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With great power comes great responsibility

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LGC’s essential daily briefing

As MPs gear up for summer holiday strolls in the hills (no more snap elections please, prime minister) and ice creams on the south coast, it’s time to take stock.

A lot has happened in the past 13 months. Heck, a lot has happened in the past three months. But one thing that has remained consistent in all of that time is an overwhelming sense of uncertainty.

Much-needed reforms to the way adult social care is financed are up in the air, while the national rollout of 100% business rates retention is on hold, to name just two policies which have succumbed to the uncertainty.

Devolution too has suffered.

As LGC reports today, there is growing “angst” in London at a lack of movement on the government’s promise to devolve new powers over health to the capital. Devolution darlings in Greater Manchester are not immune either as concerns have been raised about the region gaining control of its adult skills budget in 2018-19, as previously planned, due to delays stemming back to the EU referendum last June.

Despite this there are signs some elected mayors are starting to make the most of the profile, powers and influence their roles have given them.

The Manchester Arena terror attack thrust Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham into the limelight. Most in the sector are agreed that in difficult circumstances he rose to the occasion. That incident aside, Mr Burnham has been visible and vocal on housing issues in particular including an attempt to tackle homelessness and revising the region’s long-term plan for homes.

In an interview with LGC, Mr Burnham turned up the heat on the government setting ministers a series of “tests” to demonstrate their commitment to the devolution agenda and not revert to a centralist mind set.

His Conservative counterpart in the West Midlands Andy Street has also been busy in his first two months. Despite operating in a national political context which is “not what we expected it to be”, Mr Street has already extended the rollout of the region’s travel smartcard, set up a taskforce to tackle homelessness, and been heavily involved in the bid to bring Channel 4 to the region, among other initiatives. There are also plans to launch a finance commission which will build on the work of the one Professor Tony Travers led for London.

Contrast these two tales then with the Liverpool City Region where the combined authority has been so preoccupied by a feud between mayor Steve Rotheram and Liverpool City Council mayor Joe Anderson that Mr Rotheram is yet to get as far as appointing a deputy mayor from a pool of six council leaders.

It cannot be right that a whole city region’s future is being put at risk by two egos, especially given how hard it was for areas to secure devolution deals in the first place.

Mr Street told LGC mayors “will be judged not in the first 100 days but in 10 years’ time” but when ministers (*cough* Sajid Javid) are quick to extrapolate the actions of one council (*cough* Kensington & Chelsea) to the whole sector that does not bode well.

No doubt sensing media scrutiny intensifying on what, exactly, Mr Rotheram is getting up to in his £77,500-a-year role, he unveiled a 100-day plan last week. This contained more than 50 pledges which included appointing an internationally respected expert to lead the development of a power generating Mersey Tidal Barrage, embracing a housing first approach to tackling homelessness, and progressing work on a free travel scheme for apprentices.

Much better. Now it’s time to start delivering.

Devolution deals, while far from perfect, offer a huge opportunity for the sector to show just how much better local areas can deliver services and devise policies than a top-down approach from Whitehall.

With a prime minister seemingly reluctant to reignite the devolution revolution anytime soon, how the six elected mayors and their combined authorities fare over the coming weeks, months, and years will matter, especially as the sector argues for more powers and controls in a post-Brexit Britain.

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