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Devolving Power to Cities

Volume 543: debated on Monday 30 April 2012

For more than 100 years power has been remorselessly sapped from our great cities, and I am determined to restore power to them. The Localism Act 2011 gave a general power of competence; our city deal programme devolves more powers; and this week’s mayoral referendums will allow local people to decide how their cities should be led.

Last week Bristolians heard about the resignation of Barbara Janke, the city council leader, making it six changes of leadership in the city in the past 10 years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such chopping and changing makes a strategic vision for the city very difficult, and that what Bristol needs to fulfil itself is the vision, accountability and stability of an elected mayor?

I do agree. I have the greatest respect for Councillor Janke, but six leaders in 10 years is no way to run a city as great as Bristol. The leaders of Liverpool, Leicester and Birmingham city councils have all said that they could lead their city better as an elected mayor. The mayoral referendum offers an historic choice to the people of Bristol: they have the chance to make it a turning point in the city’s history.

At the most recent meeting of the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister, in a response to a question that I asked, said that

“I can absolutely assure you that on the city deals…we can do those deals with individual cities whether or not they are going to have a mayor.”

Yet, in the Yorkshire Evening Post on Saturday, the Minister agreed that there were powers that the Government would be happy to give to an elected mayor, but not to a traditional council. Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister that powers can be devolved to cities irrespective of whether they have an elected mayor or an elected council leader, as long as they have strong governance arrangements?

The hon. Gentleman and his Select Committee on Communities and Local Government know that I am always and everywhere keen to devolve power to local government, including to cities. What we have said to conclude our city deals is that there has to be stronger governance, and the case of Bristol demonstrates that. When there is a revolving door of leaders, it is impossible to have the necessary accountability, so there needs to be stronger governance, and an elected mayor meets that model.

If the Minister is so convinced of the benefits of elected mayors, why did he require dictatorial powers to force local authorities to hold elections? Would it not be fairer to have a yes/no question, rather than one loaded so much in favour of elected mayors?

My hon. Friend will know that the Electoral Commission set the question. In fact, the terms of the referendum are very similar to that which the previous Government introduced in London to give the people of London a chance to vote on whether to have a mayor. I think that most people in London conclude that it has been a success.

Why does the Minister persist in selling his reforms as introducing London-style city governance in other large cities in England? If he genuinely believes in London-style city governance, why will his proposed mayor of Manchester be responsible for governing only one tenth of the city region?

The election is based on the current boundaries of Manchester, and that seems perfectly reasonable. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is asking me to abolish the councils that exist in Greater Manchester. Salford, which is part of Greater Manchester, will have a mayor who will be elected on 3 May, and the people of Manchester have a choice as to whether they want to join it.