Special report: Rebalancing the UK economy – Devo deals and elected mayors

WHILE the Manchester and Liverpool city regions go about the process of electing London-style mayors to drive forward their devolution deals with central government, the ballot boxes of Leeds will not be brought out of storage.

The city region is not following its counterparts across the Pennines, who are pushing ahead with their agreements to take over running more of their own affairs.

However, the Yorkshire devo-debate still continues, with more indications and noises from Theresa May’s new government that deals just won’t be struck without directly-elected mayors at the helm.

But what are the views of the business community and do they see mayors as a good thing?

Guy Parker, senior policy adviser at the CBI, says: “It’s something I’ve found that our members are increasingly warming to.Everheds Northern Powerhouse report cover

“When the idea was first raised people were not that interested in the structure of local government. I don’t think they were especially enamoured by the idea.

“There’s an increasing sense that if you get the right people in place they can act as a figurehead, a real focus to what a city and potentially the North is all about.”

So is Leeds missing out? Gerald Jennings, president of the city’s chamber of commerce says: “You can’t say it’s missing out at the moment.

“Clearly we are behind the curve as we’re not part of the legislation to have mayors in. We are in danger of having to play catch up.

“But we don’t know how much better off we would be with a proper devolution deal with an elected mayor.”

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Jennings says that if the city region was to go down that route its elected mayor doesn’t have to be a politician. For him it is about finding “the right person” to do the job.

He also believes Yorkshire has to have an understanding the collectively it can “be a lot better if we join up” and adds: “Manchester got there many years ago.

“You still have the question, who do I call if I want to speak to Yorkshire? There has to be a top dog, whether we like it or not, whether that is an elected mayor or leader of a Yorkshire Combined Authority.”

Parker says: “If you want to call Manchester you call Sir Howard Bernstein or Sir Richard Leese. That makes sense to people. It helps that they’ve been around a long time.”

Mark Robson, regional director of the Department of International Trade in Yorkshire, believes the ability of a mayor to make decisions is the important factor. He adds: “That’s the real key thing.”

He points to the work of elected mayors in Liverpool and Bristol, adding: “They can really make a difference.”

Jennings agrees it is about having one person as a point of contact. “Someone told me they were driving to Liverpool not so long ago and saw a sign on a development site saying if you are interested in this site call the mayor and it gave his telephone number.  That’s quite powerful as a statement.”

Download the full Rebalancing the UK Economy report for free here