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CITIES REJECT MAYORS

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LGC reveals the Core Cities' blueprints for regional government...
LGC reveals the Core Cities' blueprints for regional government

An LGC exclusive by Nick Golding

Core cities are refusing to back the drive for elected mayors to lead city regions.

England's biggest urban areas are endorsing the less radical option of executives of leaders spearheading regional development, despite the government's enticement of extra freedoms to regions devising innovative governance solutions.

The eight members of the Core Cities grouping have just days remaining to submit plans to minister for communities and local government David Miliband. He toured the country last year to drum up enthusiasm for new political arrangements to turn cities into economic growth hubs.

The pressure was kept on the cities this week when the Institute for Public Policy Research's Centre for Cities called for elected mayors to be brought in to cover the two largest conurbations outside London - the West Midlands and Greater Manchester.

The IPPR said if the mayoral experiment was successful it could spread to Bristol, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle.

It was not seen as applicable to the other core city, Nottingham, which was considered too close to Leicester and Derby. It says all cities should gain some freedoms but not to the extent of those with mayors, which could raise the supplementary business rate by 5%.

Adam Marshall, co-author of the centre's City leadership report, said there was a 'compelling economic case for city regions'.

Criticising the cities' current proposals, Mr Marshall added:

'Executive boards are not strong enough for the physical development of proposals.

'It would be hard for local authority elected leaders to vote for a strategic transport project that didn't benefit his or her borough.'

But Solihull MBC leader Ted Richards (Con), chairman of the West Midlands metropolitan district leaders' group, said: 'By ensuring the seven leaders work together we can tackle the individual needs of our local authorities in a far more democratic and accountable way than an elected mayor ever could.'

In Manchester, the response was barely more enthusiastic. Leader Richard Leese (Lab) said: 'I won't say we'd never consider [an elected mayor] but we certainly won't consider it at the moment.'

Even advocates of innovative city region governance arrangements recognise it could take years to win locals over to the merits of systems such as city region mayors

Chris Leslie, director of the New Local Government Network, said: 'It would be counterproductive to impose [mayors]. Constitutional reform can be a very slow process - it could take decades.

'If those who are in existing positions of leadership in the cities were to maintain their constituencies, of course that creates a lot of inertia against change.'

England's core city regions

Leeds

So far the region has taken an informal approach to discussing partnership across its boundaries because it argues the concept should be about economic development, not governance.

However,this week the region has decided on a protocol to ensure meetings bringing together all 11 council leaders and chief executives should no longer work ad-hoc. Still a work in progress, they have agreed on a regular schedule of meetings and Leeds City Council's regional policy team will act as the secretariat.

Manchester

A Greater Manchester executive has been running for several years. Co-operation is expected to be boosted by local area agreements with£1bn annual funding assured from bodies including development agencies and learning and skills councils.

Liverpool

The Mersey Partnership has a 19-member board that includes leaders and representatives from all six councils in Liverpool's city region. They are looking at working across boundaries on issues such as waste disposal, transport, fire and police.

The region is strongly against having a city mayor on financial grounds, arguing that it would cost an extra£1m a year to run such a structure, without adding any great benefit.

Bristol

The West of England Partnership comprises four unitary councils - Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire - which have been working as partners for the last three years.

on joint transport planning and housing. The only aspect Bristol is keen to gain from having a city region is the provision of common funding streams from government to work across the boundaries.

Newcastle

Councils are already collaborating on PFI projects and the Tyne & Wear Metro. Leaders are still studying models to improve co-operation in areas including libraries and leisure.

Sheffield

An informal partnership of nine councils at a city region level will be augmented by a leaders' board for South Yorkshire including those in charge of Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster MBCs.

Nottingham

The city has a project set up with Derby and Leicester known as the Three Cities - an initiative formed with support from Arts Council England and the East Midlands Development Agency - with the aim of boosting transport infrastructure and addressing the skills gap. The city region does not want a city mayor.

the most straightforward solution would be to create a democratic mandate for people to make city regions more accountable.

Birmingham

The leaders of the West Midlands' seven metropolitan councils have joined together in a new board, aligning expenditure to support transport, economic development, housing and education projects.

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