Mayoral elections for the Sheffield City Region (SCR) will take place on 3rd May 2018. In the run-up to the elections we’ll be sharing our insights into the opportunities and challenges of devolution, the role of a city region Mayor, and the considerations – beyond the party-political lines – for local residents (and that includes us here at 50 Degrees ‘Towers’).
By way of a bit of background, we were heavily involved (working will brilliant local public service leaders including James Binks, Geoff Little, James Farr, Matt Ainsworth et al) in the Greater Manchester devolution proposals for welfare, employment and skills. This work included the design of Working Well, now the largest devolved employment programme in the UK… in its latest guise as the Work and Health Programme.
Now the context this side of the Pennines is, as ever, different. There’s the stop-start nature of the implementation of the Devolution Agreement; the ‘will we won’t we?’ One Yorkshire devolution agreement; and competing Local Authorities challenging the scope of the city region. All these things, alongside a national focus on Brexit and a much more lukewarm response to devolution under May’s government, mean that there is – certainly from our perspective – a ‘so what?’ factor and a definite feeling of election fatigue.
So, what are some of the early things to consider as potential candidates start to float their manifesto ideas?
Firstly, the extent to which candidates propose commitments which are outside of their remit. In Greater Manchester the Mayor, Andy Burnham, placed a significant focus on homelessness as part of his campaign. Yet, the Mayor’s Office has no statutory responsibility for homelessness and therefore came into direct conflict with Local Authorities’ responsibilities, resulting in some difficult and testing negotiations!
Secondly, the relationship between the Mayor’s Office, the Combined Authority and each Local Authority in the city region. Does the candidate have the interpersonal skills to develop consensus, negotiate, and engage in the hard slog of grown-up public service reform? Yes, SCR needs a strong and visible leader than can more effectively put it on the map, but, the Mayor’s Office is not an island, and it will need to work collaboratively if it is to deliver on its mandate.
And third, can the candidate bring the ‘warring factions’ in South Yorkshire together and present a more mature organisation that government can do business with? Or, at least – and this was the secret to Greater Manchester’s success – hide the arguments and disagreements behind closed doors to present a united front to government and wider stakeholders?
We’ll be watching with interest to see how these issues play out in the run up to the election, and we’ll provide further updates on what developments will mean for SCR’s residents.