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Growth in combined authority workforces revealed

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Staffing expenditure by the mayoral combined authorities has increased by 30% since May 2017 as the total workforce has grown by a fifth, LGC research has found.

While responsibilities vary between organisations, and many staff are employed to work on specific projects, the figures demonstrate the growing role they are playing within their regions and beyond.

In May 2017, when voters in six of the seven mayoral CAs elected their first mayors, there were 2,402 staff on the payroll. By December 2018 this had risen to 2,877. Almost three quarters of this increase was accounted for by Greater Manchester, West Midlands and Liverpool City Region CAs, which each saw staff numbers grow by more than 100.

Liverpool City Region did not directly employ anyone when mayor Steve Rotheram (Lab) was elected, despite the CA having been established for three years prior to that. There are now 107 people working for the CA, including secondees and co-located staff, at a cost of £7m in 2018-19. Homes England have also recently begun a trial of sharing space with the CA at its headquarters in Liverpool. A Homes England spokesperson said this was intended to encourage greater collaboration “with regional partners to ensure our experts can work hand-in-hand with local specialists on housing growth priorities”.

The West Midlands CA workforce has been growing steadily since the election of Andy Street (Con) from 363 to 466 at the end of 2018, a 28% increase. Staffing costs increased by a similar percentage to £24.7m. The workforce is organised into four main directorates: Transport for West Midlands, housing & regeneration, productivity & skills, and public service reform, as well as support functions such as corporate services, strategy and the chief executive and mayor’s offices.

A spokesperson said the workforce had “grown proportionately” to deliver on the two devolution deals and £1.7bn of central government investment secured by the combined authority.

“As the scope and remit of the WMCA has grown, the organisation has recruited a number of key directorial posts, and associated teams, to manage funding and deliver on the WMCA’s key priorities for the region.

“Our approach to resourcing has included using fixed-term contracts, secondments, apprentices and joint delivery teams to ensure our workforce is agile and responsive to a growing and evolving agenda.”

The spokesperson said just under 90% of staff were on permanent contracts.

Greater Manchester has the largest total workforce of 2,013, however the majority of this relates to the fire service, police and crime commissioner and waste disposal authority which are now part of the CA. While its workforce grew by 7% over the period, costs increased by 20%.

At the other end of the scale, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough has just 51 employees, although this represents a quadrupling since mayor James Palmer was elected in 2017. Staffing has proved a controversial issue for Mr Palmer after an initial staff budget of £1m was quickly exceeded. The budget for 2018-19 was set at £5.6m, which includes cost of staff from the local enterprise partnership and the Greater South East Energy Hub.

Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, told LGC the varying size of the combined authorities tended to reflect what institutions had existed locally before. For example, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester both had transport authorities which are now part of the CAs whereas Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and West of England the CAs were pretty much started from scratch in 2017.

Mr Carter also said some of the smaller combined authorities were “more narrowly focused on the formal aspects of the job” around growth, transport, housing and planning, while some of the bigger ones were taking a “more expansive” approach and going “beyond” just what is set out in the devolution deals.

He added: “While we are all sensitive to the costs of running these organisations there has been a sizable upside in terms of additional investment in these areas.”

Change in combined authority staffing since May 2017
Mayoral combined authorityWorkforce % Change since May 2017 Staffing budget% Change in budget
Greater Manchester 2,013 7% £97m 19%
West Midlands 466 28% £24.7m 30%
Liverpool City Region 107 * £7m 445%
Tees Valley 94 57% £4.8m 54%
Sheffield City Region 75 70% £2.1m -9%
West of England 71 103% £3m -2%
Cambridgeshire & Peterborough 51 200% £5.6m  560%
TOTAL 2,877 20%  £144.2m 30%

All combined authorities were keen to point out that it was difficult to make direct comparisons as they are in receipt of a slightly different group of devolved powers and many staff are employed on specific projects that come with their own funding.

Two combined authorities – West of England and Sheffield City Region – have managed to reduce their workforce costs slightly since the May 2017 elections, despite the fact their workforce sizes have grown by 103% and 71% respectively.

A spokesman for the West of England CA said staff numbers had increased as a result of “capacity funding for specific initiatives, such as accelerating housing delivery in the region; transfer of responsibilities from government– such as the adult education budget and other specific projects for which new funding has been secured”.

These include £5m to trial 5G networks, £8.5m for a Skills Innovation Fund targeting SMEs and £1.35m to support the region’s creative sector.

At Tees Valley around a fifth of the 94 staff are employed to deliver specific projects and programmes paid for through external funding.

This proportion was slightly higher at the Sheffield City Region, where voters elected a mayor in May 2018. A spokesperson said 20 of its 75 staff members were working on specific projects which came with external funding. This included Working Win, funded by the government’s Work & Health Unit, One Public Estate, funded by the ministry and the Growth Hub, funded by the business department.

LGC also obtained information from the West Yorkshire CA, which has been in existence since 2014 but does not have an elected mayor. Despite this, West Yorkshire CA has the second largest workforce after Greater Manchester, with 532 employees of which 213 were in the trasnport executive. This was a 12% increase since May with the annual staffing budget increasing by a similar proportion to £19.8m.

Mr Carter said this likely reflected the “sizeable” Leeds City Region growth deal which was worth more than £1bn between 2014 and 2020.

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