What characteristics should we look for in the new Metro Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority?

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In this blog, Professor John R. Bryson, City-REDI, outlines the eight key qualities a good or successful Metro Mayor for the West Midlands might need.

On 4 May 2017, the people living in the geographic area defined by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) have the opportunity, for the first time, to elect a mayor. The elected mayor will play an important role in shaping the future of the WMCA area. Unlike a ceremonial mayor, the elected mayor (commonly known as a ‘Metro Mayor’) is an appointed local government executive leader with defined roles and responsibilities and a budget. The 4 May election matters for the on-going development of this part of the UK. In other words, a successful mayor will enhance the life chances of people living within the WMCA whilst an unsuccessful mayor may have no impact or, at worst, prevent further funding being devolved from Whitehall to local control. On so many counts, who is elected on 4 May will make a difference and it is important that this is a positive difference.

The role of a mayor is a very difficult one. A mayor has influence and authority, but perhaps very little power. Compared to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a large firm, mayors have very limited power, but great responsibilities.

It is perhaps worth raising the question of what are the qualities of a good mayor or of a successful mayor. There is perhaps no right answer to this question. It is worth noting that whosoever wins this election has very little time to develop their agenda. The first 100 or so days in office will be a formative time that will lock policy decisions into place. We can perhaps identify eight key qualities of a good or successful mayor:

  1. A charismatic leader who has the ability to encourage people from across the WMCA area to work together for the common good. This includes the ability to make unpopular decisions. It also includes positioning the WMCA effectively in national debates.
  2. A leader who tries to understand the problems and possibilities facing the West Midlands. This is to try to avoid a mayor who is more fixated on national party politics or a national political agenda rather than the development of a set of policies that are founded on a deep understanding of the WMCA area.
  3. A leader who is an individual of action – someone driven to make a difference and to make a major contribution to transforming the WMCA. They need to understand complex systems and appreciate that cities are systems of systems. They need to understand policy development, implementation and evaluation and be able to identify the correct questions or policy areas that need attention.
  4. A leader who is an effective manager, but is also efficient and able to build and manage an effective team.
  5. A leader who is focussed on local economic development, but with a clear and convincing vision. This is not about flagship projects but the development of economic and connectivity strategies that will produce inclusive, resilient economic growth. Perhaps growth is the wrong word and the focus should be on a sustainable local economy. But, not a single economy as the WMCA area is an economy of many economies.
  6. A leader who has a track record of ethical behaviour and effective decision-making and who will formulate and implement policy in a transparent fashion.
  7. A good mayor needs excellent persuasion skills as they will need to be able to create new partnerships. For the WMCA Metro Mayor, powers of persuasion will be critical given the complex governance system or structure that exists across the WMCA geography.
  8. Behind many of these qualities are excellent communication skills, but perhaps the most important skill is the ability to listen. The new mayor needs to be a listening leader who develops place-based policy rather than a leader who talks the talk but fails to listen and appreciate local needs.

These are my eight characteristics, but perhaps we need a debate across the WMCA geography that will inform the 4 May election. Thus, what are you expecting from the new WMCA Metro Mayor and what qualities should they have?

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