In May 2021, around 10 million people in England went to the polls to elect city-region mayors in Greater London, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and West of England. The first metro mayor of West Yorkshire was also be elected. What are metro mayors and what do they do?
On this page you can find the answers to the most frequently asked questions on what these metro mayors do and what that means for other local politicians and councils.
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A metro mayor is the directly elected leader of a combined authority. Combined authorities are statutory bodies made up neighbouring local authorities that broadly cover a city-region. These authorities agree to work together formally to pool resources and powers to function more effectively on issues such as skills or transport. The metro mayor chairs a cabinet of the leaders of combined authority councils.
Once in place, metro mayors have significant executive powers and funding available to them to make strategic decisions across whole city regions. They also sit as the chair of the combined authority board, made up of the leaders of constituent councils and which authorises the use of other powers and funding unlocked by devolution deals.
Eight city-regions now have metro mayors, covering nearly 12 million people. Metro mayors were introduced in England as part of the Government’s devolution agenda, which allows for combined authorities to take on more functions, over and above those they were allowed to take on under previous legislation. The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act, which became law in early 2016, states that in order for a combined authority to be given these powers, a metro mayor must be elected for the area. The eight combined authorities are made up of 44 local authorities that have chosen to elect a metro mayor.
The devolution agenda has 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, this will help to improve jobs, wages and quality of life in cities.
The exact functions the combined authority and metro mayor manage vary across combined authorities, depending on the content of the devolution deal reached with central government.
Metro mayors are set up when combined authorities agree a devolution deal with government for more funding and powers. There are eight combined authorities that have agreed devolution deals and elected metro mayor. West Yorkshire has a combined authority but has not agreed a devolution deal. The combined authorities are made up of constituent and 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 city regions have devolution deals and have elected a metro mayor:
Metro mayors have been introduced where groups of councils and the government could agree to a deal. But most of England has no similar structures, instead covered by district, county and unitary councils. This means they are missing out on powers, funding and profile that mayors can bring. The government has proposed a ‘Devolution White Paper’ that will expand mayors further and reform local government. This would most likely take the form of merging smaller local authorities to create a single, large unitary authority led by the mayor, rather than creating Combined Authorities. Centre for Cities has published a report on how government should level up local government in England so that people and businesses everywhere can be represented by a mayor with similar powers.
The directly-elected metro mayors are responsible for setting out a strategy for growing the city region economy, and will have certain powers over issues such as housing, transport and skills. Previously the majority of these powers lay either with individual local authorities, such as most planning or local transport decisions, or with national decision makers, such as the adult skills budget administered through the Skills Funding Agency.
Exactly what the metro mayors are able to do is determined by the individual deals that each city-region has agreed with government. Due to different capacities, appetites and abilities to deliver, the deals vary in size and scope across different city regions. The majority of metro mayors have new powers over skills, housing and transport. Greater Manchester has negotiated these powers but has also agreed devolution of more powers over criminal justice and health and social care.
Metro mayors have led on the development of Local Industrial Strategies, whereas in areas without metro mayors these have been led by Local Enterprise Partnerships, business-led boards including educational institutions and local authorities that set economic strategy and allocate funding.
Since 2017, the powers and funding of the metro mayor have grown, as happened in Greater London after the introduction of the Mayor of London in 2000. This is likely to continue. The Devolution Bill is a deliberately non-prescriptive and enabling piece of legislation that allows for the devolution of almost anything – housing, health, welfare, policing and more – to a local level. The limit to the level of devolution under this model will be the willingness and ability of local and national politicians to reach agreement on what other functions may be devolved in the future.
The table below sets out the agreed combined authority powers in the different city regions so far:
Metro mayors have been prominent in the news in negotiations with central government on local lockdowns. Where metro mayors are in charge of local police, fire and/or transport authorities, this provides a clear formal role during the pandemic as part of Local Resilience Forums, multi-agency bodies convened across police areas to deal with civil emergencies.
Mayors have no role on public health, which is the responsibility of councils. In Greater Manchester, where health powers were devolved, this was to the Combined Authority of council leaders rather than the Mayor.
Covid has shown again the significance of the soft power of metro mayors. They can help to co-ordinate activities at scale, supporting the procurement and delivery of PPE by many organisations, as in Greater Manchester for example. They speak for their place with authority and legitimacy based upon a large and direct mandate from voters who know who they are. This allows them to act as powerful conduits of local views, knowledge and sometimes opposition to central government policy which is legally free to impose any policy it chooses.
Links to the latest version of respective devolution deals can be found on the government website. You will be able to find any newly updated deals there too:
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.
The metro mayor works together with leaders of the local authority to create a strategy for the wider area, but local authorities will still be responsible for most public service delivery (such as children and adults’ social care, waste management, and recreational facilities). The metro mayor’s job is to focus on wider issues that span beyond individual local authority boundaries, such as local labour markets, skills training, 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 city region.
