The Institute for Government’s 18-month research and analysis on what elected mayors can do for England’s cities comes to a head this Thursday as 10 cities decide if they want a mayor and three cities elect one, Liverpool and Salford, for the first time. This is a pivotal moment for the government’s localism agenda, with the government signalling strongly that it will hand powers to those cities that decide to elect a mayor.
Ahead of the referendums the Institute has published:
- An 8-point plan with our advice for elected mayors about how to make the most of their role, based on IfG research on effective mayors.
- Expert advice from the authors of 'What can elected mayors do for our cities?'
As 10 towns and cities go to the polls to decide if they want an elected mayor Tom Gash, Programme Director at the Institute for Government, said:
“Today’s mayoral referenda marks a pivotal moment for the localism agenda and will partly be a judgement of Coalition Government’s success in communicating the benefits of mayors and decentralisation to the electorate. Low turnouts and ‘no’ votes in the key cities of Birmingham and Bristol would be a major blow for the Government – and may also be an indictment of the decision to ask the electorate to decide whether to adopt a mayor without being clear on the precise powers they will hold.”
“The verdict should not be too harsh if there are ‘no’ votes, however. Past referenda have also struggled to get through to a politically disillusioned electorate and local veto campaigns – particularly those led by councillors who feel they might lose out from the change – have often tipped the balance in favour of the status quo.
“Results are currently in the balance. An Institute for Government poll from February shows that 37% of people either ‘didn’t know’ or ‘didn’t mind either way’ whether mayors were introduced. 38% of voters in non-mayoral areas supported the mayoral model compared to 25% who wanted to stick with the existing system."
“If underlying support translates into ballot box voting and a number of cities switch to mayors, England’s governance could be significantly strengthened. Big city mayors are far more visible than traditional council leaders (who only 8% of residents can name according to our polling) and offer more stable government. Existing big city mayors have also used the fact they hold sway over sizable electorates to secure the powers they need to run their cities successfully and to attract public and private investment.”
The mayoral referendums
“Many voters remain undecided or indifferent about the choice on offer in the referendums. A nationwide poll for the Institute for Government in February found that, when asked the referendum question, 23% of people ‘didn’t mind either way’ and a further 14% didn’t know – compared to 38% who supported the mayoral model and 25% who wanted to stick with the existing system. A YouGov poll in April of this year also found 26% of respondents ‘didnt know’ which option they preferred.
“Eight of the ten referendum cities (Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Wakefield) have local elections occurring on the same day as the referendum; though in most of these cities only one third of council seats are up for election. Bristol and Nottingham do not have local elections occurring at the same time meaning they will likely see a lower turnout.
“Support varies depending on the city in question and local campaigning will be decisive for the outcomes. It is clear, however, that the government has struggled to cut through to the electorate – a task made harder by their decision to remain silent on the question of the precise powers that new mayors would be given on top of those currently held by local authority leaders.”