John Pugh MP: Metro Mayors will marginalise communities and increase the democratic deficit
There is nothing new about City Regions. We used to call them Metropolitan Counties until they were abolished by Mrs Thatcher. It was recognised back in the 70s that in large conurbations decisions on big strategic issues impacted across ordinary council boundaries.
The Metropolitan Counties were abolished simply because Margaret Thatcher needed to show that the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC) was not an act of deliberate spite against County Hall and Ken Livingstone. The strategic need for such bodies persisted. We now have the GLA back and we continued to have joint boards doing what the Met Counties did. They were stuffed with nominees of local authorities without direct elections but still substantial bodies dealing with police, fire and waste disposal.
Worries persisted too that these residuary bodies might become "too political" and so police authorities which already had a cohort of magistrates attached had to acquire by mysterious means "independent members" to hold the balance.
Current policy represents a reversal of the Thatcher trend. Combined authorities are Met Counties part 2 with greater powers and the creation of police commissioners and metro-mayors will ensure the total politicisation of sub-regional strategic decision-making.
However, decision making is to be concentrated in the hands of one individual - the metro-mayor -instead of shared amongst a democratically elected council or the nominees of directly elected councils. A highly centralised governance model is to be forced upon conurbations through a scarcely disguised system of bribes and penalties.
Few of those who promote metro mayors have served in local government and many frankly have thinly disguised contempt for it. It is thus unlikely that even the feelings of city region electorates for or against metro-mayors will count for much. The metro -mayor model shadows the business concept of the CEO and the board and as the Manchester case shows the government gives more priority to getting one than electing one.
The rationale for this is both crude and evidence blind- the crudest kind of logical fallacy. "Some cities worldwide have all powerful mayors. Some cities are very successful. Therefore cities with all powerful mayors are successful."
That's frankly as good as it gets with maybe the added thought that it helps to have a key figurehead. This inflexible approach is a prime, almost Stalinist case of never letting the evidence get in the way of a good dogma.
In my debate later today I hope to rehearse some of the counter-arguments to this Procrustean policy- the dangers of corruption, cronyism, community marginalisation, the democratic deficit etc. Ministers will have to hear what I say but they have no intention of listening.