Devolution: the next five years and beyond Contents

5Governance and accountability

65.The Devolution Bill provides for the creation of directly-elected mayors and requires combined authorities to have in place overview and scrutiny arrangements. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) referred to this as a “framework” for governance which allows for stronger arrangements to be created by secondary legislation.151 The Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS), however, argued that requiring elected mayors and overview and scrutiny committees may lead to combined authorities approaching governance as a “matter of compliance, where no further thought is required”.152 It also said that the approach taken to governance was “one-size-fits-all” and that one form of governance will not be equally appropriate in all areas.153 The New Local Government Network was similarly concerned that governance and accountability would not receive the attention required due to the sheer pace of the devolution process.154

Directly-elected mayors

66.The Government has consistently linked directly-elected mayors to devolving a full package of powers to local areas, particularly cities,155 and has articulated two reasons for this; “proper democratic direct accountability”156 for the powers being devolved and the “success of international city and metro mayors”, such as Rahm Emanuel, the Mayor of Chicago, Rudy Giuliani in New York, Bertrand Delanoë in Paris and London’s Boris Johnson.157 We were told, however, that only about four of the 15 international mayors that are held up as examples by the Government are “genuinely directly elected”.158

Attitudes to directly-elected mayors

67.The Government’s policy on elected mayors has attracted a great deal of attention, so much so that one of our witnesses said that “all our concerns and energies have been focused on the elected mayor issue and not on wider issues of local democracy”.159 The submissions we received did not come down overwhelmingly for or against elected mayors. Indeed, much of the evidence supported elected mayors160 as a means of providing visible leadership and accountability. Several times, though, we heard that local areas should be free to decide whether an elected mayor was the right model of governance for their area.161

68.The witnesses who had been involved in negotiating deals for their local areas had a pragmatic attitude to having an elected mayor. The Chief Executive of Wakefield Council, Joanne Roney, saw extra devolved powers as worth having in return for an elected mayor.162 Cllr Sue Jeffrey, the Leader of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, said that, for the Tees Valley, “It is a price we are having to have, so we will make it work”.163 They had decided their mayor would be a figurehead for inward investment, economic development and skills and someone you “pick the phone up and talk to if you want to do business with the Tees Valley”.164 Cllr Kieran Quinn, Leader of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, said that the elected mayor in Greater Manchester was a “trade off” in return for more powers165 but also acknowledged that s/he would be a “go-to voice for Greater Manchester”.166 However, when we asked the Greater Manchester leaders whether they would have accepted an alternative to an elected mayor, they said ‘yes’ without hesitation.167

Non-metropolitan areas

69.Whatever the deal on offer, elected mayors were much less acceptable to non-metropolitan areas. Cllr John Pollard, the Leader of Cornwall Council, told us there was no appetite for a directly elected mayor anywhere in Cornwall.168 Cllr Paul Carter, the Chair of the County Councils Network, said he hoped the vast majority of the members of his organisation would be very concerned about elected mayors.169 We heard that the geography of an area played a part in whether a mayor was suitable. South East England Councils said that the “scale, geography, mix of unitary and two-tier councils and variation between urban and rural areas in the South East mean there is little support for elected mayors”.170 Ed Cox, the Director of IPPR North, thought that elected mayors could work in non-metropolitan areas with a single urban centre but said that:

That does not pertain in most non-metropolitan areas, where you have multiple centres of economic activity. Very often, if we are talking about places like Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, you have a very weak single identity or multiple identities, modest powers being offered and already quite complex arrangements. In those circumstances, it is not necessarily ideal to have a metro mayor.171

The Government clearly expects cities to accept an elected mayor, but whether this is also expected of non-metropolitan areas is less clear. We asked the Minister for Local Growth and the Northern Powerhouse, James Wharton MP, whether, after Cornwall, non-metropolitan areas would still be expected to have a mayor but he would only say:

We have been very clear that where metropolitan and more urban areas want a package of powers akin to that in Greater Manchester, there will be an expectation that a mayor is part of the package. Of course, devolution is a voluntary process. No area is forced to do it but, when they want those sorts of significant packages, the expectation that a mayor will be part of it is a reasonable one.172