Formally, the role of a local MP is unaffected. They still represent their constituency in parliament and in parliamentary debates. Informally, given their electoral mandate, mayors can also lobby national politicians on policy matters that relate to their area – a role that both previous London mayors were effective in during their terms in office. The relationship between Parliament and the new metro mayors, and individual MPs and those mayors, will evolve over time. Two of the eight metro mayors are ex-MPs, as is the Mayor of London, and the Mayor of Sheffield City Region is a sitting MP.
Combined authorities and metro mayor-led combined authorities provide a layer of democratic government that has been missing from UK policy for decades – the city region. The UK is one of the most politically and fiscally centralised countries in the OECD while it has one of the highest rates of economic inequality between major cities. Metro mayors give more cities the opportunity to take advantage of powers, funding and leadership that Greater London has benefited from at the city-region scale since 2000.
The role of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) can be merged with the metro mayor if the commissioner agrees. This was the case in Greater Manchester in 2017, and the new West Yorkshire metro mayor will take on PCC role. The Mayor of West Midlands had also been due to take on the role of PCC but no longer will. Most combined authority boundaries do not perfectly match with police force boundaries.
A metro mayor is responsible for strategic development across a whole city region, made up of several local authorities. Directly-elected local authority mayors such as Marvin Rees in Bristol or Joe Anderson in Liverpool, don’t have any more powers than 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 political stability to plan and deliver over four years once elected. There are a number of local authority mayors in metro mayor areas:
Lord Mayors, quite separate from metro and city mayors, are a ceremonial positions held without decision making powers.
The local authority mayors work with metro mayors in the same way that other council leaders work do.
Metro mayors are very different to the local authority mayors some cities rejected.
In 2012, 10 English cities, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield held referenda on whether they wanted to introduce a directly elected city mayor to replace their current leaders. All the cities except Bristol voted against electing a mayor. In Liverpool the mayoralty was created in the same year, but without a referendum.
The referenda were for the individual local authorities only, even in the case of Manchester where a Greater Manchester combined authority existed. Moreover, these mayors did not come with devolution deals or any additional powers.
The introduction of metro mayors, on the other hand, was part of the Conservative Party manifesto ahead of the 2015 general election, and part of their wider plan to devolve more powers from national government to city regions. Devolution deals have therefore been agreed by national politicians with a mandate to act, and local politicians with a mandate to represent their areas. As a result, only a handful of areas have chosen to run referenda on these new deals.
In Stoke, voters first decided to switch from a leader and cabinet model to a directly elected local authority mayor before then choosing to switch back.
Metro mayors cannot be removed as long as the devolution deal and arrangements are in place – this is because a metro mayor is required by law in order to negotiate the devolution of powers. But it is possible for the full combined authority, along with the mayor, to be abolished in its entirety.
The metro mayors appoint a deputy mayor, drawn from one of the constituent authority leaders, to whom they delegate powers as they see fit. The deputy mayor will also step in if the metro mayor is incapacitated. The metro mayor is also able to appoint one political advisor. Together they work with the combined authority cabinet (i.e. local authority leaders) to run the city region.
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.
An important part of the devolution deals negotiated between combined authorities and national government was deciding how the new metro mayors will 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 new 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.
The checks on metro mayors are higher than that faced by the Mayor of London and other global counterparts such as the Mayors of New York and Paris. But while metro mayors are not able to take as many decisions affecting the whole area alone, they will have a significant democratic mandate and larger public profile compared to many of their cabinet colleagues.
Candidates either run as representatives of a party or independently and residents vote for these individual candidates.
|Most recent / upcoming election||Previous election|
|Greater Manchester||6 May 2021||4 May 2017|
|Liverpool City Region||6 May 2021||4 May 2017|
|West Midlands||6 May 2021||4 May 2017|
|Tees Valley||6 May 2021||4 May 2017|
|Cambridgeshire and Peterborough||6 May 2021||4 May 2017|
|West of England||6 May 2021||4 May 2017|
|Sheffield City Region||May 2022||May 2018|
|North of Tyne||May 2024||May 2019|
|West Yorkshire||6 May 2021||n/a|
Candidates either run as representatives of a party or independently and residents vote for these individual candidates.
As in London, the supplementary vote system is used to elect the metro mayors, unless there are only two candidates. The supplementary voting system, a shorter form of the alternative vote system, gives voters the opportunity to mark their first and second choice. If no candidate receives a majority in the first round, the top two candidates continue to a second round while the rest are eliminated. The second-choice votes of everyone whose first choice was eliminated is counted.
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.
Metro mayors are directly elected as individuals rather than as representatives of national political parties. Unlike local authority leaders who have been selected by their local party group, a directly elected mayor is not dependent on their local political party for their appointment, and therefore cannot be dismissed by that group. Having been elected as an individual by the residents of their city region, they are accountable to them, rather than councillors or party members.
If you have a question on the topic that has not been answered here, please email email@example.com.
 We have assumed incumbents are standing unless they have stated otherwise.