Birmingham Metro Mayor Andy Street on a local homelessness campaignAndy Street/Wikimedia Commons

It is hard to deny the ever-increasing prominence of our nation’s Metro Mayors.

Since 2016, England has gone from one solitary Combined Authority (or Metro) Mayor to ten. Over 40% of the population lives in an area with a Metro Mayor, and further proposals due to come into force next year will see that statistic rise to 50%. A variety of devolution deals have injected life into the traditionally uninspiring world of local government, turning figures like Andy Burnham, Andy Street, and Ben Houchen into household names (at least in their respective regions).

Their respective rises to prominence have been wholly deserved. Metro Mayors sport achievement lists that put the entirety of Westminster to shame. Across their regions, they’ve decisively taken steps to tackle issues such as homelessness, public transport, and the climate crisis, and have managed to successfully carve out effective roles with a scarcity of examples upon which to model themselves.

“Their respective rises to prominence have been wholly deserved”

These successes haven’t been easily won, either. Excluding Covid-specific grants, English local authorities saw (in real terms) a 31% fall in government grant income from 2010-2022. Combined with central government restrictions on council tax rises, this has seen the funds available to local governments plummet. All Metro Mayoralties, bar London, have been founded during the ongoing era of Tory austerity, resulting in mayors having to constantly do more with less.

In some cases, mayors have even gone above and beyond their devolution deals to deliver for their regions. Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, formed the Coalition for Digital Inclusion in 2021 to tackle concerns over internet access. Responding to gaps exposed by the pandemic, it aims to get people across the region familiar with accessing the internet in an increasingly digitised world. This is despite his devolution deal at the time making limited reference to digital policy. In a similar vein, Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram’s £30 million LCR Connect initiative aims to deliver an ultrafast broadband network across the entire region, regardless of the field’s absence from the Combined Authority’s devolution deal. Though potentially viewed as overreach, the personal drive and tireless advocacy of Metro Mayors, resulting in tangible end products, deserves far more recognition.

Much of this can be attributed to what Burnham describes as the “place first, not party first” mentality. Putting the needs of local communities ahead of the demands of party HQ has been shown by Metro Mayors to be an incredibly effective style of leadership. One of Tory Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen’s major triumphs, for example, has been bringing Teesside International Airport into public ownership. Despite his party’s ideological affinity for private sector ownership, Houchen’s move has brought more destinations, jobs, and investment opportunities to the airport and its surrounding areas.

Metro Mayors embody the lost art of bipartisanship, with many having to forge coalitions between opposing council leaders, and with central government itself. Andy Street has never served with a majority of councils in his combined authority being Conservative, as he is. This has led to him successfully mediating cross-party disputes, to achieve tangible end-products for his region. North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll even noted in an interview last year the ease with which he can text and call Conservative government ministers, and the help this brings to realising regional progress. It was no surprise, then, that following his controversial exclusion from re-election, figures from both major parties came to his defence.

“It’s as a result of the sweeping successes of Metro Mayors that further devolution should be supported”

In an interview with Varsity back in June, Burnham said that one of his main challenges as mayor was “trying to get people to hear the issues that don’t get heard in the normal run of things in Westminster.” Burnham’s right. Take the example he went on to highlight: buses. On a national level, “not once” were bus fares seriously discussed during Burnham’s time in Parliament. However, on a local level, public transport can be hugely significant, and poor service can have detrimental effects on people’s lives. Thus, schemes such as Burnham’s free bus travel for 16-to-18-year-olds have been overwhelmingly successful in the face of Westminster obliviousness.


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Metro Mayors have also proven that as well as being diligent local leaders, they’re capable figures on the national and international stage. Birmingham’s wildly successful hosting of the 2022 Commonwealth Games saw Street implanted into the public consciousness. Burnham’s trade deal with North Carolina, signed earlier this year, demonstrates a Mayor’s ability to not only improve the lives of their constituents but also to work collaboratively with other regions and nations.

It’s as a result of the sweeping successes of Metro Mayors that further devolution should be supported. More councils should come together and form combined authorities, or be subsumed into a pre-existing one. The introduction of a mayoralty to an area has been shown, across the nation, to be a net positive for securing funding and bridging political gaps. Further powers should be devolved by and from Parliament, in fields such as education, health and social care, and digital policy, to give regions the ability to respond quickly and specifically to their own needs.

While it would have been fair to take a skeptical view of localism a decade ago, such concerns should have been more than assuaged by the first wave of hardworking, popular, and remarkably successful Metro Mayors.