How can newly elected mayors raise the profile of their areas and attract new powers from central government as Boris and Ken have in London?
The Institute for Government has undertaken research to investigate what makes for effective mayoral government, learning from areas that have already switched to the mayoral model in the UK and internationally. We find that the key to being an effective mayor is to understand that mayors occupy a uniquely central position in a network of institutions, both within the council, and across the city. Effective mayors act like an orchestral conductor, coordinating the different elements, helping them perform to the best of their ability, and drawing on them at the right moment. Here are 8 pieces of advice for incoming mayors:
Provide leadership across your city, not just in the council
Direct election gives mayors influence beyond the council, right across their cities. You can use this additional soft power to coordinate public services, including those that fall beyond your formal remit, such as academy schools, hospitals, and transport networks that stretch across local authority boundaries. Of particular importance for elected mayors will be the relationship with Police and Crime Commissioners. You should spend as much time as possible outside the town hall, investing in the relationships and networks that will allow you to leverage your influence. Remember that governing by influence requires a different style and tone than governing by command.
Make full use of your asking and convening power
You should systematically tap the talent and energy that exists in your city. Graham Richards, former mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, argues that all mayors should do this more. 'If you’ve got a problem call up five or six CEOs and ask: Would you give me a person for a half day a week for the next six weeks, to help understand the nature of a problem and make suggestions for improving it? If you clearly state what you need, show you understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and what is the end point, I’ve never been refused.'
Demand new powers for your city
The government have said that cities with a mayor will be “well placed” to receive extra powers from central government and the Localism Bill allows the Secretary of State to “transfer to the elected mayors any function of any public body.” You should be ambitious in lobbying for more powers over transport, revenue raising, big infrastructure investment, skills, regeneration, and housing, where you need them. The ‘cabinet of mayors’ (a promised biannual meeting in 10 Downing Street) will provide an excellent forum for this but don’t hesitate to use all channels available to you. Working with and through the Local Enterprise Partnership will be key to achieving influence over policy areas which must dealt with at a city-region level e.g., transport.
Retain focus on your priorities by delegating appropriately
You should delegate significantly to cabinet members and officials in order to focus on a small number of key priorities. The network and relationship building required for effective mayoral governance is time consuming and you will inevitably spend a lot of time responding to unforeseen events. Successful mayors retain a strategic focus and delegation can help to avoid being swept along by the flow.
Empower councillors to build productive community relationships at neighbourhood level
Councillors should be given responsibility, powers and funding to build community relations and tackle neighbourhood issues such as parks and anti-social behaviour. Councillors could, for example, be made responsible for running regular ‘ward assemblies’ in their neighbourhoods in order to inform decisions on issues like street lighting, CCTV cameras and the design of public spaces for leisure. Councillors should proactively feed information from such assemblies into the overview and scrutiny process to provide valuable feedback for mayors and officials.
Treat the Overview and Scrutiny process as an asset
It is tempting for mayors, with their increased independence from party groups, and strong legislative power, to see the Overview and Scrutiny process as an obstacle which needs to be avoided. A good mayor, however, goes out of their way to involve the overview and scrutiny committee in their work by ensuring transparency and making extensive use of pre-legislative scrutiny. Do this and you will keep the overview and scrutiny committee engaged and working constructively alongside you to improve decision making in your city.
Invest in your relationship with councillors
Independent mayors in particular cannot rely on their party group to get the third of votes they need to pass budgets and policy frameworks. Engage with councillors through regular scheduled meetings with party groups and extensive use of pre-decision scrutiny. Declaring that your ‘door is always open’ is no substitute for pro-active engagement. Ultimately however, you should retain your outward focus.
Reform your local authority
You should ensure you have a formal power of veto over the appointment of the most senior officer, establish a leaner, task-and-finish scrutiny process and allow the overview and scrutiny committee to appoint a dedicated scrutiny support officer through the appointments committee. There is also a good case for reducing the number of councillors and switching to ‘all up’ elections for councillors once every four years.