Mayoral Powers and Footprints under Scrutiny in International Research Study
The Warwick Commission on Elected Mayors and City Leadership also supports calls for mayors to have a formal remit that extends beyond the city boundaries which are currently being proposed in referenda in ten core English cities.
The Commission was launched last year to investigate the track records and experiences of elected mayors in the UK and around the world. The study centres on the question: “What is the role of elected mayors in providing strategic leadership to cities?”
Warwick’s research team interviewed 42 mayors, staff and senior council figures in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US in what is believed to be the widest ranging international comparative research exercise, at least in relatively similar political systems in the 'Anglosphere'. It draws on a range of existing evidence as well as a thorough analysis of how the history of local government has brought the question of elected mayors to the forefront now.
In the summary report for the Commission, research director Professor Keith Grint writes:
Directly elected mayors offer the possibility of greater visibility, accountability and co-ordinative leadership as well as re-enchanting the body politic, and much of this derives from their relative independence from party discipline through their direct mandate and through their four year term.
However, he also says:
In some cities an elected mayor may not be necessary because they have already constructed a significant identity and are vigorously and strategically led…..
Voters in ten English cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Wakefield, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield Newcastle, Nottingham and Coventry – face the decision about the form of leadership for their council. Leicester already has an elected city mayor, whilst Liverpool will elect its first on May 3.
Much of the current debate around elected mayors centres on the range of powers they will or will not be given, with the Government being criticised for not specifying exactly what powers new mayors will attain.
Professor Grint notes:
….the absence of powers undermines the point of the local engagement and the mayoral alternative is perceived by some to be aimed at addressing this very issue.
In addition to the summary of the research to date, the Commissioners themselves make a specific statement with a series of points ranging from ‘power’ and ‘powers’ to transition. The independent Commissioners particularly focus on those issues which will come into focus beyond the referenda in the cities which choose the elected mayor model.
On the issue of so called ‘Metro Mayors’, the Commission says:
The areas people identify with are not bounded necessarily by city council boundaries. Mayors are more likely to be effective, both in supporting the economy and making effective decisions for local citizens, if they are responsible for functioning economic areas. The Commission’s research indicates: “there is no point in electing a mayor whose remit does not cover the necessarily boundary-spanning regions that could foster economic growth – the so-called Metro-Mayor.” Government should return to considering extending to city region/metro mayors where this is appropriate for local areas at the earliest opportunity.
The Commission is chaired by Professor Wyn Grant, Professor of Politics in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, and members include John Atkinson from KPMG and Professor Graham Wilson, Chair of the Department of Political Science at Boston University, USA.
In a wide ranging report, the Commission also makes recommendations on the ability of councillors to expel – or ‘recall’ – a dysfunctional mayor:
The relationship between mayor and full council needs to be constructed so the mayor is visibly held to account, yet their mandate should not be undermined by a body which has been separately elected. There needs to be an appropriate recall process which enables the removal of an elected mayor in office in extremis. The [research] report includes the example from Japan of the Local Autonomy Law with a system of Mutually Assured Destruction involving both local government leader and local assembly.
The Commission predicts that mayoral pay could become a political minefield:
Setting levels of remuneration for mayors and their principal officers and advisers can absorb significant time and political capital. Where possible, developing models and approaches to remuneration should be explored at the earliest opportunity.
Professor Grint concludes the recommendations chapter saying:
Ultimately directly elected mayors may be a way of answering the most important question at the heart of governance: what is the purpose of politics? If politics is about how we mediate our individual and collective conflicts then we had better pay some attention to reinvigorating the body-politic: politics is too important to be left to politicians.
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Notes to editors
Members of the Commission: Professor Wyn Grant, Professor of Politics in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick (Chair); Professor Keith Grint, Professor of Public Leadership and Management at Warwick Business School (WBS) (Research Director); John Atkinson, Director of Infrastructure, Government & Healthcare, Performance & Advisory, KPMG; Professor Colin Copus, Professor of Local Politics in the Department of Public Policy, De Montfort University and Director of the Local Governance Research Unit; Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive, Centre for Cities; Peter Makeham, formerly Director General of Strategy and Reform in the Home Office; Lord Shipley, Adviser to HM Government on Cities and former (Liberal Democrat) Leader of Newcastle City Council; Professor Graham Wilson, Chair of the Department of Political Science at Boston University, Massachusetts, USA. Associate Member: Lord (Andrew) Adonis, former Director of the Institute for Government. Observer: Peter Riddell, Director, Institute for Government. Doctoral Researcher: Clare Holt (WBS). Commission Secretariat: RJF Public Affairs.
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For further information please contact:
Keith Grint, Warwick Business School, Research Director
+44 (0) 2476 150472
Peter Dunn, Head of Communications, University of Warwick
Tel: 024 76 523708 Mobile 07767 655860