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Dale’s Devo Diary: ‘Metro mayors will be able to appoint deputy, and can double-up as police commissioners’

Dale’s Devo Diary: ‘Metro mayors will be able to appoint deputy, and can double-up as police commissioners’

🕔29.Jun 2015

As the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill continues its progress through the House of Lords, Chamberlain Files chief blogger Paul Dale examines the issues that will frame the shape of the biggest transfer of power from Whitehall to the regions for decades.

The good news is that peers from all political parties have broadly welcomed the purpose of the Bill, but there remains plenty of scope for changes to the small print, particularly around the powers to be granted to metro mayors.

So far, opposition peers have attempted, unsuccessfully, to persuade the Government that city regions like the West Midlands should hold referendums to gain local consent for mayors.

Similarly, attempts have been made to limit the powers of mayors. The Government has rejected the notion that approval must be given by combined authority council leaders for any specific powers bestowed on a mayor.

It emerged during the Lords’ committee stage that directly elected metro mayors will have the power to appoint a deputy who must be the leader of one of the councils in the combined authority area.

It was also confirmed that the Bill will allow elected mayors to act as police and crime commissioners and that police force boundaries could be changed, if necessary, to make them co-terminus with new combined authorities.

The area covered by West Midlands Police takes in exactly the seven metropolitan councils planning to form a combined authority – Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Dudley.

This would appear to increase the chances of West Midlands police commissioner David Jamieson becoming interim mayor, as happened in Greater Manchester where PC Tony Lloyd was appointed caretaker mayor prior to an election being held in 2017.

Mr Jamieson has already expressed an interest in the West Midlands job and has said combining the police commissioner with the metro mayor would be a natural progression.

The seven West Midlands councils have said they hope to expand a proposed combined authority, taking in some district councils in Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. This could open up the possibility of the West Midlands police force boundaries being redrawn to reflect an enlarged combined authority, with an elected mayor taking on the PCC role.

The scale of the changes proposed was spelt out by Local Government Minister Baroness Williams as the Bill began its committee stage in the House of Lords.

The Bill does not prevent a mayor also being given police and crime commissioner functions where the relevant combined authority area does not correspond to a single police area. Should it be considered appropriate to transfer functions to a mayor in such a case, powers in existing legislation would enable police areas to be altered to facilitate such a scenario.

On this basis, mechanisms are already available to enable alternative arrangements to be made.

We will consider any future proposals to transfer police and crime commissioner functions to the mayor for a combined authority area on a case-by-case basis, and will transfer these functions where appropriate. Clearly, geographic issues will be an important consideration in this regard.

Baroness Williams also made it clear there was nothing to stop combined authorities having both a mayor and a police commissioner.

The Bill also enables secondary legislation to be made which creates the position of mayor for the area of the combined authority, while retaining a separate position of the police and crime commissioner for the policing area.

Baroness Williams faced criticism from Labour and Liberal Democrat peers over the power to be given to a mayor to appoint a deputy. There were also concerns that a mayor might be forced to appoint a deputy from a different political party if the choice was limited solely to combined authority council leaders and that this could make efficient governance difficult.

Lord Beecham (Lab) warned of “a massive concentration of power in the hands of an elected mayor”. He added:

It is an unacceptable vesting of power, which he can delegate to anybody, in effect, whom he chooses. The very authorities that have blazed the trail of innovation that led to this Bill in the Greater Manchester area did so without this effectively unfettered power.

The great local government leaders of the past—from Joseph Chamberlain to Herbert Morrison and others —did not have such power. It is unnecessary for the Bill to include that measure.

He was supported by Lord Shipley (Lib Dem) who called for the appointment of a deputy mayor to be approved by a combined authority scrutiny committee.

Baroness Williams indicated that the Government would not back down over the issue.

It would be wrong in both principle and practice for the members of the combined authority to have an ultimate say over who is the deputy mayor, which would be the case if this amendment were made. It is wrong in principle since the mayor, with his or her mandate, needs to be able to have a say over who is the deputy who will assist the mayor to deliver what he or she has promised the voters.

It is wrong in practice, since giving the members of a combined authority the ultimate say as to whether a person can or cannot be deputy opens up the possibility of appointments being made which would frustrate or hinder the mayor and create division almost from the outset.

Requiring the combined authority to consent to the deputy mayor’s appointment is not a sensible check or balance on the exercise of executive functions. It risks creating arrangements which frustrate the exercise of these powers.

She confirmed that a mayor may at any time remove the deputy mayor from office and appoint a successor. She added:

For an effective partnership and the successful devolution of powers, the relationship between the mayor and deputy needs to work. The requirement for an overview and scrutiny committee to approve the appointment, and to have the power to void it, may frustrate and very much damage this relationship.

Could the mayor make an unpopular appointment? He could, but it would be a very foolish mayor who made an unpopular appointment or chose someone who did not resonate and engage with the other members of the combined authority.

Baroness Williams concluded:

We need to remember the purpose of all this. It is not about forms of governance for their own sake. It is about putting in place the governance needed to support that devolution of powers which is now so urgently needed if this country is to achieve the economic competitiveness and productivity on which the prosperity of all depends.

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