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Who are the new metro mayors and what do they want to achieve?

Who are the new metro mayors and what do they want to achieve?

10th May 2017

Last Thursday, 4th May, voters across the country turned out to the polls to elect new ‘metro mayors’ in six key areas. The new combined authority mayors, known as metro mayors, have been introduced as part of the Government’s devolution agenda, with the aim of allowing regional authorities to take on more functional control over their areas than previously allowed.

Metro mayors, each with a tailored devolution deal for their area, present the opportunity for regional funding to be appropriately channelled to address the most pressing issues within each combined authority. Metro mayors will have a variety powers over areas including housing, transport and skills. They are also responsible for establishing a strategy to grow their region’s economy.

A number of key themes emerged from the campaigns and manifestos of the mayoral candidates. Notably, there was a cross-party overlap from both Labour and Conservative candidates on issues such as housing, transport and skills. Primarily, all candidates asserted their readiness to prioritise the health, wellbeing and prosperity of their region’s residents foremost.

Education and Skills

With each metro mayor receiving an adult skills budget – and the majority also empowered with apprenticeships grants for employers and control over the post-16 further education system – education and skills policy is sure to be central to all six regions.

The Skills Commission’s recent Spotlight report focussed on lifelong learning for older workers. Read it here.

Its previous Spotlight report covered the prospects of young people with below average academic attainment. Read that here.

Housing – planning & sustainability

Housing also proved a substantial part of mayoral campaigns, with extensive powers being devolved in this area to the winners. These include hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment into strategic housing planning. Issues of sustainability were mentioned within housing strategies, but wider sustainability issues such green energy were disappointingly absent amongst victors’ pledges.

Carbon Connect has published a report on the future of electricity, including a part on the future of renewables as an energy source. Read it here.

On housing, the Design Commission recently published People and Places, a report on the impact of the built environment on the residents within it. Read that here.

The Westminster Sustainable Business Forum published its Warmer and Greener report on housing infrastructure in terms of energy efficiency and sustainability last year. Read here.


So – who are the new metro mayors? And what do they want to achieve?



Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham (Lab) – Greater Manchester

Focus: Health and social care; education and skills

Given the central position of health in Greater Manchester’s devolution deal, it is fortunate that Andy Burnham has an experienced background in health policy, having been Health Secretary under Gordon Brown, and then Shadow Health Secretary from 2011 to 2015. With control over a £6bn health and social care budget, health policy will continue to be at the forefront of his political consciousness in his role as mayor.

The Greater Manchester combined authority will also have control of the adult skills budget, and Burnham will have powers over employers’ apprenticeships grants. Lifelong learning and apprenticeships have been key agendas in the education and skills sector as of late – these powers, also granted to most other mayors, suggest that they will remain so.



Andy Street

Andy Street (Con) – West Midlands

Focus: Education and skills; economic growth

Andy Street’s strength lies in his business acumen – former managing director of John Lewis, he was also chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership. He will manage a £1.1bn 30-year investment fund into the West Midlands combined authority, which is the largest investment fund allocated to a metro mayor this year, as well as around £8bn worth of funding for skills, housing, transport and healthcare.

With a lower-than-average employment rate in the West Midlands, education and skills will be amongst the very top priorities during his mayoralty. Within his campaign manifesto, Street vowed to increase and improve skills provision: amongst other pledges, he proposes the creation of a West Midlands Skills Fund from the £150-180 million Apprenticeship Levy.



Steve Rotheram

Steve Rotheram (Lab) – Liverpool City Region

Focus: Housing; sustainability

Steve Rotheram was the MP for Liverpool Walton from 2010 to 2017, before which he served as Lord Mayor of Liverpool from 2008 to 2009. His background in construction (Rotheram set up a building company at age 22) is reflected in his prioritisation of housing in his campaign manifesto. His manifesto pledges include launching a Metro Mayor’s Housing Challenge Competition to identify and pilot new ways to meet housing needs.

Rotheram is also keen to leverage Liverpool’s existing waterways, docks and infrastructure to prioritise green energy. His manifesto includes propositions to develop a solar energy strategy for the region, form an investment fund for new renewable and community energy initiatives, and to deliver more electric charging points across the region.



Tim Bowles

Tim Bowles (Con) – West of England

Focus: Transport; affordable housing

Tim Bowles was previously elected as a local councillor in 2010 and 2015 for Winterbourne in South Gloucestershire. Prioritised within his campaign was regional transport and infrastructure – Bowles pledged to back major transport infrastructure such as the A36/46 link road and Avon Ring Road. He also emphasised rail, vowing to renovate the local network by increasing local services – vital regional transport schemes must be “strongly championed,” he stated.

On housing, Bowles backed the promotion of urban regeneration sites to build affordable homes and protect green fields. He detailed in his manifesto the ambition to ease the pressure for green field development, stating that brownfield regeneration sites are often not fully exhausted.



James Palmer

James Palmer (Con) – Cambridgeshire & Peterborough

Focus: Infrastructure; education

James Palmer was elected as leader of the East Cambridgeshire District Council in 2013, before which he was elected a county councillor in the same district in 2007. His devolution deal includes a £600 million 30-year investment fund, as well as a £170 million affordable housing grant.

Infrastructure is at the top of the agenda for Palmer’s mayoralty. His campaign website states: “I have battled against delays and bureaucracy to get new roads, homes and leisure facilities built – often against the odds. I know what works, what doesn’t and how to improve things quickly.” Specifically, Palmer wishes to form new rail links and establish a university in Peterborough, as well as to tackle congestion in Cambridge with “innovative solutions”.



Ben Houchen

Ben Houchen (Con) – Tees Valley

Focus: Transport; policing

Unexpected winner Ben Houchen was previously a councillor for Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, and leader of its Conservative group. His campaign saw promises to buy Durham Tees Valley airport in order to improve it. Houchen also expressed his desire to set up an independent commission to assess the structure of the regional police force, as well as an aspiration to bring more foreign investment into the area.

Houchen’s campaign was less specific than other candidates’ in terms of quantifiable policy offer, but he promised to deliver “change where it’s needed and continuity where it works”.


 Leadership in  FE & Skills by the Skills Commission

Past reports by Policy Connect’s team have explored devolution in relation to various policy areas. People and Places by the Design Commission, for example, examines the prospect of further devolved powers for local authorities to improve their built environment. The Skills Commission’s Going Places report similarly states the potential for devolution to improve skills provision regionally, with its co-chairs deeming devolution a “striking opportunity to boost regional employers, SMEs and providers’ links, and fill skills gaps specific to regions.”

The introduction of metro mayors is an exercise in decentralisation which offers promise. But whilst the prospect of increased devolution to better address regional issues is encouraging, it is essential for devolved authorities to be adequately empowered and funded. Whether the funding and regional powers possessed by metro mayors will sufficiently fulfil this requirement remains to be seen.