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Now the honeymoon is over, mayors need to make the marriage work

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

In even the most loving of relationships there are arguments and fallings out. But it is the ability of partners to set aside their differences, patch up, and move on which determines whether relationships flourish or falter.

The six elected mayors in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands, and West of England have all had a passionate start to their relationship with their combined authority, one way or another.

While observers are broadly full of praise for the way each of the mayors have gone about their business in their first year, there is already a sense they need to start delivering tangible changes if they are to cement the role into the electorate’s psyche and make this arranged marriage work.

But with limited powers and controls at their disposal – compared to their counterparts in other countries anyway – all of the mayors will be hoping the government will somehow find the time around Brexit negotiations to provide them with further powers.

The trouble is, this government has not given the impression of being as enthusiastic about devolution as the administration of David Cameron in which George Osborne was a driving force.

Tony Travers, professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said while he had “no doubt” Philip Hammond, Sajid Javid and other ministers are all “broadly in favour” of devolution, and more of it, they are not as “healthily obsessed” with the idea as Mr Osborne was during his time in office.

There is a risk, Professor Travers warned, that if the government does not back the mayors with increasingly more resources then apathy among voters could set in.

Turnout for the first elections was tolerable last year, even if it was dangerously close to police and crime commissioner levels in the Tees Valley.

Another test of the mayoral model’s appeal will take place next month in the Sheffield City Region. Labour’s Dan Jarvis is the favourite and, if he wins, he is expected to use the platform to campaign for a wider devolution deal covering the whole of Yorkshire.

Doing that while chairing a combined authority whose four leaders are at odds on that idea, while remaining an MP will be no mean feat.

“That will require an enormous amount of politics,” said Professor Travers, who added it will be equivalent to taking on “more than three full-time jobs”.

There are concerns the city region will be forgotten.

Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre of for Cities, said: “If they end up wasting two years on an unfulfilled and unrealistic Yorkshire mayor, and I remain unconvinced of the merits of it, it will be a shame because that is two or three years the Sheffield City Region can’t really afford to waste.”

Sarah Longlands, senior research fellow at IPPR North, added: “It does worry me… how the electorate will feel at the end of that process [if the Sheffield City Region mayoral post is dissolved].”

The mayoral model is still in its relative infancy – Professor Travers warned it could take at least two decades for the current mayors, and their successors, to “build a civic case for the entity” they represent.

Doing that requires ongoing investment, just like all relationships require ongoing attention if they are to stand the test of time.

By David Paine, acting news editor

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