Propagating political power

Alongside the local elections on 4 May, six new mayors were elected to lead the combined authority in their region. With powers over transport, planning and housing, Government Business looks at the leaders, and what their priorities are

Combined authorities are groups of councils working together to assume powers, devolved from central government, over matters such as transport, housing, planning, skills and economic development. With six regions, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West of England and West Midlands, granted a 30-year investment fund, the scope for political change is wide, yet the assurance of change unknown.

A few details were made public before the elections, with the Greater Manchester mayor adopting the powers of the region's elected Police and Crime Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, as well as control of a £6 billion health and social care budget.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

James Palmer, Conservative - 56.9 per cent of the vote

After no candidate for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority received more than 50 per cent of the vote, James Palmer, leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, beat Liberal Democrat candidate Rod Cantrill on the second round of votes, following a turn out of 33.8 per cent - the highest turn out of any of the six regions.

A former dairy business owner, Palmer will oversee a devolution deal worth £800 million in public funds, including 30 years' worth of investment in infrastructure and housing, control over education, skills, housing, planning and transport as well as powers over planning for health and social care. In his campaigning before the election, Palmer said he would focus upon upgrading the county's transport infrastructure.

Other priorities that are expected to be pursued during his time in office are house building in the region, protecting the green belt and drawing on what he calls the ‘Cambridge effect’ to persuade global businesses to base themselves in the area. Looking to unite Cambridge and Peterborough, there remains the possibility that the new mayor may give his support to a new university for Peterborough.

Palmer’s success in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoral elections heralded a good day for the Conservative Party in the region, with the party also winning control of Cambridgeshire County Council.

Greater Manchester

Andy Burnham, Labour - 63 per cent of the vote

With turnout of 28.6 per cent, Burnham, the former Labour MP for Leigh, recieved 63.4 per cent of the vote, defeating Conservative candidate Sean Anstee and the Liberal Democrat’s Jane Bophy. With an election manifesto that placed young people and air quality at its heart, the former Labour leadership candidate has been quick to kick start his policy roll out, launching a fund to tackle homelessness and pledging 15 per cent of his £110,000 salary to get it up and running, in a bid to end rough sleeping in Manchester by 2020. The support scheme will also return empty properties to use, build specialised supported accommodation for young people and enhance mental health and rehabilitation programmes.

Amongst other policies that residents should look out for are a university-style application system for apprenticeships, half-price travel on buses and the Metrolink for 16 to 18-year-olds, an emphasis on bus use and more cycle lanes and the building of affordable homes and ‘revitalised’ town centres.

Greater Manchester, which covers the 10 borough councils of Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside Trafford, and Wigan, was one of the most publicised mayoral regions, with former Chancellor George Osborne a public advocate for devolving powers to the region during his time in Whitehall.

Liverpool City Region

Steve Rotheram, Labour - 59 per cent of the vote

Having been MP for Liverpool Walton since 2010, Rotheram’s victory in the Mayor of the Liverpool City Region election was the most comfortable of the six regions. With responsibility for Liverpool, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens, and Wirral, and Halton in Cheshire, Rotheram will gain £458 million for leading the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority for the nest five years.

A former bricklayer, Rotheram has vocalised his desire to ‘harness the power of the river Mersey’ for green energy, improve people's skills and cut the fast tag Mersey Tunnel toll fees to £1. His vision is for ‘a region that is ambitious, fair, green, connected and together’.

Rotheram will not seek re-election as a Labour MP on 8 June.

Tees Valley

Ben Houchen, Conservative - 51.2 per cent of the vote

Ben Houchen, leader of the Conservative group on Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, narrowly won the race to be Mayor of the Tees Valley with 51.2 per cent of the vote, surprisingly edging Labour’s Sue Jeffrey, to win control of the Tees Valley Combined Authority, covering Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees.

At the age of just 30 Houchen is the youngest of the metro mayors, and will have a budget of £15 million a year - some of which is likely to be directed towards taking control of Durham Tees Valley Airport to try to revive its fortunes, which was one of his pre-election pledges. Houchen may also look to restructure Cleveland Police, after commenting that it had failed residents and front line officers.

Speaking before the 4 May election date, Houchen highlighted his need to ‘create an environment and a local economy that creates good quality jobs’, likely to be financed through the launch of a new investment fund. Other priorities will be to invest in good quality homes, encourage more apprenticeships, promote tourism to the region and revitalise town centres. The turnout for Tees Valley was only 21.3 per cent.

West of England

Tim Bowles, Conservative - 51.6 per cent of the vote

The metro mayor role for the West of England covers the Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset council areas. Beating Labour candidate Lesley Mansell after second preference votes were counted, Conservative Tim Bowles has also framed transport improvements as his key priority having gained mayoral office. This includes re-opening rail stations and increasing services, while the option to franchise bus services and take charge of a new key route network of local authority roads falls under his remit as leader of the new West of England Combined Authority.

The Councillor for Winterbourne in South Gloucestershire has said that the £1 billion devolution deal will allow the region to be ambitious over issues such as homes, transport, business and jobs. Having worked as a manager for a global events company, Bowles will seek to attract new businesses and supporting existing ones to provide opportunities throughout the region, as well as improving higher education services.

West Midlands

Andy Street, Conservative - 50.4 per cent of the vote

In perhaps the closest of the mayoral elections, former John Lewis boss Andy Street won the West Midlands mayoral race for the Conservatives by 238,628 votes to the 234,862 gained by Labour’s Sion Simon. Helped, both by the continual public endorsement of Prime Minister Theresa May and a reported £1 million campaign fund, Street pledged as part of his election promises to use the business skills he has learnt at John Lewis to help drive investment and create jobs in the region.

Having read politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford, Street will lead the West Midlands Combined Authority, which covers its seven constituent member councils - Birmingham, Coventry, Solihull and all four Black Country boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton, to create a ‘new, urban Conservative agenda’.

Like Burnham, Street has made tackling rough sleeping a priority after Birmingham City Centre reported a 50 per cent rise in rough sleeping in the last year, pledging to create a taskforce as one of his first actions and addressing the underlaying causes of homelessness, such as alcohol or drug addiction and mental health problems. Street has also pledged to eradicate youth unemployment, deliver 25,000 new houses and to invest in public transport, whilst sharing his enthusiasm for Birmingham to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games. 26.68 per cent of the region voted in the election.

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