Opinion: Metro Mayors for UK’s largest cities

This week The Voice is running a four part series from the Centre for Cities, a think tank that works on analysis and policy to boost city economies. They launched their ‘Cities Manifesto’ at the Bournemouth Lib Dem Conference and this series looks in more detail at its main planks. You can also find out more at http://www.citiesmanifesto.org.

At party conference last month, I was struck by just how many of the UK’s biggest cities are run by the Lib Dems. You now control virtually every big city outside London – that means that, taken together, 25 million people now live in Lib Dem cities. The list is impressive, including Newcastle, Liverpool, Bristol, Sheffield, Hull, Cambridge and York. Why doesn’t Nick Clegg do more to talk about Lib Dem strength at city level?

Localism runs through the Lib Dems’ veins. Vince Cable’s Bournemouth speech talked about more responsibilities for councils, including more tax-raising powers such as business rates. And at the LGA’s annual conference in July he said they should have greater freedom to borrow against their assets, giving them the opportunity to do much more locally through public investment.

But of course, a party which is naturally very localist will look, think and act differently in different parts of the country – and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Lib Dems are all agreed on how to devolve financial and political powers to cities.

Our Cities Manifesto is calling for elected ‘Metro Mayors’ in Britain’s biggest city regions, with real tax and spend powers. We think the first wave of Metro Mayors should be in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Leeds city-region and Greater Birmingham. They’d energise millions of voters, be highly visible and accountable, and have a direct personal mandate to make tough decisions on local tax and spending. They’d play to the strength of many Lib Dems in galvanising local support and holding onto their local gains.

Several prominent Lib Dem city leaders hate the idea – such as John Shipley, Leader of Newcastle, who doesn’t like the idea of power being concentrated in the hands of one person and would rather have a city-regional executive. He’s not alone – several council leaders of all political colours are against the idea, which would certainly disrupt the status quo.

But why don’t Lib Dems go for the idea of elected mayors? They’d be a great platform for the strengths of the party, and could put Lib Dem politicians into positions of real power. Lib Dem Mayors would also have a high-profile platform from which to galvanise local support and hold onto their cities if Labour manages an electoral recovery in the next few years. Cable and Clegg should take up the baton.

Claire Maugham, Director External Affairs, Centre for Cities

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This entry was posted in Local government, Op-eds and The Independent View.


  • The problem is that this is argument by assertion, not evidence.

    Metro Mayors would “energise millions of voters” based on turnout in the London Mayoral election in one year.
    Nothing about the rubbish turnout in other years or other mayoral elections.

    What about the thousands of activists who are now just Mayor fodder?

    Accountability – there is precious little accountabilty with Metor Mayors. Accountability means checks and balances. It means people knowing what’s going on and being able to influence it.

    Far from “power being concentrated in the hands of one person” (itself a bad idea) – the reality is that most of the power isn’t in the hands of anyone.

    Localism – and the best you can do is greater Birmingham ? How local is that ?
    Why do we need Mayors to give more power to local government ? Local Government used to have lots of powers without a Mayor in sight, and was a lot better for it.

  • Martin Land 26th Oct '09 - 4:06pm

    Why does everyone forget Watford and now Bedford where we already have Mayors?

  • Cllr Andrew Waller 26th Oct '09 - 9:53pm

    The concern is that the City Regions have Mayors imposed on them, for which I can see no greater way to make them unravel at a time when they need to be allowed to demonstrate that as partnerships they can work for the benefits of the residents living in those areas. One ruler over all, as a directly elected mayor, would lead to fractionalism and a permanent battle to demonstrate that the Mayor was only interested in one part or another of the area.

    Cllr Andrew Waller – Leader of City of York

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Oct '09 - 11:08pm

    But why don’t Lib Dems go for the idea of elected mayors? They’d be a great platform for the strengths of the party, and could put Lib Dem politicians into positions of real power.

    Because it’s basically a fascist idea in the true sense of the word, and we are not fascists.

    The original idea of fascism was that democracy was tiresome, all that debate and compromise, so let’s have instead one all-powerful leader who can do what he likes without anyone stopping him, that would be dynamic and modern and get the trains running on time and all that.

    I just cannot think of anything which is more against what Liberals stand for than this idea. So of course we are against it. Can I ask you, Claire Maugham, why you are so keen on fascism? Having abolished voting for councillors in town halls, is the abolition of the right of MPs to vote and that to be where power over government lies your next step? The frightening thing is that this “politics and political parties are bad things, so let’s get rid of all that and instead have one highly visible charismatic leader who can make tough decisions on a personal mandate” stuff probably WOULD go down well if pushed here today. Just like it did in Italy in 1922 and Germany in 1933.

  • “Why does everyone forget Watford and now Bedford where we already have Mayors?”

    We won the Watford Mayoralty at least partly on a pledge to campaign for its abolition. A view that seems to have changed once elected to the position.

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