On 4th May there will be “Metro Mayor” elections for 10 million people in England – in Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester, Tees Valley, the West Midlands, the West of England and Cambridgeshire & Peterborough. Labour candidates Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram and Sue Jeffrey are clear favourites to win in their respective areas, while the election in the West Midlands is close – Andy Street, the Conservative candidate, is the 4/7 favourite pushing Sion Simon MEP into second place at 6/4. The West of England is (according to Ladbrokes) even closer with both ex-Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams and Councillor Tim Bowles on 11/10. In Cambridgeshire & Peterborough the Conservative candidate, Councillor James Palmer, is expected to win. Many of the candidates have now published weighty manifestos, four of which are compared and contrasted below.
Andy Burnham’s “Our Manifesto for Greater Manchester” is just 12 pages long, while Andy Street’s “Renewal Plan for the West Midlands” spreads over 48 sides. Perhaps more notable is the serious difference in style. Steve Rotheram’s “Our Future Together” and the Sion Simon “Manifesto”, close to 30 pages each, are policy heavy and even read at times like think-tank documents with, for example, Rotheram’s reference to “developing a pathways to excellence programme” and Simon stating he will adopt “a radical and comprehensive open data strategy.” Andy Burnham’s aims for a broader appeal, including images of his supporters dotted throughout. Meanwhile, Andy Street’s is long on “I will”, with a total of 238 promises throughout the document.
All manifestos major on transport, business support, adult skills and housing. This is of course in line with the actual powers that the Metro Mayors will have, as IPPR North have helpfully tabulated. However, given that transport is by far and away the policy area where they will have most resource – including staff, finance and policy levers as they will inherit the relevant transport authority such as Transport for Greater Manchester – and where they can make most difference – there is surprisingly little detail. For example, Steve Rotheram is more focussed on issues where the Metro Mayor will have soft power, such as ensuring that Liverpool has a “direct connection to the proposed HS2” rail line, rather than making the local buses and trains on time.
There are many other issues raised in the Metro Mayor manifestos well above and beyond their formal powers. They show that ambition is not in short supply, though one has to question what can realistically be delivered given their limited resources.
The West Midlands candidates give their green assurances, with Simon pledging to “place trees at the heart of development, protecting ancient woodland” and Street offering to “support the development of autonomous and electric cars and get a grip on air pollution.” Street also emphasises his business credentials, saying he “will act as the West Midlands representative to businesses and investors in London and abroad.” Simon pledges to campaign for Birmingham to host the Commonwealth games in 2026, and for Channel 4 to relocate to the West Midlands – the latter debate having featured in the Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region campaigns too.
Meanwhile, Rotheram intends to “develop a city region programme for culture that celebrates every expression of creativity”, and equalities priorities are set out by him, wanting to create a “dementia and autism friendly region”, and Burnham, who would establish a gender balanced Youth Combined Authority. The focus on young people is evident too in Burnham’s commitment to “work with schools to establish a GM ‘curriculum for life’ [and] call for the introduction of a GM Schools Commissioner.”
One issue which also attracts considerable attention – irrespective of party – is homelessness and rough sleeping. Andy Street says it is “unacceptable and shames us as a region”. Andy Burnham commits to ending rough sleeping by 2020 by establishing a new Homelessness Action Network and a new Mayor’s Homelessness Fund to which he has pledged 15% of his mayoral salary. Sion Simon says he will create a Mayor’s Office of Housing and seek to end “the Tory scandal of homelessness” by adopting the ‘no second night out’ principle. Steve Rotheram commits to working with local authorities – who of course have lead responsibility for this issue – promising “co-ordination, best practice and fresh thinking” as well as a ‘housing first’ approach.
How these commitments all work out will be important but their inclusion is testament to the fact that candidates need to address the issues before them and in the public eye – and as we see on air quality, mental health and woodlands, there have been successful lobbying campaigns.
Finally, it is interesting that all four candidates see themselves as lobbyists for greater power. Chapter One of Sion Simon’s manifesto is titled “I’ll fight for our fair share”, with a pledge to set up a Fiscal Commission that would set out how to change the Barnett Formula and examine whether greater fiscal freedoms could boost the economy. The first of Andy Street’s 238 pledges commits him to “work with the Prime Minister and Government to ensure the needs of the West Midlands are heard in London.”
Andy Burnham says he “will call for the Apprentice Levy to be placed under the direction of the Mayor and allow for it to be developed into a Skills Levy”. Steve Rotheram points out devolution is not just about devolving power and resources: “it must also mean devolving and relocating government departments, major public bodies or national broadcast organisations.”
The candidates have much in common. All suggest devolution is the chance to fundamentally dilute the concentration of power and wealth in the capital. As Brexit comes back centre stage with a Queen’s Speech likely to be dominated by the Great Repeal Bill and associated legislation, it may well be a slower process than they hope. But what is clear is that whoever is elected on 4th May there will be ambitious champions added to the political landscape.
DevoConnect will be doing a series of policy-focussed blogs on transport, housing and skills & education in the run-up to elections on 4th May.