Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, The metro-mayors of Manchester and Liverpool’s city regions need more extensive powers to bring about substantial change, according to a new study out this morning

Devolution in Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region – The first mayoral term by Professor Georgina Blakeley and Professor Brendan Evans from the University of Huddersfield is the first comprehensive study of the impact of the metro mayors since they took office in 2017.

But they also conclude that while the powers of combined authorities were known to be limited when the original devolution deals were negotiated, the decision to proceed to a metro mayor model was the correct one.

The idea for the book came from previously published research into the regeneration of east Manchester by Professors Blakeley and Evans where they could see the shift in thinking from policy action at the level of the city to the city-region footprint.

The question that we started with was is this going to be a permanent change in English governance, a real kind of constitutional revolution or is it going to be a flash in the pan?”, says Professor Blakeley, the Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning in the School of Human and Health Sciences.

“We conclude in the book that whilst the powers that the metro mayors have are limited and they have insufficient resources, it was absolutely the right thing to do to seize that opportunity within the context of an extremely centralised political system.

“There were people in Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region who said, ‘don’t take this opportunity, it’s a sham, it’s the government devolving austerity’.

Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region have, respectively, had Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram as their mayors since 2017 with both being re-elected for a further four-year term in 2021. One of the book’s key themes is how both mayors have evolved the power of their office, specifically around transport in respective cities.

“It’s interesting that transport is the only really hard power the mayors have,” adds Professor Evans, Emeritus Professor in Politics and Research Fellow. “Aside from some power over the adult education budget, transport is the main area where Burnham has significant hard power. He also said it was the most frustrating aspect of his time in office. Progress has been difficult for all sorts of reasons despite him spending most of his time and effort on this area.”

The authors accept that Burnham and Rotheram could be seen to have not had the desired impact over the course of their six years in office, but they feel that the restrictions both mayors face are the reason.

“One point made to us at the book launch was that we could have been firmer in making an overall judgement about how successful Rotherham and Burnham have been,” adds Professor Evans. “In reality, progress has been variable across different policy fields and there has been obstruction from Westminster and Whitehall.”

With respective combined authorities set to remain for the foreseeable future, the authors hope the book inspires further research and assessment on a local and national level with the Government’s 2022 white paper stating that ‘by 2030, every part of England that wishes to have a ‘London-style’ devolution deal will have one’.

“It is worthy of continued study and investigation,” adds Professor Blakeley. “I think there’s more comparative work to be done as we compared the Liverpool City region with Greater Manchester, but there are now nine mayoral combined authorities. Further research is warranted to produce a wider comparative study of the devolution journey.”


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