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Mayors 'should cover metro areas to be effective'

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Elected mayors need to lead an economic region to be effective, not just one city, an academic investigation has said.

A University of Warwick report, elected mayors and City Leadership, said mayors cannot provide a solution to every city’s problems but have merits in some and may be “the least worst option” to reinvigorate local government.

The commission’s research director Professor Keith Grint said mayors should have a formal remit that extends beyond the boundaries of the 10 core cities that will next month hold referendums on their creation.

In findings the commission noted: “Mayors are more likely to be effective, both in supporting the economy and making effective decisions for local citizens, if they are responsible for functioning economic areas.

“There is no point in electing a mayor whose remit does not cover the necessarily boundary-spanning regions that could foster economic growth – the so-called metro-mayor.”

Prof Grint said the government’s failure to spell out in advance what powers the new city mayors might enjoy “undermines the point of the local engagement and the mayoral alternative is perceived by some to be aimed at addressing this very issue”.

It had created a ‘chicken and egg’ situation for voters in the 10 cities as the government declined to prescribe powers to mayors before they were elected, yet they “may not be elected because they are perceived to lack the powers necessary to instigate change”.

From research based on interviews with mayors from across the English-speaking world, the commission found “elected mayors may provide a viable alternative for invigorating some locales, especially at a time when the forces of globalisation are setting city against city across the globe in their competition for capital, labour and knowledge… [But] in some cities an elected mayor may not be necessary because they have already constructed a significant identity and are vigorously and strategically led”.

Elected mayors offer “the possibility of greater visibility, accountability and co-ordinative leadership” deriving from their relative independence from party discipline, “but they also hold the dangers of electing mayors whose popularity obscures their inadequacy in leading their communities”.

The commission said checks and balances on mayors were too weak and that a recall process was needed “which enables the removal of an elected mayor in office in extremis”.

It cited an example from Japan where the eviction of a mayor also triggers dissolution of the council.

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