The UK government must devolve fuller powers and greater flexibility over spending to metro mayors so that these local leaders can help level up England.
The government rightly recognises that top-down action will not be enough to make levelling up succeed, but existing devolution arrangements hamstring the mayors and limit their ability to improve local economic and social outcomes - which is precisely what the government wants them to do.
The report argues that England’s metro mayors – first elected five years ago in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and other city-regions – have demonstrated that devolution works. The mayors have improved coordination and provided a strong voice for their regions, but a lack of real power means unrealistic expectations have been set for what metro mayors can achieve and what they can be held to account for.
Accelerating devolution also means overhauling the way the centre of government works and how it engages with mayors and other local leaders.
The IfG paper recommends:
- Devolving full responsibility for functions such as skills, transport and (green) infrastructure
- Giving metro mayors long-term, flexible funding to allocate in line with local needs
- Giving metro mayors the formal right to request any power that has been devolved elsewhere in England. The government should respond publicly and – if it says no – specify the conditions that would have to be met for the power to be handed over.
- The government launch a joint review of its relations with metro mayors and publish a framework for consultation, co-operation and dispute resolution between government departments and the mayors.
- The government commit not to reverse or amend the terms of devolution without local consent.