Ann McGauran 20 June 2022

Unleash wave of mayoral devo, says think tank

Unleash wave of mayoral devo, says think tank image
Image: R Heilig / Shutterstock.com

A report from the Onward think tank has urged the Government to step back from ‘micromanaging’ England’s cities and counties and unleash a wave of mayoral devolution.

Endorsed by a cross-party group of politicians including Andy Burnham and Michael Heseltine, the report has called on the Government to give control of £6bn to England’s metro mayors.

Give Back Control has urged the Treasury to hand mayors control of 1p in every £1 raised from income tax in their area. This is equivalent to £6bn a year or around £250m for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands and around £200m for West Yorkshire.

The report said that in return, mayors would have increased scrutiny and accountability, and greater responsibility from the Government for running local services including transport, digital and energy infrastructure.

It has also called for a boosting of capacity, recommending that mayors should create a National Mayors Association and invest in leadership training and data capabilities to improve how they work.

Onward said it was challenging the scepticism of many Conservatives about the benefits of devolution and their belief that it gives Labour a political advantage. The report focused on the electoral dividend from Conservative mayors Ben Houchen and Andy Street in traditional Labour areas. It said: ‘One reason the Conservatives now win seats in Hartlepool and Wolverhampton is because they can point to the delivery of Conservative mayors.’

The report by Onward’s deputy director Adam Hawksbee concluded that despite successive governments promising greater devolution the UK has become more centralised since the 1990s. Between 1995 and 2017, the share of government spending controlled at local or regional level fell from 26% to 23% in the UK, but rose in almost every other developed country. 

Mr Hawksbee said: ‘For too long, successive governments have promised to devolve power to local places and then done the opposite, centralising decision-making and budgets in Whitehall. It is time to stop micro-managing and give places back control.

‘Mayors have shown that they can deliver on the ground, drive up investment and even boost Conservative vote share in traditionally Labour areas. The Government rightly made mayoral devolution a central plank of the Levelling Up White Paper. They should have the courage of their convictions and back mayors with much more power and much stronger accountability.’

Endorsing the report, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said it has put forward a clear and compelling argument for the ‘next phase’ of mayoral devolution.

He added: ‘It makes a clear case that more empowered mayors and Combined Authorities can do more to tackle some of the major challenges facing the country. There are some important ideas here: from giving us the levers we need in areas like the rail system, adult skills, and housing, to fixing the patchwork way we’re funded.

‘And it sets out a firm but fair trade: greater freedom should come with greater accountability. As both we and the West Midlands begin our ‘Trailblazer Devolution Negotiations’ with Government, I know we’ll be drawing heavily on the recommendations set out here.’

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