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Keir Starmer Has An "Increasingly Strong" Relationship With Regional Leaders

Keir Starmer meeting Labour mayors in Liverpool (Alamy)

4 min read

Labour leader Keir Starmer nurtured his relationship with his party's regional mayors at this week's party conference in Liverpool, and hinted there could be more powers for local areas.

There are currently ten regional mayor positions across England several of which are held by Labour, including former MPs Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, Steve Rotheram in Liverpool City Region, Sadiq Khan in London and Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire.

Labour mayor of South Yorkshire Oliver Coppard said that the central party has been clear they want to work with regional leaders to deliver on Starmer's plans for the country, and that the mayors’ relationship with Labour in Westminster is “increasingly strong".

Future plans for devolution have been a key part of Starmer’s messaging in recent months. In his landmark conference speech in Liverpool on Tuesday, he promised a "decade of national renewal" and said that “if we want to challenge the hoarding of potential in our economy then we must win the war against the hoarders in Westminster", indicating he was keen to give more power to local governments. 

Starmer, shadow levelling up secretary Angela Rayner and shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh held a round-table meeting with Labour's mayors at the start of the conference. 

“There’s definitely a recognition from [within the leadership of the Labour Party] that the mayors are here to stay, but also mayors are an important part of how we can do things differently in this country,” Coppard told PoliticsHome.  

"Mayors are an integral part of that vision and Keir and the people around him have been very clear to us that they want to work hand in glove to deliver on the reforms that they want to see. 

“With a Labour government working hand in glove in that partnership I’ve got no doubt we can do brilliant things and huge change can happen relatively swiftly.” 

Starmer's roundtable meeting with regional leaders at Labour conference in Liverpool was private, but PoliticsHome understands that a broad agreement was reached that mayors and local authority representatives should meet with senior party figures regularly.

It was the second such meeting in a month, with Starmer and other senior Labour figures including party chair Anneliese Dodds having also met six metro mayors in London at the start of September. Also invited were Labour's candidates for the upcoming mayoral elections in the North East, West Midlands and East Midlands. 

Mayors and local authority leaders have featured heavily in this year’s party conferences, at least in part as a result of the speculation and subsequent cancellation of the northern leg of HS2 at Conservative conference in Manchester last week. 

Sources close to the mayors' offices have been critical of what they describe as a lack of communication about the HS2 saga from government in Whitehall to regional bodies. Burnham has repeatedly said he was not consulted about the plans despite the seismic impact on Manchester. 

The appointment of former Second Permanent Secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Sue Gray as Keir Starmer’s chief of staff earlier this year is also seen as a sign of Labour's willingness to embrace local leaders, given how closely she worked with them in her previous role. 

Devolved government figures recall a good relationship with Gray when she was in Whitehall and saw her as a key figure in their communication and relationships with central government.  

In a speech at the start of this year, the Labour leader pledged a Take Back Control Bill, invoking the messaging of the Vote Leave Brexit campaign, but saying that he would turn it “from a slogan into a solution”. 

“We will spread control out of Westminster and devolve new powers over employment support, transport, energy, climate change, housing, culture, childcare provision and how councils run their finances and will give communities a new right to request powers which go beyond even that,” he said at the time. 

Ahead of Starmer’s conference speech this week, the Guardian reported that the devolution plans would give local areas the powers to develop their own growth plans and mean that local leaders could request more powers. There could also be an expansion of the combined authorities model already seen in a number of places in England such as West Yorkshire and the West Midlands. 

Speaking at an IPPR fringe event at Labour conference on Tuesday, shadow minister for devolution and the English regions Paula Barker said that she wants to “bottom out what real devolution means to English regions and how it will look and what really should be in place”. 

“Where the Tory government has objectively failed [...] is to create a lasting legacy that will truly tackle regional inequalities that are deeply entrenched in our communities,” she added. 

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