What makes a great metro mayor and what does business want them to deliver

3 min read

Dubbed super Thursday, polling day gave 20 million people the chance to elect seven metro mayors across England including in Greater Manchester and Tees Valley. And for the first time a new metro mayor of West Yorkshire was also elected.

With varying power levels and budgets in each devolved area, it’s interesting to consider what makes a great metro mayor? For the new incumbents, their first 100 days could ultimately end up defining their long-term success.

As such, it’s crucial they hit the ground running, establishing positive relationships and credibility not just with the electorate but with the wider community including local authorities and businesses.

Businesses including those in the construction industry are the backbone of our economy and for those mayors in the northern powerhouse, a failure to understand the issues facing businesses large and small will come at a huge cost to our post-pandemic recovery.

So, what does the business community want to see from mayors, particularly across the north?

The pandemic has had catastrophic impacts on communities and economies around the world, but Covid-19 hasn’t affected all people and all regions equally.

Inequalities such as health and employment opportunities that existed in the UK pre-pandemic have been exacerbated pushing communities in the North and Midlands even further behind.

Mace has long argued for the need for levelling-up the UK which has become a key objective of the government through various funding envelopes such as the Levelling Up Fund.

The most successful mayors will be those that address inequality by improving the quality of people’s lives and delivering sustainable economic growth that will help the UK to ‘build back better’ but crucially not just rebuild as before.

Priorities for business will always hinge on economic growth framed by rebuilding our towns and cities and investing in our high streets and digital technologies.

A recent report from the Centre for Cities found wide support for helping businesses with 47% of respondents saying metro mayors should prioritise offering more support for businesses as we transition back to the ‘new normal’.

But to be truly impactful and create thriving, stable economies primed for investment and business growth our northern mayors need to look at what success looks like beyond their political boundaries and across the North as a whole.

The UK is a highly geographically-imbalanced economy, with most of the output and highest productivity levels centred around London and the South East.

Productivity is a reliable indicator for the relative success of a region correlated to life quality and chances, disposable income, education and crime rates.

For many it will be no surprise that the most recent Index of Multiple Deprivation shows that 18 of the 20 most deprived neighbourhoods are in the North of England.

Yet, fundamental shifts in how we all live and work offer great opportunities for our northern mayors to help shape our towns and cities for the better, spreading economic activity more evenly and increasing productivity levels.

If metro mayors take decisive action to improve skills, transport infrastructure, digital connectivity and investment levels a 1% increase in productivity would generate a 1.5% increase in real wage growth.

Raising the economic output per head in the north from its current value of £21,555 to the UK average of £26,625 would mean an extra £70 billion of output.

Thereby, levelling up productivity in the North and Midlands would produce an extra £110bn of economic output giving workers a pay rise of £8,400 per person, per year.

All the mayors in their election campaigns spoke on the importance of job creation, skills development and employment opportunities.

Upskilling and retraining those who are unemployed or have lost their jobs because of the pandemic will be key, particularly in looking to the prospect of a green revolution.

Mayors have the power to drive inward investment and channel government funds as well as champion funding for local authorities.

Infrastructure projects are broadly accepted as a good way to stimulate economic growth and job creation but not all schemes are created equal.

By embedding social value and investing in ‘shovel-worthy’ rather than ‘shovel-ready’ schemes, mayors, in partnership with the public and private sector can help deliver the greatest outcomes and benefits for their communities through the creation of quality net zero homes, schools and hospitals.

Working together across the North, mayors can create infrastructure masterplans demonstrating ‘joined-up thinking’ between cities and towns, maximising the effectiveness of investments such as cross-county rail and bus links.

And while the metro mayors will need to tackle local issues, whether that’s confidence in policing in Greater Manchester, unemployment and skill shortages in Tees Valley and the West Midlands or a lack of transport infrastructure in West Yorkshire, their greatest success will come by working together.

By combining their efforts, northern mayors will be able to shout the loudest and influence funding and investment.

Many will remember the moment when cagoule-clad Andy Burnham stood on the steps of Manchester Town Hall and delivered the ‘King of the North’ speech calling on the government for more money and support during the pandemic.

More recently the metro mayors of Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester joined together with the leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, Local Enterprise Partnerships, energy and infrastructure providers and business leaders earlier this year to launch plans to make the North West the first net zero region by 2040.

Future actions like this will help show that the North is very much at the centre of our economy and can go beyond operating on a ‘level’ playing field to being a driving, leading force in the UK’s future.