If local authorities want the best devolution deals they must still agree to an elected mayor, a minister has said.
The chief secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke, told the Yorkshire Post that the best devolution deals required a directly elected mayor – a very similar line to the Treasury’s position under the previous chancellor, George Osborne.
Key figures in the sector appear to have resigned themselves to accepting this position, with Bristol mayor Labour's Marvin Rees describing metro mayors as ‘the pill’ you have to take to get further devolution. Mr Rees made the comment at a Conservative Party conference fringe event.
LGA chairman Lord Porter
Mr Gauke said the Government was engaging with local authorities and encouraging them to look at the advantages of devolution with mayors.
‘For those areas that don’t want to go down that route we will look at the devolution options that are there, but to get the most powers you need the best accountability and that’s delivered by directly elected mayors,’ he said.
Speaking at a Conservative conference fringe meeting organised by the think tank Centre for Cities, Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, said a part of the job of an elected mayor would be to take the blame when things went wrong.
Lord Porter pointed out that a directly elected mayor could potentially have a number of benefits. An independent figure, he said, might be able to settle arguments when councillors are ‘fighting like cats and dogs’. He added that a charismatic mayor may be a draw for investment.
While recognising that elected mayors are a prerequisite for significant devolution deals, Lord Porter said local authorities should not be foreced to have mayors if they don't want them.
He also added that the name ‘mayor’ might be confusing for people because there are already a number of different models of mayor, with different roles.
Francesca Gains, professor of public policy at the University of Manchester, outlined some of the advantages of the Government's metro mayor plans.
She said they would make local government more accountable and improve transparency. Mayors are also a useful focal point so that business knows who they should lobby, she said.