Less than 1% of the population in every area with a mayoral devolution deal has taken part in public consultations about their agreements with government, LGC can reveal.
The lack of public participation has been called “disappointing but not surprising” by the Centre for Public Scrutiny.
Areas with, and without, devolution deals are now being urged to consider ways to better engage residents.
LGC analysed the number of responses to recent public consultations on an area’s devolution deal and proposals to adopt an elected mayor. The consultations are required by government before orders legislating for the deals can be laid in parliament.
|Combined authority||% population responded to consulation|
|Cambridgeshire and Peterborough||0.47|
|Liverpool City Region||0.06|
|Norfolk and Suffolk||0.69|
|Sheffield City Region||0.16|
|West of England||0.22|
|* Tees Valley Combined Authority has not yet published the results to its consultation|
Despite being in the vanguard of the country’s devolution agenda, Greater Manchester had the fewest responses in both absolute number and percentage terms. A spokesman for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority told LGC there were more than 16,000 visits to the dedicated consultation pages on the combined authority’s website and added more than 6,100 people had opened the form to respond.
However, just 237 responses were received which is 0.01% of its 2.73 million population.
The spokesman said the consultations were “promoted extensively” across a range of media. This included the use of “paid for and regular posts” on social media sites including Facebook and Twitter, with one council’s posts potentially having been seen by more than 130,000 people.
The spokesman said the combined authority would be starting a “big conversation with residents, businesses and stakeholders across Greater Manchester about the future of our city-region” soon. Views will be used to inform the region’s future strategy, he said.
“This conversation will give everybody in Greater Manchester the chance to give us their views and ideas; big or small, informal or detailed, through social media, face to face events, online questionnaires and much more,” the spokesman said.
Just 0.07% of the 2.8 million population covered by the West Midlands Combined Authority responded to its consultation which was criticised in May by the Lords secondary legislation scrutiny committee for being online focused, although the body said councils were also encouraged to distribute hard copies of the survey.
Norfolk and Suffolk received the most responses with 11,091 submission, but even that was less than 1% of the region’s population. Suffolk CC’s leader Colin Noble (Con) told LGC at the beginning of September that residents’ views on the prospect of adopting an elected mayor had varied from “hostile to apathetic”.
Andy Wood, independent chair of the Norfolk and Suffolk leaders group, said Ipsos-Mori had been commissioned to survey more than 6,000 people across the two counties in order to get “robust data”.
He said that was a sample size “six times larger than that normally used in national opinion polls” and ensured responses were received from a cross-section of people, representative of the region’s population.
Ipsos-Mori also surveyed 250 businesses, said Mr Wood while more than 4,000 extra responses were received through a separate online survey, letters and emails. There was support for a mayor from 52% of respondents to the Ipsos Mori poll but just 27% of online respondent backed the new role.
“With the number of surveys carried out it is possible to be confident that the views in the survey represent those of the counties’ adult populations as a whole to within 1% [of the results],” said Mr Wood.
Ed Hammond, director of local accountability at the Centre for Public Scrutiny, said leaders in all areas would have found the results “disappointing”.
“These findings suggest areas need to take a different tack if they want to properly engage and involve the public about the kinds of things devolution is going to deliver,” he told LGC. “Other areas that try to consult like this are going to find their response rates are quite similar.”
Mr Hammond said awareness was “growing” in the sector that public engagement in relation to devolution needed to be improved.
While there was a “chicken and egg” situation as to whether to consult before deal negotiations had begun or once firm proposals were in place, Mr Hammond thought it was important areas sought residents’ views beforehand so leaders knew what their priorities and red lines were.
Consultations on other important matters, such as strategic planning documents, also failed to attract high response rates, said Mr Hammond. He said that was because proposals were “not sufficiently tangible” for people to be interested in, or have strong opinions about.
Mr Hammond said it will take time before areas with their first mayoral elections next May get high turnouts.
The referendum on creating a mayor for London in 1998 was “quite low” at 34%, said Mr Hammond while turnout for the first elections was about the same. There was a 45% turnout for this year’s London mayoral election.