Mayors aren’t enough to meet people’s ambitions for their local area

Is having a metro or county Mayor enough to meet people’s ambitions for their local area? Not according to new polling by Opinium on behalf of We’re Right Here. Our findings reveal that very few people believe Mayors improve local outcomes, and even fewer believe Mayors increase people’s sense of pride in their area or sense of control over their future.

This comes in the wake of four new Mayoralties being announced in the Government’s Autumn Statement last month, and Mayors featuring prominently in Gordon Brown’s review of constitutional policy for the Labour Party.

In our highly centralised system, strengthening sub-regional government is essential. But it doesn’t follow that establishing metro or county Mayors leads people to have more pride in their area, feel more control over local decisions, or feel that the issues they care about will be prioritised.

Our key findings

According to our poll of over 2,000 people, just 17% think having a Mayor has led or would lead to better outcomes for their community, whereas 46% think local community groups having more power would lead to better outcomes.

Only 14% think having a Mayor would give them a greater sense of personal control, compared to 35% who said that local community organisations and groups having more power over and input on local decisions would give them this sense of control.

“Of course we should have good leaders at the city or county level, running the things that need to be run at that scale. But don’t for a minute believe new Mayors are going to meet people’s deep desire for more control over the things that matter to them,” says Andy Jackson, one of our campaign leaders who runs Heeley Development Trust near Sheffield. “We have talent, passion and creativity in abundance in every community in this country. We can be the architects of our own prosperity. We just need the framework that lets us get on with it”

And barely more than one in ten (12%) said that having a Mayor leads to them feeling a greater sense of local pride. This rises to 28% who say that local community groups having more power would increase their pride in their area.

Finally, by a margin of five to one, people would prefer that the government prioritise empowering community organisations and groups (50%) over creating new Mayors (10%).

These findings suggest that several key goals of the Government’s Levelling Up agenda – including boosting people’s pride in place and increasing satisfaction with town and city centres – will not be achieved simply by introducing more Mayors.

The case for a Community Power Act is clear. A major piece of legislation to fundamentally change where power lies in our country, this Act would enable people to ‘take back control’ in the areas they live, by:

  1. Establishing new community rights giving local people greater opportunities to shape and manage spaces, services and spending in their area.
  2. Creating Community Covenants between communities and councils, giving communities a bigger role in local issues and drawing powers down from central government.
  3. Establishing an independent Community Power Commissioner to hold the government accountable for upholding communities’ right to take back control.

Local communities are innately powerful. They are made up of networks of relationships and social ties which help people to prosper. And they hold crucial and unique knowledge about the needs and ambitions of local places. Yet this power is held back by a system which appears not to trust local people. Mayors are not enough. It’s time to drive power down to communities so they can collectively control their lives and futures.