City mayors could start constitutional overhaul
By Richard Johnstone | 27 April 2012
City mayors in England could take the first steps towards a new constitutional relationship between Whitehall and town halls, Public Finance has been told.
Colin Copus, director of the Local Governance Research Unit at De Montfort University in Leicester, said that if proposals for ten directly elected city mayors are approved on May 3 they could ‘get the ball rolling’ for increased powers in local government.
Copus was a member of the Warwick Commission on Elected Mayors and City Leadership, which reported in April on what the powers of the proposed city mayors should be.
Their responsibilities have not been set out in advance of the local referendums. Instead, once elected, each mayor will bid for powers from the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Copus also authored the draft code for central and local government that is at the centre of a campaign that aims to confirm in statute the functions, roles and duties of councils for the first time.
He told PF that the negotiations on the mayoral roles could include the changes proposed in the code.
Discussions are set to begin once the mayors for Liverpool and Salford – which have moved ahead of the wider national plan – are elected. Others will start when the post holders are elected on November 15, if the cities back the mayoral system.
‘Elected mayors that have discussions with the code in their back pocket may get enhanced freedoms from their council, and get the ball rolling for freedoms across local government,’ Copus said.
Although he added that ‘local government doesn’t stand or fall on elected mayors’ and that the ‘intention of the code is that this covers every council’, cities could bid for some of its provisions. This may include taking over boundary reorganisation from Whitehall, for example.
‘The idea of elected mayors being slightly ahead of the game and saying, “We would like some of this,” does two things,’ Copus said. ‘One, it enhances the role of mayors and two, it could show that parts of this code can be accepted by government.’
Alexandra Jones, chief executive of the Centre for Cities think-tank and another member of the commission, agreed that the posts could lead to wider reforms.
There’s ‘a good deal up for grabs’ when the negotiations over powers begin, she told PF.
The mayoral system could signal ‘one of the biggest changes in local government in decades’, Jones added.
The English cities holding referendums on May 3 are: Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield.