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Survey finds ‘considerable mandate’ for new mayors’ powers

The majority of residents in each of the five biggest city-regions due to introduce metro-mayors next May think the new mayor should have more power than an elected council leader.

A Centre for Cities survey found that broad support for the idea that elected mayors should have more powers than elected council leaders in Liverpool city region, the North East, Greater Manchester, Sheffield city region and the West Midlands.

Support for mayors’ powers was strongest in Liverpool, with 60% in favour, and even in the West Midlands, where it was lowest, 53% still backed the idea.

Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “Critics of the government’s devolution agenda often deride the new metro-mayors as a top-down imposition on UK cities – but this polling shows there is clear public support for strong mayors to take the lead in their city-region, and to act on behalf of local residents in addressing important issues such as housing and transport.

“The impetus will also be on the new mayors to take full advantage of their considerable mandate – having been elected by hundreds of thousands of people – to act boldly and decisively, so that they can deliver on the issues that can make the biggest difference to people living in places like Manchester, Sheffield and Liverpool.”

Jones added that councillors will need to exercise their veto on mayoral decisions ‘sparingly’ to allow mayors to fulfil their mandate.

However, the survey showed that only a minority of residents were aware of the plans to introduce a mayor, with 67% in Sheffield and 58% in the West Midlands unfamiliar with the announcement, although the number fell to 50% in Liverpool.

Affordable housing was the biggest issue residents thought mayors should tackle in their first 100 days.

The idea was backed by 22%, followed by 21% supporting the creation of a city-region strategic plan and 14% supporting investment in rail and road networks.

However, the idea of introducing Oyster-style ‘smart ticketing’ received much less support, with only 3% saying it should be a priority.

In an article for the current edition of PSE on how metro mayors could transform transport, Luke Raikes, a research fellow at IPPR North, called introducing smart ticketing “impossible”.

However, when they were asked what they thought should be the top priority for residents in their city at the moment, healthcare was the most popular option among residents by a wide margin, with one third choosing it as the most important.

Under the current plans only the new Greater Manchester mayor will have control over healthcare, suggesting that despite their support from voters, new mayors may not have the power to address their concerns.

Lord Porter, chair of the LGA, has called for the devolution of healthcare to Manchester to form a blueprint for other devolution deals.

Emergency services and social care, which were ranked as the third and fifth biggest concerns among survey respondents, will also come under the mayor’s control in Manchester.

Schools and education, which, like social care, was chosen as the biggest concern by 10% of voters, will remain under council control in all cities.

Chancellor George Osborne announced further mayoral and devolution deals in the most recent Budget.


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