Voters want metro mayor ‘to have more powers than council leaders’, poll shows
In less than 10-months’ time, the West Midlands – from the Black Country, through Birmingham and Solihull, and into Coventry; an area with a population of over 2.6 million and an economy larger than that of Wales – will be led by a directly elected Metro Mayor.
Respected think tank Centre for Cities has polled residents in the city-region to find out what they know about and want from the mayor. Contrary to the claim by many politicians that people are suspicious of change and want the mayor’s powers to be limited, the poll showed citizens think that a more powerful mayor focused on housing and drawing up a regional strategic plan should be a priority.
Tomorrow evening, Thursday 21st July, Centre for Cities will be in Birmingham with Gisela Stuart MP, Paul Faulkner, Chief Executive of the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, and Marc Reeves, Editor of the Birmingham Mail (and formerly of this parish) to discuss the results of this poll and what faces the new metro mayor in their first 100 days. Click here to sign up and join the event.
The analysis of Centre for Cities supports devolving powers over the economy to the level at which people live their lives – local boundaries mean little to someone whose home is in Walsall, shops in Birmingham, and works in Wolverhampton.
But that requires someone accountable to the whole city-region to make the – often difficult – decisions that will bring greatest benefit to the whole city-region.
Yesterday, Labour mayoral hopeful Siôn Simon told Chamberlain Files that he didn’t want to be all-powerful if he is elected, and he was “OK with” council leaders having a veto over the mayor’s powers.
However, the Centre for Cities poll showed that people across the West Midlands wanted more powers for the mayor beyond those given to council leaders.
There is a clear danger that if the final legislation makes it too easy for local council leaders to constrict the mayor’s freedom to manoeuvre in using those powers, then one of the major benefits of devolution will have been lost.
And whilst clipping the new mayor’s wings may be in the short-term interests of existing local and national politicians, that is not what the public wants to see happen according to the think tank’s research.
The poll of 514 adults in the West Midlands asked what their priorities are for the region, and what issues should be at the top of the new Metro Mayor’s inbox come 2017. You can download a factsheet with the findings here. Below are four observations from the poll:
1.The West Midlands wants a powerful local leader.
Despite the challenges of balancing the kinds of perceptions and priorities set out above, the polling suggests the new metro mayor will enjoy public backing to enact their plans, with over half agreeing that the new metro mayor should have more powers than existing local council leaders, and just a quarter disagreeing.
To what extent, if at all, do you agree or disagree that the new Mayor should have greater powers than local council leaders?
2. Many West Midlands city region residents are not yet aware of the metro mayor.
But while interest and awareness are sure to develop as campaigns get underway and candidates begin talking to voters about their plans, as of May nearly 3 in 5 adults said they were unfamiliar with the plans for a new mayor while 2 in 5 said that they were familiar with the plans.
To what extent, if at all, were you previously familiar or unfamiliar with the plans to introduce a new Mayor for the city-region?
The think tank’s previous research has shown that skills levels remain a significant challenge for the city region, as 15.5 per cent of residents have no formal qualifications and just 53.75 per cent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs. Although this was not reflected in the polling (with only one-in-10 respondents prioritising working with colleges), improving skills will be key to capitalising on developments such as the knowledge quarter in attracting businesses and ensuring the city has the qualified workers for the new high skilled jobs the city needs.
4. Affordable housing and a city-region strategic plan are the top priority for residents.
Of the powers that the Mayor will have on taking office next May, respondents were clear that building or commissioning affordable housing and creating a strategic plan should be the top priority. Housing in the city is, however, relatively affordable compared with elsewhere in the country – with homes in Birmingham on average 7.3 times greater than average local income. In Coventry the ratio is 6.7, and these numbers compare with 9.8 times incomes nationally. Clearly balancing the electorate’s demands with local economic priorities will be crucial for the metro Mayor to be viewed positively in their first term.
Of the powers that the new Mayor will have, which of the following issues, if any, do you think should be her/his top priority in their first 100 days?
Data Source (all questions): ComRes, n=514.
Centre for Cities will be doing more polling and holding more events in the West Midlands in the run-up to the vote next May. Chamberlain Files, and publisher RJF Public Affairs, will continue to work closely with the think tank.
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