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Metro mayors must work with Khan to reboot devolution revolution

England’s six new metro mayors have been called on to join forces with London mayor Sadiq Khan around a fresh devolution agenda to improve public services and infrastructure in their respective city-regions.

The call comes from think tank IPPR North, which also repeated the need for central government to offer the mayoral city-regions a “menu” of powers that come with their own “price” in terms of accountability.

IPPR North had previously produced the Rebooting Devolution report that called on the government to be proactive in devolving powers out of Whitehall to the mayors and, over time, other areas in England. It also follows the think-tank last month stating that the mayors would need to collaborate across their respective regions to secure more devolution.

Following Thursday’s elections, Labour unsurprisingly had comfortable wins in Merseyside and Greater Manchester with Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham voted into office. But in the remaining four mayoral elections the Conservatives emerged victorious, taking Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and West of England, as well as a pair of narrow victories in the Tees Valley and West Midlands.

In its statement, IPPR North said the mayors had the potential to be vital players in Team GB post-Brexit in attracting investment and forging trade links as the UK prepares to seek new trade deals outside the EU.

Ed Cox, the think tank's director, said: “We’ve heard a lot about strong and stable leadership in this election, and we need this sort of leadership locally too, to drive inward-investment and deliver great public services.

“Together, the London mayor and England’s new metro mayors will represent almost 20 million people, far more than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined. Working together, they will be a powerful voice for England.”

Cox highlighted that while the devolution of “soft powers” was a step forward in allowing the mayors to act as advocates for their cities, further devolution of fiscal powers was essential to allow the regions to compete in a global market.

“While these soft powers are important, to really compete, mayors need the kind of fiscal powers enjoyed by American mayors, German federal states and French régions. Even London only controls 7% of the tax it raises, compared to 50% in New York City,” he stated.

“With powerful local checks-and-balances, mayors can reboot the devolution revolution and free the Civil Service to focus on Brexit.”

The same message about devolution has also been repeated by a number of think-tanks and local government organisations.

Last week, Core Cities stated that the government must ensure that devolution is “more than a soundbite” and hand powers to regional decision-makers to take pressure off already over-worked and under-resourced civil servants.

And in April, Solace welcomed the opportunity presented in the Industrial Strategy to drive more devolution.

Risk of fatigue from ‘triple whammy’ of elections

Another point the IPPR director raised was the problem of a “triple whammy” of votes causing voters to feel election fatigue and affecting turnout at the general election on 8 June.  

“It looks as though a triple whammy of election fatigue, mixed messaging on devolution from the current government, and a failure to really bring voters along the process, could hit turnout in these important elections,” Cox added.

“If this happens, the London experience shows Mayors can increase turnout over time by working closely with businesses and communities: turnout in London in 2000 was just 34% but in 2016, 45%.”

More generally, noted Cox, the next government must reboot devolution with a proper process for deal-making, with a clear but flexible “menu” of powers in return for an accountability “price”.

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