A new report published today by the British Academy has found widespread concerns over new metro mayors across England.
Governing England: devolution and mayors in England follows a series of roundtable meetings held by the British Academy with council leaders, policy makers and academics across the country.
At meetings in Newcastle, Cambridge, Winchester, Sheffield and Bristol, participants at the forefront of devolution deals discussed the appetite for devolution in their area and asked what new powers devolved to regions will mean for local communities.
Based on these meetings, the report finds that resistance to metro mayors and confusion about their role is inhibiting the progress of English devolution in many areas.
There is a lack of public enthusiasm for additional politicians and very low levels of public engagement with the post of metro mayor. Concerns were also expressed that mayors had, in effect, been imposed. The British Academy report suggests that greater clarity over the purpose of devolution within England could help overcome this resistance and lack of public enthusiasm.
Another significant finding from the report is that devolution deals are far more likely to succeed in areas with a more coherent identity. Many attendees felt that the approach to devolution had been too inflexible and that a ‘one size fits all’ model should be avoided - ‘we are not all Manchester’.
The report concludes that without strong public support for new combined authorities and metro mayors, it is difficult to assess how English devolution will succeed, especially following the mixed picture emerging from the General Election.
Governing England working group member, Professor John Curtice FBA FRSE FRSA said:
“Although surveys suggest the public recognise that directly elected mayors can speak up for their area, voters also seem to share the concern that they invest too much power in one person. Above all, however, the low turnout in the first metro mayoral elections in May suggests that the idea has simply not caught on. It is thus not surprising that in all of the sessions we held, scepticism about directly-elected mayors was commonplace.”
Co-chair of the project, Professor Iain McLean FBA FRSE said:
“Just two months on from the metro mayor elections, this report shows that future for English devolution looks uncertain. New metro mayors and combined authorities are met by resistance and a lack of public understanding. What’s more, the recent Queen’s Speech seemed to indicate a lack of time or appetite for further devolution. As issues such a Brexit loom large, we may see English devolution slipping back down the political agenda.”
This report is part of Governing England, a two-year project by the British Academy exploring issues of governance and identity in England, including the future of political parties, English identity, and England in a changing fiscal union.