Musings on Elected Mayors for ‘Northern Powerhouses’

Ever get the feeling politicians aren’t listening? Sorry, sorry, stupid question. This post could last forever if I go into detail on every single thing. My main criticism today is this plan for an elected mayor of Greater Manchester which emerged yesterday.

Two years ago, Manchester and many other cities around the country (Wakefield included) said no to an elected mayor in referendums. Only Bristol wanted one and I’m not sure how that’s worked out for them. Nevertheless, yesterday George Osborne announced that Greater Manchester would have an elected mayor, probably from 2017 onwards. Admittedly, it’s a slightly different proposal than the one previously offered but it’s still an elected mayor and the people of the Manchester area seem to be getting no choice in the matter.

The fact that the leaders of the ten councils affected have agreed to the proposals is worrying in itself. In my experience, politicians only vote for something which is good for politicians (side note: all the council leaders in this area seem to be white men) and I hear dissent is already coming from areas like Trafford.

For me, I suppose, it’s about the concentration of power and the guzzling up of resources. If – as seems likely if Greater Manchester is deemed a success – the experiment was replicated in other areas of the North, there is no prize for guessing what would happen. Power concentrates into one single area. Wakefield already suffers from this with the number of West Yorkshire initiatives centred on Leeds. A ‘Greater Leeds’ area would inevitably take in Wakefield. Not only are we their closest neighbour but as far as transport links etc go, we are fundamental to any success in terms of joined-up policy. Now, personally, I’m sick of being lumped in with Leeds. Wakefield is on its way to thriving again (despite the best efforts of our council to hamper such progress) and I don’t want us to become an outpost of a ‘Northern powerhouse’. Every city and town in the North should be considered its own powerhouse.

So I dislike the prospect of linking areas together with little regard for their individuality. However, I do favour more regional devolution based on assemblies rather than the concentration of power in one person in one area. Only this way can cities like Wakefield get decent representation alongside their more statuesque neighbours (as an aside I DO NOT agree with Labour’s regional senate proposals but that’s an argument for another day).

On the one hand, I appreciate the government finally recognising that the North needs to be seen as something other than ‘not the South East’. On the other, these decisions are so important that I don’t want George Osborne agreeing to them with a bunch of white, mostly middle-aged men, who I suspect don’t have the best interests of their areas at heart.


5 thoughts on “Musings on Elected Mayors for ‘Northern Powerhouses’

  1. Slowly I am coming to a different view on local mayors. I would stress that word “local”.
    If a place – let us call it Wakefield – wants to get things done then the chances of that happening are in inverse proportion to the number of people discussing the issue(s) in meetings. The quickest solution is a dictator but that we – rightly – dismiss. The next best might be a short term dictator known as a local mayor. This character (male or female) would be elected by the people for a term of three years BUT after six months a request signed by no more than 0.01% of the population (in the case of Wakefield I think that would be about 325) would trigger a by-election. He/she would head a group of other directly elected people (also subject to the same rules) with particular briefs: education, parking, the environment (street cleaning etc). refuse and recycling, planning and so on..
    Then we should all know who really is responsible for what happens and know who to target when things are clearly not working or proving to be costly beyond reason.
    Just a thought.

    • Of course, I like the idea of knowing who’s responsible for what and being able to hold them to account but I’m not sure that mayors are the answer. Any political system putting mayors into place, for a start, would want them to be ‘safer’ from the public. And perhaps the problem with a mayor for, say, Wakefield is that the systems would need to link up. It’s why I’m stuck thinking in regions with every part of the region carrying equal weight than insular localities which would, inevitably, end up fighting each other.

      • Actually the debate has started in the wrong place. Before we can have a sensible discussion about mayors we need to know exactly what their duties and responsibilities are. Isn’t life difficult?

  2. […] to cities. They shouldn’t be aiming for ‘powerhouse’ cities, as I discussed in this post in November, but for powerful regions. Yorkshire is a cohesive community. We’ve got our […]

  3. […] Me and the Leeds City Region go together like oil and water. Still, we’ll tackle that problem (again) on another day. Let’s just […]

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