A brief political interlude: Yet Another Metro Mayor FAQ

I’ve been watching the metro mayor discussions play out over the last few weeks and I’m afraid it’s clear that most people still have no clue about what it’s all about. It’s not been promoted as well as it should, and as we’re due to have a Metro Mayor here in the West of England no matter what people think, I thought I’d stick my neck out and set up an FAQ. If anything is ambiguous please let me know and I’ll try harder. In fact if you want to help make this better, contact me.

Here goes.

Why do we have to have a Metro Mayor?

The Metro Mayor is a requirement for UK city regions to access devolved powers and cash from Westminster. There are different devolution deals across the country with differing amounts of cash and powers, all negotiated on a case by case basis.

The West of England deal is outlined on the gov.uk site. In short, if we have a Metro Mayor for the region (in our case, South Glos, BANES and Bristol), we get £900 Million over 30 years.  North Somerset went against it but the three remaining authorities were allowed to continue regardless.

This leaves us with a slightly different acronym: CUBA BUNS (the County that Used to Be Avon But Un-including North Somerset). Catchy, right? (most people will still prefer West of England, albeit a smaller one for the region).

Shouldn’t we be spending the cash on front-line services instead? 

This has nothing to do with the front-line services budgets. It is money from the Treasury as part of the devolution deal. In short, by agreeing to have a Metro Mayor, we get £900M. The role is making us back some of the money taken away by austerity cuts. It’s fair to say that those people saying “we don’t need a metro mayor” don’t realise that they’re actually saying “we don’t need £900M for our region”. We all need to do more to help raise awareness about this. The election is coming up on the 4th May!

Surely this is another role we don’t need? The Metro Mayor will be paid significantly for the role and will come with added costs..

To be clear, the Metro Mayor role brings nearly £1 Billion to the region over the next 30 years. The salary of the Metro Mayor is less, I repeat LESS, than the salary paid to the elected mayor of Bristol for example. It’s also worth noting that a Metro Mayor with experience of raising funding and inward investment will be able to make that money multiply up. If this is something that sounds like a good idea, why not ask your candidates how they might do that?

Has the Metro Mayor have anything to do with the Metro Bus?

I see why you might think that but in short, no. The West of England Metro Bus was as a result of government funding secured specifically to sort out transport in the region (with cash from the three local authorities too – South Glos, Bristol, North Somerset). It was highly controversial because the route of the Metro Bus was deemed as far from ideal by residents and businesses across the region. However, the consequences of failing to deliver a less than ideal route were to forfeit future transport funding for the region. So the leaders at the time did their best to make the best of it, to ensure that future funding would not be jeopardised. The sad fact of the matter is that funding will always come with strings attached. You can’t take money intended for transport and spend it on front-line services.

Does the Metro Mayor Have the Power to Stop Brexit?

First I’ll declare my interest: I’m a staunch Remainer (and one who *did* get on the phones, and *did* chair the pro-Remain rally) and this role has *nothing* to do with the fight to stop Brexit. Just look at the job description.

The Metro-Mayor role is purely to be a conduit for devolution cash and powers DOWN to our region. It has nothing to do with Brexit, except for helping to mitigate the damage by spending the funding cleverly to find new ways to make the West of England self-sustaining for our population. They can be the voice of reason but the Metro Mayor role is far, far more important to focus just on Brexitations. If you want to know more about my thinking about this, take a look at why the Metro Mayor is not the right weapon to kill Brexit.

 

The Metro Mayor SHOULD be all about Brexit – it will send a strong message to Government, right?

Bristol already voted Remain – that message was already received loud and clear by the Government.

But also look around. We have BANES and South Glos. How did they vote? Do you want to send an impotent message or do you really want to make sure all bases are covered for whatever comes next?

Turnout is likely to be incredibly low here. That does not provide any sort of mandate on Brexit even if candidates who stake their campaigns on a pro-Remain position win. There’s nothing to see here.. move along.