IPPR North has called for the Government to “accept (or deny) that an elected mayor might not be the best model of governance for counties” and “demonstrate genuine openness to alternative models”.173 The Leader of Cornwall said that their alternative model “of a strong leader, a cabinet and accountability to full council, full council being the sovereign body” worked for Cornwall.174

70.International comparisons aside, we heard evidence that there are benefits to be gained from having an elected mayor; for example leadership, strong accountability and a ‘go to’ voice for business. However, we believe elected mayors are likely to be better suited to urban areas. The scale, geography and economic diversity of non-metropolitan areas mean elected mayors are unlikely to be an easy fit. Local areas should be allowed to decide whether or not they wish to have an elected mayor. Those which do not want an elected mayor, but nonetheless want substantial devolved powers, should be allowed to propose an equally strong alternative model of governance.

71.Cllr Carter identified another issue with elected mayors in non-metropolitan areas:

We are in danger of having four tiers of government. We have towns and parishes; we have districts and boroughs; and we have the county. Do we need another tier of governance on top of that, through a directly elected mayor’s office? I do not think we do.175

When we asked the Minister whether four tiers of local government was too many, he said:

It might be; it might not. It is not for me, as part of the devolution process, to tell areas how many tiers of government they should have. Of course, there is scope for areas to look at rationalisation of government, again by agreement, and to have the sort of model they want to have.176

In fact, where a combined authority has been created, the mayor could be seen as a fifth tier of local government. Aside from the potential for confusion, which we discuss below, we think that the public will probably be left feeling that there is too much bureaucracy and too many politicians. There is a risk that this could lead to low turnouts at mayoral elections, which would have implications for the democratic legitimacy of elected mayors. This is a consequence that needs to be addressed in the long-term, possibly by a move to having more unitary authorities.


72.The Devolution Bill requires each combined authority to establish at least one overview and scrutiny committee, consisting of backbench councillors from the constituent councils, to review and scrutinise its decisions and actions and those of the elected mayor. The CfPS was critical, saying that this system will not be appropriate for every combined authority:

Committees bringing together councillors from a range of authorities, who may be geographically dispersed over a large area, can be very difficult to manage; areas may be able to develop governance approaches which may be more proportionate and effective.177

73.The CfPS believes that better governance could be developed and agreed upon as a result of discussions at local level.178 Lord Kerslake, the CfPS’ Chair, described how this could happen:

Each area, each combined authority, should develop a clear governance framework that is mutually agreed across the key partners. That should address explicitly the issues of how overview and scrutiny will work, how those who are not councillors can contribute to that debate, and how this will be reviewed and refreshed over time. You would not set out a single model of how it should be done, but you would require the local leadership to consciously address the issue, agree between them how it is going to work and, indeed, hold with that model and agree changes only through the overview and scrutiny committee.179

74.Other witnesses saw scrutiny as an opportunity to use creative ways to reinvigorate local democracy; for example, Ed Cox suggested combined authorities could have second chambers made up of people from the business and voluntary and community sector and citizens’ panels.180 Cllr Pollard described how Cornwall was involving their MPs, as well as the council, in monitoring.181 The Greater Manchester leaders told us that scrutiny arrangements there had improved as a result of devolution; Cllr Quinn said that “devolution has slowed down our process of governance to make sure that what we are now governing is far stronger and robust”.182

75.In the Tees Valley, we heard that it is intended that the mayor will be part of a team and would be “working collectively with the [council] leaders”.183 However, Lord Kerslake thought that “it would be unwise to assume that directly elected mayors will simply be quasi leaders. They could well establish a profile and a position that is well beyond that”.184 Darren Johnson, the Chair of the London Assembly, reflected on the need for robust scrutiny arrangements to hold the mayor to account:

Once you have an individual who is elected, who comes in with their own agenda and the electorate vote in someone with a very powerful mandate, the dynamic changes altogether. Whatever is written down on the agreement in paper as part of the deal could really change once you have a real live person in office who has made some genuine pledges to the electorate and been voted in on those. It changes the dynamic enormously, which is why the scrutiny arrangements are crucial in this.185

