It’s a year since the first batch of city-region mayors were elected and what do we know so far? It would be easy to criticise their ‘lack of’ delivery, but there are some significant constraints: turmoil at the national level with political parties seemingly being torn apart by the BREXIT vote; the lack of strong national policy making and decisions on devolution; increasing economic issues locally and growing tensions around migration, diversity and exclusion. All this makes for difficult conditions in which to make your mark.
Mayors also decided to tackle very big issues, which cities have always struggled with, and which cannot be solved in 12 months. They also have very few levers to pull, the main tool at their disposal being the power to promote a place and galvanise action from others.
Given this, the mayors haven’t done too bad a job. They have individually and collectively raised the game of cities and are championing place when the rest of government is only looking at the impending threat of Brexit. Rather than wringing their hands at the lack of action they are creating and maintaining action. The current batch of mayors, now joined by Dan Jarvis (let’s hope he can resolve some of the South Yorkshire’s collaboration issues) are beginning to exemplify good political leadership in the face of poor performance nationally. Maybe they can follow in Sadiq Khan’s footsteps and make Time Magazine’s top 100 list.
Removed from the chaos, they are becoming powerful figureheads for driving perception of place and are wielding soft powers not seen before at the local level. Those liable to dismiss their performance need to examine it within the national context. City-politics provides a training ground, and this generation of mayors may well be the next generation of national leaders in waiting.