With only five weeks to go before 10 cities decide if they want to be governed by an elected mayor, a new poll published by the Institute for Government reveals that 38% of people questioned nationally want a directly-elected mayor rather than a council leader.
Fewer (25% of those questioned) would prefer not to change to an elected mayor; 23% did not mind either way, and 14% didn’t know. All ages, social groups and regions favoured the mayoral system when answering the precise question that will be asked in mayoral referenda on 3rd May.
The poll also revealed that only 15% of people said they knew the name of their local council leader and of those just half (8% of respondents) could correctly name them. Previous polling has shown that in places with a mayor, 57% of residents could name him or her.
The poll was published alongside a new publication – ‘What can elected mayors do for our cities?’ written by experts from leading think tanks from across the political spectrum.
Today Birmingham holds a national debate about elected mayors. Lord Adonis, Greg Clark, Cities and Decentralisation Minister, James Hutchings, ‘No’ campaigner and Birmingham Councillor, and Mayor Steve Bullock are some of those speaking. Lord Heseltine, who is credited with the idea of first proposing elected mayors for UK cities, is also attending.
The Government has signalled that it believes city leaders will play a crucial role in driving economic growth and boosting employment, and has promised to give more powers to cities with strong governance structures – including those that adopt the mayoral system.
‘What can elected mayors do for our cities?’ examines the track record of mayors in the UK and abroad and shows a strong consensus that mayors can bring significant benefits, including:
- Increased visibility, as shown by polling results
- Increased stability. Leadership turnover in mayoral cities has been 50% lower than in neighbouring councils.
- Increased clout. The Mayor of London has been highly successful in negotiations with Whitehall and Westminster, drawing additional infrastructure investment and new tax and spending powers away from central government. The Coalition Government is promising to grant other big cities similar or still greater powers, as long as they can demonstrate ‘effective governance’. Having a mayor will be seen as sufficient proof that local governance is robust.
- Increased citizen focus. Unlike council leaders, mayors are not dependent on other councillors for their election so spend less time on internal politics and more on building relationships with citizens, voluntary sector bodies and business groups.
- Increased coherence. As some public services become more independent of central government – for example, through GP commissioning, free schools, and police and crime commissioners - the risk is that they become more siloed. Mayors have proven to be particularly adept at ensuring that services make sense from the users’ perspective.
However, as Andrew Carter from Centre for Cities, points out elected mayors have “the potential to solve problems but they are no silver bullet”. Some of the challenges explored by the authors include:
- There are limitations to what mayors can do in places with underlying problems in the local political system. Introducing mayors into the difficult situations in Doncaster and Stoke was never a guaranteed solution to their difficulties.
- The introduction of mayors has not yet increased diversity in English politics. Of the twenty two people to have held mayoral office in the UK so far, only two have been women (Dorothy Thornhill in Watford and Linda Arkley in North Tyneside) and only one has been from a minority ethnic group (Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets)
- Several authors agree that local authorities cover areas too small for devolution of significant powers ie. transport and discuss the idea of ‘city region mayors’. Elected city mayors will have to reach out beyond city walls and work with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and neighbouring areas. Some authors say mayors should chair or co-chair LEPs.
- Many authors argue that fiscal devolution must accompany the introduction of directly elected mayors. The experience in the U.S. suggests that mayors will be most effective if they are given the powers they need to make a difference.
- Mayors may not be the only solution. The Manchester combined authority represents another interesting – though rare - model for strong governance.
- New mayors may have limited experience of city governance: a ‘devolution academy’ may need to be set up at a leading UK business school, one author concludes.
The publication is a collection of research from leading think tanks and commentators expert in the field of elected mayors.
Notes to editors
Contributors to the new publication ‘What can Elected Mayors do for our Cities?’ are:
- Andrew Adonis; Nicola Bacon, Young Foundation; Andrew Carter, Director of Policy and Research at the Centre for Cities; Ed Cox, Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) North; Bruce Katz, Vice President of the Brookings Institution; Guy Lodge, Associate Director at the IPPR; Ben Lucas, founding Director of the 2020 Public Services Hub; Simon Parker, Director of the New Local Government Network; Ben Rogers, Director of the Centre for London at Demos; Sam Sims, Researcher at the Institute for Government, Alex Thomson, Director of Localis; Tony Travers, Director of LSE London
- The publication is edited by Tom Gash, Programme Director at the Institute for Government and Institute researcher Sam Sims.
- The Birmingham conference is being held on Thursday 29th March 2012 at Millennium Point, Curzon Street, Birmingham,1530-1700.
- This poll and publication are embargoed to 0600 Thursday 29th March 2012
For more information or to interview a member of the research the team, please call Nadine Smith at the Institute for Government on 02077470433/07850313791
YouGov/Institute for Government Survey results
Sample Size: 2299 GB Adults who do not live in an area with elected mayors
Fieldwork: 21st - 22nd February 2012
|Do you know the name of your local council leader? By council leader we mean the councillor chosen by the other councillors in the ruling party group to head the council. If you know your council leaders name, please write this in the box provided. Please do not look up the answer, this question is not designed as a test and if you do not know the name of your council leader, please select the appropriate option.|
|No, I do not know the name of my council leader||
Percent of all respondents
correctly naming leader
Percent of all respondents
unable to name leader
|How would you like your local council to be run, either...?|
|By a leader who is an elected councillor chosen by a vote of the other elected councillors. This is how the council is run now.||25%|
|By a mayor who is elected by voters. This would be a change from how the council is run now.||38%|
|Don't mind either way||23%|