Sue Jeffrey: Metro Mayors can learn a lot from the United States


Category: devoComment, Tees Valley

Sue Jeffrey, Labour Candidate for Tees Valley Mayor

As we get ever closer to the metro mayor elections, the public awareness grows, and so too does the frequency of that vital question, ‘what exactly can a mayor do?’

The Tees Valley devolution deal has been described by many as one which is purely economic. To view it that way only tells the story of the tools at our disposal, not our vision for using them or the motivation that made us come together and start the devolution process in the first place.

Like many, I know that employment is one of the best routes to social justice, and if these are the powers we have, then that’s where we’ll start.

The basic functions devolved to mayors are by now familiar. The Tees Valley mayor will, for example, start to direct the skills budget, matching resources to local strengths.

The potential here is clear; the days in which an official in London can set the priorities for a workforce hundreds of miles away are coming to an end.

Or look to the Buses Bill and the potential for mayors to set timetables, fares and routes. In an area such as the Tees Valley it is not enough to simply create jobs and hope all will be better.

We have to look at all the different strands that come together to make a growing economy, and that includes how people, often on low wages, can be helped in to better jobs.

But there’s more to mayors than just these powers. Much of what the mayor will achieve will not come from any direct power, but by being a figure head, someone who can bring together the different people and organisations fighting for a better Tees Valley.

We saw that last month when the Mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, Greg Fisher, set out what he thought the UK could learn from the US and its local leaders.

His focus was not to secure more power, it was to build more partnerships. His city has made great strides, thanks not to any formal legislation, but by leveraging the power of the mayor’s office to convene stakeholders and set an agenda for inclusive growth.

The mayor there has managed to get things done by bringing together different and competing efforts to build and deliver change.

I firmly believe that the power of devolution and the power of mayors, comes in the ability to harness the talent and resources we already have and use them to deliver locally honed services that work for all.

That’s why I have made the fifth of my five priorities the one that holds them all together. I have promised to lead by partnership, to unite a voice for the Tees Valley and make sure it is our will, not London’s, that sets our future.

Yes, there is more to do. Talks on devolution round two need to start and ministers have to renew their commitment to English devolution.

While we prepare for that we in the Tees Valley will keep ourselves busy using whatever tools are at our disposal, economic or otherwise, to ensure everyone here has the chance to succeed.

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