 

Does the Metro Mayor Have the Power to Make Brexit Happen?

No. See above. However the Metro Mayor has the power to protect our most vulnerable citizens from the cuts, and for future deals may even have the power to ensure that our NHS locally are able to survive (future deals may well include Health).

 

Are there other FAQs I can read?

Yes. And probably far more considered than my own hacked-in version. Try these:

http://www.centreforcities.org/publication/everything-need-know-metro-mayors/

https://www.businesswest.co.uk/blog/west-england-devolution-faqs

Also some helpful stats for the West of England for context:

http://www.centreforcities.org/west-of-england/

Also thanks to Miles Taylor for providing the link to the official election booklet which can be found on the Bristol city council page about the Metro Mayor election.

Ok. I’m done. I’m going to duck and run for cover. I do hope anyone who lands here finds what they need to arm themselves with the knowledge they need to make a decision reflecting what they hope will be delivered for transport, housing, planning for the region.

 

4 Replies to “A brief political interlude: Yet Another Metro Mayor FAQ”

  1. Thx for the summary.
    Can the £900m be cut, and by whom – just the Treasury or does it need Parliament?
    Is the £900m accompanied by cuts in central government’s funding of the three local authorities?
    If that funding were to be stopped, where would the costs of the Mayor of WoE be covered from?
    What areas can the mayor spend the money on?

    1. Great questions Alan. I’ll see if I can dig out some official answers before answering them based on my own knowledge.

      I’ll take the question I can explain the most easily first:

      Is the £900m accompanied by cuts in central government’s funding of the three local authorities?

      In short the £900 Million comes from a different pot to the ones related to the cuts. And of course the £30 Million a year for 30 years doesn’t cover the current level of cuts anyway.

      The thinking from the leaders of our three local authorities (LAs) was that whilst the money was not enough to cover the cuts (AND of course the money is not intended for front-line services but for transport, planning and housing infrastructure investments across the three LAs), the future devolution deals would provide more opportunity for us all to become a lot more self-sufficient. They were thinking about the long game, which, in politics, is a rare thing. They would not have seceded power unless there was no other option.

      Can the £900m be cut, and by whom? Just the Treasury or does it need Parliament? If that funding were to be stopped, where would the costs of the Mayor of WoE be covered from?

      Obviously, as I’m not the government I can’t say that funding will not be stopped at some point in the future. However it is extremely unlikely because of the way the funding is structured. Government only really has to say “MORE AUSTERITY CUTS” and that would take from council services and still be able to leave the Devolution money alone. Taking from one budget and *separately* giving to another is not unusual. Austerity cuts are, give or take, country-wide however, so it is not the case that by accepting the Devolution deal we are inherently opening ourselves up to more cuts. The cuts will continue regardless for as long as the policies around Austerity are in place.

      What areas can the mayor spend the money on?
      This is detailed in the devolution deal on the government site I linked to earlier. The devolution deal is focused on transport, housing, planning, and skills.

      As a note to others who know more detail, please chip in :-).

    2. The £900m is a separate pot from both the transport pot and the 19+ skills pot.

      The Mayor only really has control over the transport pot and only then if a 1/3 of the Metro council agree.

      The Metro council will control the £30m a year and the 19+ skills pot — the Mayor will be just one vote there.

      No, I don’t know who picks the Metro council but probably the constituent Councils.

      IIRC, there’s another pot of money that will come from business rates from Temple Quarter and a couple of other enterprise zones. I don’t know if that’s still a thing and if so how it would work.

  2. As I understand the arrangement, the deal was offered by government, is far from ideal, but nothing else is available from government. None of the councils involved like the arrangement particularly but all hope if it continues then subsequent deals could be better for the region. However these are just delegated government powers and funds and can easily be taken away by the government again. It isn’t real regional democracy. Of course to continue the combined authority and metro mayor have to deliver the government’s growth, housing and jobs agenda, not tackle any underlying priorities we have in the region, eg Bristol’s unequal economy or climate objectives.

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