Sir Edward Lister, the Deputy Mayor of London, described the effects of being subject to robust scrutiny, saying “It always sharpens one up” and “makes us think very carefully about the budgets as we put them through as we do need one third of the assembly to support the Mayor”.186

76.Several of our witnesses highlighted the issue of resourcing for scrutiny. Professor Colin Copus of De Montfort University commented that local authority scrutiny receives less resources and support than executives.187 Cllr Sue Jeffrey said:

What makes overview and scrutiny work is resources. It has to be properly resourced. The thing that concerns me about the combined authorities is the level of resource that is going to be available to them to do jobs like overview and scrutiny going forward. If it is going to be expected to do it on a shoestring, it is going to make that very difficult.188

77.As the DCLG says, the overview and scrutiny requirements in the Bill are an initial framework to be used as a basis for more robust provisions, which we believe have a role in fostering public confidence in the new arrangements, as well as balancing vested interests. These should be developed to suit the characteristics of the local areas as a result of deliberate efforts to hold active discussions at local level, with residents involved in designing new and more open methods of scrutiny. Local areas need to give active consideration to how the mayor will work with the council leaders and how s/he will be held to account. Although the elected mayor is intended to be a ‘first among equals’, s/he may soon establish, or already have, a profile and position which makes this balance difficult to achieve.

Potential for confusion

78.From what we have seen and heard, we are very concerned that the public will not understand who will be responsible for what in their local area. The Devolution Bill makes a distinction between the powers of the mayor and those of the combined authority which translates into the mayor and the combined authority being responsible for different services. For example, in Greater Manchester, the interim mayor is responsible for transport, but not health, which is within Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s remit. Some witnesses argued that this is not a problem in London where the Mayor of London’s responsibilities differ from those of the London Boroughs.189 But Alexandra Jones, the Chief Executive of the Centre for Cities, said this will need to be tackled as part of the “public education programme” around devolution190 and Professor Copus said that “the mayor, counties and the districts have to be prepared to point people in the right direction”.191 When we put our concerns to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, he said that it would be “for that mayor to make very clear the platform on which they stand and the things they are doing in office”.192

79.There will be a complex division of responsibility between local authorities, the combined authority and the elected mayor which will not necessarily be apparent to the public. However, as the figurehead, people are going to hold the elected mayor accountable, regardless of whether or not s/he has responsibility. As a result, careful thought needs to be given to determining the division of responsibility in a way that provides a coherent set of powers and makes sense to the public; this should be an integral part of the deal-making process with the division of responsibilities written into the deal.

151 Department for Communities and Local Government (DEV 027) para 44

152 Centre for Public Scrutiny (DEV 041)

153 Centre for Public Scrutiny (DEV 041)

154 New Local Government Network (DEV 053) para 17

155 HC Deb, 14 October 2015, col 420 [Commons Chamber] and oral evidence taken on 15 September 2015, HC (2015-16) 355, Q19

156 Q283

157 Department for Communities and Local Government (DEV 027) paras 21-22

158 Q176

159 Q184

160 See, for example, Professor Colin Copus (DEV 019); IPPR North (DEV 029) para 3.5; Q12 [Ms A Jones]

161 Local Government Association (DEV 021) para 6.4 and the Centre for Public Scrutiny (DEV 041)

162 Q91

163 Q177

164 Q180

165 Q59

166 Q61

167 Q60 [Cllr S Derbyshire, Cllr K Quinn]

168 Q137

169 Q136

170 County Councils Network (DEV 052)

171 Q176

172 Q 282

174 Q137

175 Q136

176 Q283

177 Centre for Public Scrutiny (DEV 041)

178 Centre for Public Scrutiny (DEV 041)

179 Q184 [Lord Kerslake]

180 Q184 [Mr E Cox]

181 Q156

182 Q59

183 Q175 [Cllr S Jeffrey]

184 Q175 [Lord Kerslake]

185 Q204

186 Q207

187 Q34

188 Q185

189 See, for example, Q38 and Q175

190 Q38 [Ms A Jones]

191 Q38 [Professor C Copus]

192 Q289

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 29 January 2016