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Birmingham warms to change as opposition to an elected mayor collapses

Birmingham warms to change as opposition to an elected mayor collapses

🕔13.May 2014

Opposition to Birmingham being run by an elected mayor has collapsed since the idea was rejected in a referendum two years ago, according to a new opinion poll.

Fewer than half of those questioned in the survey said they were now against having a mayor.

The YouGov study conducted for the Centre for Cities thinktank found that 41 per cent of people were opposed to an elected mayor. But when Birmingham voted on the issue in 2012, 58 per cent said no.

However, the proportion of those in favour of a mayor has also fallen slightly with 36 per cent supporting the idea in the latest poll against 42 per cent voting yes in the referendum.

The 2012 referendum was fought against a backdrop of almost universal opposition to a mayor from the main political parties on Birmingham City Council and other public figures, which may have helped to inflate the ‘no’ vote.

YouGov polled 16 major cities as part of a CfC study into the relationship between London and the rest of the country. Support for elected mayors was highest in cities where a mayor already exists, including Leicester and Bristol where more than half of those questioned backed the idea.

The study found widespread scepticism in Birmingham and other cities about the benefits flowing to the regions from London’s powerhouse economy. There was also a general feeling that Parliament and the levers of government in Whitehall are too focused on London and remote from the rest of the country.

When asked whether Parliament and Whitehall were responsive to local issues, only 12 per cent agreed while 47 per cent disagreed.

Out of the 16 cities polled, only Manchester bucked the trend with 21 per cent saying the Government recognised local issues and was responsive to the city’s wishes.

CfC say this could reflect Manchester’s “long history of strong leadership and relations with Whitehall”. Manchester’s recent City Deal and the continuous growth of its tram network demonstrate how city leaders have worked alongside Government in London to drive change and support the economy in Manchester, the CfC report claims.

The general perception that London-based government is not responsive to local needs should provide more backing for promises by the Coalition and Labour to devolve power to city regions, according to CfC.

As well as conducting an opinion poll, CfC held workshops in the 16 cities to talk to stakeholders about their perceptions of London. The capital’s booming economy remains a source of concern with the regions feeling they are not benefiting. Since 2010, 79 per cent of private sector jobs growth has occurred in London and the capital has created almost ten times more jobs than any other city.

London has 17 per cent of the UK’s 4.9 million private sector businesses, more than any other region. Put together with the South-east, that rises to 33 per cent.

And while London-based firms are the largest employer in every UK city, the benefits flowing from the capital’s vast economy are not universally recognised. Only 26 per cent of people questioned in Birmingham thought London had a positive impact on the local economy, while 30 per cent felt the impact was negative.

The CfC study reached the following conclusions:

  • There is a strong sense of scepticism amongst respondents as to whether London benefits the economy where they live.While most agree that the London economy benefits the country as a whole, they do not believe that it is particularly good for their place.
  • There is a clear feeling that our national politics and policymaking does not respond to local needs.A majority also believe that the location of Whitehall and Parliament within London leads to national decisions that are too focused on the needs of the capital, rather than other UK cities.
  • Many believe that London dominates culturally and in terms of national media coverage, at the expense of other cities across the country.

The study makes the following proposals:

  • Cities must work together.London clearly benefits from its business connections and the skilled workers it draws from other cities, and UK cities benefit from London’s economic strength. In turn, all cities need to work together strategically to make the most of their relationships and capitalise on each of their strengths.
  • Cities must demand more from central government. Cities need to argue more for their place, demonstrate why blanket national policies will not work for them, and show how local flexibility would deliver better outcomes.
  • Cities must fill the leadership gap people perceive from central government.Local leaders need to engage more with the public in order to explain how national policies translate locally, how more local responses can help the economy grow, and to show what they are already achieving to build trust.

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