Posted by: davidjmarlow | 24/06/2011

U-turn on Elected mayors

Chasing shadows…government U-turn on elected mayors needs to catalyse serious debate on powers for cities

Government scrapping plans to designate ‘shadow mayors’ in 11 cities is sensible and pragmatic. The strategy of imposing shadow executive mayors prior to a popular referendum – to try and assist local people to experience the benefits of the executive mayoral system that they would later endorse democratically – was always manipulative and ill-conceived. However, this U-turn does not now make the executive mayor proposals alright. As with so much of the Localism Bill (and its White Paper predecessor), government appears to neither understand nor truly embrace how to support and empower successful places.

The retained Executive Mayor proposals continue to be arbitrary and half-baked. If the model is the success of the London Mayoral system, then a city-region/metro-mayor approach would clearly be required, as suggested in the recent Centre for Cities report. If, rather, this is a preferred political management model for local authorities in general, then, firstly, this is not borne out by the mixed experience of the existing ‘executive mayoralities’ of the last decade. Second, why opt for eleven requirements for a referendum (e.g. as opposed to, say, the eight ‘Core Cities’, or a larger number of major urban areas); and why focus the model solely on urban areas (and solely outside London and the ‘Greater South East’)?

In summary, the DCLG-led proposals have always seemed like a substitute for a coherent approach to city development. Does DCLG and government have the appetite for a more fundamental re-launch of Rebalancing and Local Growth? If so, a ‘pause’, and a ‘listening exercise’ are in order.

It is perfectly possible to produce a serious set of proposals that empower leadership teams of metropolitan and local economies to animate sub-national growth and development. Powerful executive mayors may even be part of the solution.

Whilst government is going through its period of U-turns, it should acknowledge the need for a rethink on approaches to local growth, city development and executive mayors.

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