From education to employment

100 days on from the May elections, research reveals the difference mayors are making in the North

Marcus Johns, research fellow at IPPR North

100 days after the May 2021 elections, @IPPRNorth, the leading think tank for the north of England has published analysis that demonstrates the difference northern metro mayors are making to their communities. 

The first metro mayors outside of London were first elected in 2017. In the North, they were Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, Steve Rotheram in Liverpool City Region, and Ben Houchen in Tees Valley – all of whom were re-elected earlier this year. Dan Jarvis in Sheffield City Region, and Jamie Driscoll in North of Tyne were elected in 2018 and 2019 respectively, and in May this year Tracy Brabin was elected as the first mayor of West Yorkshire. 

IPPR North found that three in every five people in the North, that’s 9.7 million people, are now represented by a metro mayor. They govern areas with a combined economy worth £227 billion GVA annually meaning that they cover populations and economies larger than Scotland and Wales put together. 

Today’s analysis shows that northern mayors are working beyond their devolution deals, wielding more power– particularly ‘soft power’ – than their deals suggest. Originally designed to have powers over their local economies and transport alone, these mayors are now having a wide-ranging impact. They work together as part of the Convention of the North, Transport for the North, and some have collaborated on innovative new employment charters. Locally, the range of projects that mayors are implementing to make a difference are broad. For example:  

  • In Greater Manchester, mayor Andy Burnham is investing in new walking and cycling infrastructure, introduced the Bed Every Night scheme, proving 500 bed spaces for rough sleepers, and announced plans to franchise local buses in his first term of office. 
  • In Liverpool City Region, mayor Steve Rotheram is developing the Mersey Tidal Power project to provide renewable energy up to a million homes, and is supporting the creation of Shakespeare North, a new theatre as the centre of Knowsley’s regeneration plans. 
  • In North of Tyne, mayor Jamie Driscoll is establishing a new £18m new investment fund to tackle carbon emissions, which is simultaneously designed to deliver inclusive growth. 
  • In Sheffield City Region, mayor Dan Jarvis has funded the first ownership hub to help businesses become worker owned or co-operatives. 
  • In Tees Valley, mayor Ben Houchen brought Teesside Airport into public ownership and established the first Mayoral Development Corporation in his first term of office. 
  • And in West Yorkshire, mayor Tracy Brabin plans to invest £1m in advancing bus franchising in West Yorkshire and is developing a Creative New Deal. 

Today’s research also revealed that northern mayors are developing ambitious plans to go even further. Each one is different – they have been in office for different lengths of time and have different devolution deals meaning that they enjoy varying levels of powers and budgets, ranging from £1,827m in Greater Manchester for the coming year, to £228m in North of Tyne. However, they are all considerably ambitious. Taken together, the six northern mayoral combined authorities plan to spend over £4.4 billion in 2021/22. This is equivalent to: 

  • £641 per person in Greater Manchester 
  • £318 per person in Liverpool City Region 
  • £271 per person in North of Tyne* 
  • £253 per person in Sheffield City Region 
  • £522 per person in Tees Valley 
  • And £476 per person in West Yorkshire. 

Researchers at IPPR North say that this early success is evidence – to be added to extensive research demonstrating the progressive impact that devolution can have – that if properly empowered and resourced by government, mayors can get on with the task of supporting their places to level up for themselves, finally narrowing some of the widest regional divides in the developed world. 

Marcus Johns, research fellow at IPPR North said:  

 “Northern mayors are making a positive difference for the places that they represent. On job creation, building healthier environments, and improving local transport, they are ambitious. We are seeing them increasingly reach beyond the original concept of the northern powerhouse, and their devolution deals, in order to deliver good lives for the people that they represent.  

“Here in the North, mayors are spending £4.4 billion this year alone, in close proximity, and in a way that is accountable to the people they represent. Through their ambitions and actions, mayors are beginning to prove the difference that devolution can make. While government talks about levelling up, mayors and their places are getting on with levelling up for themselves. 

“Not all parts of the North are able to experience the benefits of devolution as yet. The time has come for government to roll out devolution in a way that is inclusive and transparent to other parts of the region, so that they too can feel the benefits of it”. 

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