Welcoming our new City Orchestrators – enabling the music to play on, play loud and play far

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The mayoral role is influencing, lobbying, persuading, networking, bringing people together and seeing possibilities, but it is also banging heads on occasion.

A mayor is a conductor… at the centre of a network of institutions, bringing them together effectively and drawing on the ability of the wider organisations when needed. This is a unique centre of power and has to be about creating a thread running through the place and drawing together key actors. The more time spent developing these connections, the better things will work and the easier it is to see who can deliver action. The web of delivery organisations need to see themselves as assets and work together, these relationships need nurturing. Real power is through attraction and persuasion not threats and incentives. It takes creativity, flair and excellent people management skills to succeed. The facilitative mayor identifies problems, forges consensus around goals and promotes action from city region players.

The mayor needs to lead more than the local authorities; this is a city role not just a council leader and they need to position themselves as a leader of the City Region not just the combined authority (CA) despite government focus on the CA and local authority powers. The system will work best if we all see each other as resources, with a contribution to make and as a system of assets we can bring together to deliver for the good of the whole.

Mayors need to spend as much time as possible outside the councils, leveraging influence, across other strategic bodies, within economic, skills, transport, culture, police and crime policy areas. Successful mayors do this well, the quality of the relationship determines the success of delivery. Public service delivery is fragmented and local controllable spend is estimated to be about 15% of real spend on impact; this means relationships between institutions are of the utmost importance when delivering outcomes. So in this context what would the advice for mayors look like:

  • Tap the talent in the region; look at special task forces outside the council structures to solve city problems;
  • View the city region as a living breathing organism, with each part being dependent on the other, and making these dependencies work;
  • Overcome political differences and recognise expertise exists everywhere; use them to think through all the issues your place faces;
  • Invest in the people who can do, invest in those you need to create change;
  • Lobby central government through both open methods and more subtly through secondments and sharing of staff; encourage joint working on issues/policies;
  • Pick a small number of priorities and focus on them, delegate the rest;
  • Create a mechanism to empower local councillors and use them as a community asset, tackle community relations more effectively and feed into the scrutiny functions, such as ‘ward assemblies’ not just party meetings. Have a scheduled engagement process that ensures they are engaged. Their role should be focussed on creating quality outcomes locally;
  • Galvanise and lead your business base to promote, invest and be socially responsible in changing your place. Do not take your business base for granted, they fuel your city;
  • Use the overview and scrutiny function as an asset to continuously improve and develop effective policy and delivery, treat them as part of the asset base and evaluation solution. It should be leaner with a task and finish focus.

The arrangement of mayoral structures

The Brexit referendum revealed the deep chasm between society and decision making. A mayor has the power to change this, if structures are open and fit for purpose:

  • Structures need to develop a clear relationship with the place, and be able to use soft powers to ask, convene and co-ordinate with local people. Any structure needs to develop strong relationships with all local delivery partners to give them a voice. Mayors can create greater decentralisation in decision making by proactively devolving powers. Consider delegation of mayoral powers to cabinet members and other strategic bodies required to deliver your changes;
  • Councillors are generally underused, and should have sufficient power to ensure they can deliver change. Ensure that they are supplied with information in a useful format and their role in relation to the mayor is clear. Use them as “activists” for the mayoral model;
  • Councillors can also be appointed to wider activities such as on housing boards and creating ward forums which can be used to take the local political temperature on city region activity;
  • Local community budgets could be devolved and they could be tasked with delivering change, engaging with community infrastructures such as policing, schools and community hubs. They would need to be action orientated and meet local needs, not political talking shops. Councillors need to move from a committee outlook to a community outlook;
  • Ensure local business needs are built in from the ground up, again councillors can play a role here if co-ordinated;
  • The mayoral office should also take an ‘activist’ approach, dealing with confusion over change, new roles, powers and reporting. Advise on potential options and avenues for action available both under new arrangements as well as those which are not. In order to channel political energies into the appropriate priorities;
  • Position as leader of the place, convene and co-ordinate local networks, convene and co-ordinate the voice of the people, and invite local actors to act in the interests of the authority/place. 50% to 70% of time should be dedicated to building relationships, this not just political management of the CA;
  • There should be a focus on disclosure (timely, appropriate and concise information) as well as transparency (allowing people to look at everything).

The role of city assets, how players need to play their part in the composition

We have seen a spike in advice for the mayors (not least from us at City-REDI), but what role do the different players in the city landscape play? And what is their place in the composition? If a mayor is to lead a triumphant symphony, how do we all ensure we complement the whole piece?

Anchor institutions have a clear role in growing, strengthening and building the city-regions; as such they have a responsibility to:

  • Examine and understand their role in procurement, and how their choices affect the places they exist within;
  • Increase civic engagement and recognise their role as a responsible employer, and a caretaker of buildings, city assets and infrastructure. They need to deliver their functions with the growth and wellbeing of the city in mind;
  • Recognise their ability to contribute and create a can do attitude that drives the city-region forward.

Institutions sit within a landscape of constant restructuring of governance arrangements which has created complexity and confusion in places. The current devolution agenda focussed on mayors has a potential to add clarity and organisations have to ready themselves to help achieve this.

Until now the framework has been inconsistent and has favoured certain areas over others. However this is an opportunity for regional actors to create their own framework, and to use the convening powers of the mayor to rationalise and set the agenda, functions and roles. Putting aside partisan and parochial attitudes for the good of a place they can be proud of, and behind a vision the mayor can set.

In the past negotiations have often taken place behind closed doors which raises questions over the inclusion of local people for achieving what is supposedly a bottom up approach to local policy-making. Institutions could take new governance arrangements as the opportunity to change this and play their part in openness and transparency.

The potential of Mayors is still yet to be fully understood, but this in itself is an opportunity. The future of localised powers and accountabilities are up for negotiation and key players have to be willing to explore this to get the best result.

Like any good piece of music it’s an opportunity to lift the spirits, playing together and trusting in our orchestrator to get the best out of us.

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