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Voters warming to Metro Mayor….but only after they are told what one is

Voters warming to Metro Mayor….but only after they are told what one is

🕔12.May 2016

The idea of an elected metro mayor overseeing the West Midlands Combined Authority is gathering public support, but only after people are told about the plan, a new survey has found.

In the first indication that voters are beginning to warm to the mayoral system, 53 per cent of people questioned in a Centre for Cities/ComRes poll said the new mayor should have greater powers than local council leaders when he or she takes office in May 2017.

Only a quarter of adults in the region opposed the idea.

However, fewer than half of those questioned were aware that the West Midlands will have a mayor. In Birmingham, 43 per cent said they were either very familiar or fairly familiar with the idea. In Sandwell, Solihull and Walsall, the pollsters struggled to find anyone who was very familiar with the mayoral issue.

Only after ComRes prompted respondents by telling them the West Midlands is to have a mayor did a majority agree the mayor should have substantial powers.

The findings go some way to challenging a generally held perception among political commentators and many politicians that there is widespread public suspicion of elected mayors.

But the poll shows clearly – in common with elected Police and Crime Commissioners – most people know little about metro mayors, raising questions over the likely voter turnout across the West Midlands at next year’s mayoral election.

Last week’s election for the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner was marked by a large number of spoilt ballot papers, possibly indicating public unease over PCCs.

The Centre for Cities/ComRes study shows support for a metro mayor is strongest in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Sandwell, and weakest in Coventry where a virulent anti-mayor campaign has been running.

But even in Coventry, 47 per cent said they either strongly agreed or tended to agree that a mayor was a good idea and should have more powers than local councillors, with 33 per cent taking the opposite view.

Bob Sleigh, the leader of Solihull council and chair of the shadow WMCA, said:

It’s still early days, and we’ll be consulting on Mayoral powers over the summer, but this is encouraging news and I’m pleased that there is already some public backing for an elected Mayor in the West Midlands.

The poll is published today by the think tank Centre for Cities, an organisation strongly supportive of elected mayors.

Just over 500 people were questioned in a weighted survey across the seven West Midlands councils last month.

The results indicate strong public backing for the new mayor to take the lead in addressing critical issues such as housing and transport in the city-region.

In particular, the polling shows that residents in the West Midlands want the new mayor to take steps to build more affordable housing – with half of adults (48%) saying this should be one of the top three priorities for mayor in the first 100 days in office.

Investing in roads and rail was the number one priority for 10 per cent.

Creating a city-region strategic plan, to make decisions over major developments and infrastructure, was also highlighted as a key issue for the new mayor, with half of adults in the West Midlands (44%) ranking this in their top three priorities for the new mayor.

The polling also shows that ‘Oyster-style’ smart ticketing for public transport is not seen as an immediate priority by the public – with only three per cent of adults across the city-region saying this issue should be at the top of new mayor’s to-do list.

Centre for Cities has warned that in order to demonstrate strong leadership, the new West Midlands city-region mayor will need to navigate the constraints of the Government’s devolution deal – which also introduce a cabinet of local councillors, who can veto some mayoral decisions with a two thirds majority.

To be effective, the new mayor will have to work with local councillors, while also taking advantage of the significant mandate given to them by voters.

Commenting on the polling, Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive of the Centre for Cities, said:

Critics of the Government’s devolution agenda often deride the new metro-mayors as a top-down imposition on UK cities – but this polling shows there is clear public support for a strong mayor to take the lead in the West Midlands, and to act on behalf of local people in addressing important issues such as housing and transport.

While checks-and-balances are rightly built into the West Midlands devolution deal, it’s vital that the new mayor has scope to take decisive action to support job creation, build homes and raise wages in the city-region. For that to happen, councillors should exercise their veto sparingly.

The impetus will also be on the new mayor to take full advantage of his or her considerable mandate – having been elected by hundreds of thousands of people – to act boldly and decisively, so that they can deliver on the issues that can make the biggest difference to people living across the West Midlands.

The main political parties will select candidates to run for West Midlands’ mayor later in the year.

Whoever gets the job, the biggest local government post outside of London, will chair the combined authority cabinet of council leaders and oversee an £8 billion devolution deal.

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