My challenge to the Metro Mayors – Put People First


Category: devoComment

Emmet Regan is a managing consultant at Mutual Ventures who specialise in public service reform. Emmet works with clients across the country to understand how issues like devolution and integration will impact them. | @Emmetregan

The new Metro Mayors all share one common challenge – the need to deliver for the people of their region. They will only do this by becoming leaders of whole system public service reform.

Millions of people across England interact daily with public services. From health, to education to transport and beyond. The quality of those public services directly impact people’s personal wellbeing and indeed their economic wellbeing as well. The central philosophy behind devolution and the growth of Metro Mayors is that regions will be able to close the gap between their inputs into the national system i.e. how much their regional economy generates for the national economy and the outputs of their region (how much is spent in that area). In order to close the gap, public services have to be reformed in a coherent and coordinated way.

Hitherto, the devolution deals that have been signed between the regions and HM Government have focussed on what I term ‘place’ based issues i.e. transport, planning, infrastructure and economic regeneration. There is no doubt that this is vital to the long-term economic future of the regions of England. However, without a plan to focus on ‘people’ based issues such as health, social care, skills, education, and beyond, the productivity gap cannot and will not be closed.

The newly elected metro mayors now have the ability to become champions of both place and of people based issues and to look at the system as a whole. Up until now, there have never been directly mandated individuals who can drive transformation and drive public service reform at regional scale. Devolution is a means not an end.  Now is the time to look at the whole public service system and not just its constituent parts. Metro Mayors must lead to deliver change.

Metro Mayors must be mindful of what constitutes their individual devolution deals and what promises they each made to their respective electorates. However, this cannot be the limit of their ambition. Devolution provides the platform for change but does not deliver the change itself. The role of the Mayor should be one of leading, convening and setting the public service reform agenda. They have the ability to look beyond the current devolution deal, to bring together leaders from all of the public services, crossing the traditional boundaries of the NHS, Councils, the police, the education system, the criminal justice system and beyond.

The former chief executive of Manchester City Council, Sir Howard Bernstein, always spoke in terms of the ‘Manchester Pound’. In effect, ignoring institutional boundaries and budgets, focusing not a singular organisation but on an area as a whole. Metro Mayors must not think in terms of individual public services and individual reform but on whole systems and whole system public service reform.  Metro Mayors must see the power of the sum of the parts to deliver lasting change. If they can lead, people and organisations alike will follow.


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