Will the Manchester model work elsewhere?by Jonathan Derbyshire / September 10, 2015 / Leave a comment
At the beginning of September, the leaders of a number of urban areas (or “city regions”), including Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham and Sheffield, agreed in principle to introduce elected mayors in return for the devolving of powers from Westminster. They were responding to a deadline set by George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had made the adoption of elected mayors the condition of further devolution.
Osborne’s offer was modelled on the “Greater Manchester Agreement” that the Treasury signed with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) in November 2014. That agreement stipulated that a directly elected mayor for the region would receive a range of new powers, including control over the transport budget and a new housing investment fund, as well as responsibility for strategic planning. Mayoral elections in Greater Manchester are scheduled for 2017; in the meantime, Tony Lloyd, a former Labour MP who is now the GMCA’s Police and Crime Commissioner, is acting as interim mayor.
In extending the offer to other city regions, Osborne appears to have assumed that what has worked for Manchester will work elsewhere. But it is not clear that this follows, necessarily. After all, Manchester has advantages—including stable leadership and coherent economic geography—not enjoyed by all its counterparts. If the other cities’ somewhat lukewarm embrace of elected mayors is anything to go by, the case that the Manchester model can be applied elsewhere remains to be made. Voters in Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield, for example, had already rejected city mayors in 2012, while the constituent councils of the North East Combined Authority accepted the Chancellor’s offer only after concerted lobbying from business leaders in the region.