responsibilities that come with it.

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How is a directly-elected metro mayor different from a city mayor or lord/ceremonial mayor?

A metro mayor is responsible for strategic development across the whole area they cover, made up of several local authorities. Directly-elected local authority mayors such as Peter Soulsby in Leicester, have the same powers as the leaders of local authorities organised by leader and cabinet or by committee structures. They do benefit from being accountable to every voter equally across the council area and from political stability to plan and deliver over four years once elected. There are a number of local authority mayors within the mayoral combined authorities:

  • East Midlands – Mansfield
  • Greater Manchester – Salford
  • North East – North Tyneside
  • South Yorkshire – Doncaster
  • Tees Valley – Middlesbrough
  • In Greater London there are five local authority mayors – Croydon, Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, and Tower Hamlets.

Lord Mayors, separate from metro and local authority mayors, are ceremonial positions without formal decision-making powers or responsibilities.

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Does having a metro mayor mean that local authority leaders have less power?

The metro mayor works together with leaders of the local authority to create a strategy for the wider area, but local authorities are still responsible for most public service delivery (such as children’s and adults’ social care, waste management, and recreational facilities). The metro mayor’s job is to focus on issues that span beyond individual local authority boundaries, such as local labour markets, adult education, housing markets and transport infrastructure and services.

In the case of housing, for example, a devolution deal may state that the combined authority is responsible for developing a spatial framework in order to manage housing plans across the area, which must be unanimously agreed upon by all local authority leaders in the combined authority. The local authorities in that area maintain the same powers over housing as before, but the metro mayor is consulted on planning applications that are of strategic importance to the whole area.

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What does the existence of metro mayors mean for local Members of Parliament (MPs)?

The role of a local MP is unaffected. They still represent their constituency in parliament and in parliamentary debates. Informally, given their electoral mandate, metro mayors, similar to MPs, can lobby national politicians on policy matters that relate to their area. The relationship between Parliament, the metro mayors, and individual MPs and those mayors, will evolve over time. Four of the nine metro mayors are ex-MPs, as is the Mayor of London.

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Is the metro mayor just another layer of government bureaucracy?

Mayoral combined authorities provide a layer of democratic government that has been missing from the UK for decades – the city-region – one that is present in many other countries.

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What does having a metro mayor mean for police and crime commissioners?

The effect of metro mayors on Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) depends on whether they cover the same geography or not. PCCs exist to scrutinise the local police force, set the budget through a precept on council tax, and decide local objectives for policing.

The role of the PCC is often merged with the metro mayor when the boundaries of the two offices align, as in London. This was the case in Greater Manchester in 2017 and in West Yorkshire in 2021. When this happens, metro mayors gain the power to charge the PCC’s precept on council tax to fund the local police force. Sometimes Fire and Rescue powers are acquired by the metro mayor too.

The metro mayor of South Yorkshire and the metro mayor of York and North Yorkshire have PCC powers (and Fire and Rescue powers in the case of North Yorkshire) as of 7 May 2024. The Government’s Levelling Up White Paper contained a commitment to pursue the transfer of the PCC role to mayors when their boundaries aligned, and the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act allowed Government to do so without the consent of local authorities. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough are the only remaining mayoral combined authority where the MCA and PCC boundaries align but transfer has not occurred.

Other PCCs do not align with metro mayor boundaries, and as such the offices remain separate. This is case in Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, and West of England. And will be the case in the forthcoming North East Mayoral Combined Authority and the East Midlands Combined Authority.

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How does a directly-elected mayor work with their local political party?

Local political parties select their candidates for mayor, and work with them after election through councillors elected to local authorities and the members of the combined authority board.

Metro mayors are directly elected as individuals rather than as representatives of national political parties. Unlike leaders of local authorities and local authority groups, mayors have a mandate from voters, and therefore cannot be dismissed by councillors.

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When are the metro mayor elections?

Candidates either run as representatives of a party or independently and residents vote for these individual candidates.

Next election Previous election
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough 1 May 2025 6 May 2021
East Midlands May 2028 2 May 2024
Greater Manchester May 2028 2 May 2024
Liverpool City Region May 2028 2 May 2024
North East May 2028 2 May 2024
South Yorkshire May 2028 5 May 2022
Tees Valley May 2028 2 May 2024
West of England 1 May 2025 6 May 2021
West Midlands May 2028 2 May 2024
West Yorkshire May 2028 2 May 2024
York and North Yorkshire May 2028 2 May 2024

 

In 2024, for the first time, elections were held under the first past the post voting system – voters will have one vote to use to indicate their preference for one candidate. Previously, the supplementary vote system was used to elect the metro mayors, which gave voters the opportunity to mark their first and second choice.

There are no term limits set on the metro mayors, so a candidate is free to bid for re-election as many times as they wish.

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Who are the current metro mayors?

  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s metro mayor is Nik Johnson, Labour
  • East Midlands’ metro mayor is Claire Ward, Labour
  • Greater Manchester’s metro mayor is Andy Burnham, Labour
  • Liverpool City Region’s metro mayor is Steve Rotheram, Labour
  • North East’s metro mayor is Kim McGuinness,  Labour
  • South Yorkshire’s metro mayor is Oliver Coppard, Labour
  • Tees Valley’s metro mayor is Ben Houchen, Conservative
  • West of England’s metro mayor is Dan Norris, Labour
  • West Midlands’ metro mayor is Richard Parker, Labour
  • West Yorkshire’s metro mayor is Tracy Brabin, Labour
  • York and North Yorkshire’s metro mayor is David Skaith, Labour

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Where are the devolution deals, and can I read them?

Links to the latest version of respective devolution deals can be found on the Government website.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

East Midlands

Greater Manchester

Liverpool City Region

North East

South Yorkshire (formerly Sheffield City Region)

Tees Valley

West of England

West Midlands

West Yorkshire

York and North Yorkshire

In addition, the Levelling Up White Paper (2022) and the details of the Trailblazer Deals and Single Settlement (2023) set out the future direction of devolution in England:

Trailblazer Deal for Greater Manchester

Trailblazer Deal for West Midlands

Memorandum of Understanding on the Single Settlement

Further to the above, the Spring Budget in 2024 included details of the Deeper Devolution Deal agreed by the North East Mayoral Combined Authority:

Deeper Devolution Deal for North East Mayoral Combined Authority

For those places still yet to formally agree a devolution deal and metro mayor, proposed devolution agreements are available online. However, these agreements are still subject to a vote by all the constituent authorities in the proposed combined authorities. This could mean that local authorities are removed from the agreement, and will no longer form part of the combined authority and mayoral authority.

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If you have a question on the topic that has not been answered here, please email info@centreforcities.org.

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