Shaping Places for People – time for elected Provosts/Mayors in Scotland?


The Centre for Scottish Public Policy has long focused on the significance of Place and People in combination.

There are many ways to look at how one best shapes and sizes ‘Place’ for maximum effect. Broadly speaking from an OECD level and buttressed by many academic studies and economic evaluations, the concept of a City Region is very well established and understood by politicians and policy makers, probably less so by citizens who are less interested in structures and outcomes but make qualitative judgements on life, where they live or work.

City Regions seem to be the most effective unit to drive economic growth and shared prosperity. There is a greater homogeneity when an individual is relating to where they live, receive education, work and play. The ability to access suitable housing or suitable transport routes, either private or public are defining characteristics of place that encourage a longer-term presence.

Greater London is a special case, almost a country within a country. Greater Manchester is perhaps the best known of UK City Regions as it also the largest conurbation outside London in the UK.  Yorkshire is fast becoming a well-known City Region but the politics of long-established friendly rivalry between West, South & North Yorkshire have long challenged the formal definitions of a Yorkshire City Region.  Glasgow is certainly the largest City Region in Scotland, and the City Deal has helped to shape both a City Region level investment profile and recognisable characteristics of what Glasgow is all about.

For many the emergence of City Regions and subsequently City deals, with funding from both UK and Scottish Governments in the case of Scotland has helped to leverage more public and private investment into key strategic themes such as accelerated economic regeneration, construction, transport and to a lesser extent education. This is all very long- term stuff, incredibly valuable additional investment but probably not as visible to the public as many might have hoped.

Policy driven initiatives are good, but they don t really capture public imagination, even when millions -indeed billions - of public money is being expended. So how do we help citizens identify with public organisations who are spending huge amounts of our money? The answer perhaps lies in further politicising the City Region agenda. For those in England, London and Westminster is unconnected to their lives in Manchester or Oldham, Leeds or Huddersfield. In Scotland, the same has always applied. The debates in Holyrood, even daily press releases from the Scottish Government, probably do not capture the imagination if you live in Baillieston or on Barra.

In many countries including England, the USA, Germany, the answer has been to revisit and expand the authority and role of an elected Mayor. This is an individual vote for a Mayor who will create a sense of identity that all can associate with at a City Region level, be accountable to Government and to the local citizens. In many cases this has been encouraged by greater devolution of powers. The devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had an unintended consequence in England. It sharpened the previous lacklustre appetite in City Regions in England for elected Mayors rather than various forms of sub-national assemblies. The election of a full time Executive Mayor of Greater London kicked off the transition back in 2000; in 2004, proposals for a North East of England Assembly were rejected in a referendum [ on a turnout of 50%] by 78% to 202%.

So why would it be worth considering starting that ‘mayoral’ journey in Scotland?

Let’s start by looking at how three City Regions in the UK are addressing the need to grow their economy. And each model is slightly different.

Manchester has an established elected Executive Mayor ‘s agenda since the Mayoral elections in 2017. Greater Manchester serves a population of c. 2.7 million.  No one would argue that electing a City Region Mayor is the panacea for solving all economic & social ills and Greater Manchester is no different to many other city regions. However, the creation of the role provided a catalyst for Government to devolve authority, look longer term at budgeting, and provided an accountable focus for a number of devolved initiatives.

  • A multi-year transport deal
  • A 10 Year Housing Investment Fund
  • Responsibility for spatial Strategy

I am not an urban planner but one look at the strategy will show how significant the responsibility is, to develop a locally accountable strategic prioritisation of land use amongst other things

  • Life Choices Investment Fund
  • Health & Social Care Devolution

I was privileged to learn at first hand in recent months how the Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership is evolving as I supported Microsoft’s contribution to Greater Manchester’s digital strategy. It’s a huge undertaking, complicated but also enhanced by the fact that the partnership is just that, and is not a statutory body. Few could argue with the need for a Greater Manchester level Public Health response to COVID-19, or indeed the increasing collaboration across the A&E departments of so many hospitals in more normal times.  

Above all who could not be aware of the significant, visible leadership that Andy Burnham, the elected Mayor, provided, during the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing.

The expansion of the metro mayor approach is now unstoppable in England. It is worth reflecting on a blog from the Institute for Government in 2018 which predicted many of the ongoing developments. It could not quite work out what might happen in Yorkshire as a metro Mayor for Sheffield City Region was agreed.

West Yorkshire will elect its first Executive Mayor in April 2021, and so we now see how political comprise will deliver two Metro Mayors for Yorkshire. West Yorkshire’s Mayor will serve a population of c1.9 million covering Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Huddersfield & Halifax. Sheffield’s first Mayor, Dan Jarvis, since 2018, serves a metropolitan population of approximately 1.6 million, including Barnsley, Doncaster & Rotherham.

The new Mayor of West Yorkshire will have a great deal in his or her inbox next April as all parts of the UK develop their COVID-19 recovery plans. However, many additional powers and resources will be transferred from Government. These include

  • £38 million per year for 30 years into the West Yorkshire Investment Fund with significant freedoms to spend on local priorities
  • a Government commitment to work with West Yorkshire to develop a modern mass transit system through access to a new five-year integrated transport settlement – a share of a £4.2 billion fund for mayoral combined authorities
  • £317 million to invest in public transport, cycling and walking through the Transforming Cities Fund with local flexibility on delivery
  • a £25 million fund to support the development of a British Library North in Leeds
  • a Government commitment to deliver flooding schemes worth £101 million
  • control of the £63 million annual Adult Education Budget for West Yorkshire
  • £3.2 million to support the development of a pipeline of housing sites across West Yorkshire

Glasgow City Region operates as a grouping of traditional local authorities in the West of Scotland. The region has benefitted from a collective City Deal, with funding from both UK and Scottish Governments. The Greater Glasgow Region serves a population of c 1.7million so very comparable population wise to the new West Yorkshire or the Sheffield Metropolitan regions.

Public capital of c £1billion from UK & Scottish Governments had been expected to leverage several £billion of private sector capital to support the key priorities for the region, benefitting eight local authorities.

We return to the start of this think piece. Who will be the accountable high-profile champion for Glasgow City Region? Will the citizens and business in the Region have a figurehead to champion their cause or will every member of the City Region decision making Cabinet be expected to have an equal profile?

This applies of course to the Edinburgh & South East Scotland City Region, to Aberdeen City Region, Tay Cities Region, Inverness & Highland City Region, Stirling & Clackmannanshire City Region and recently the Borderland Growth Deal that crosses the England/Scotland boundary involving five authorities.

These distinct “Regions” make economic sense subject to deploying resources appropriate to need, geography and population size. They are largely political artifices with no recognisable governance from a citizen viewpoint, rather an agglomeration of current local leadership acting on behalf of both Scottish & UK Governments.

The post COVID-19 landscape, combined with the aftermath of BREXIT, makes the need for effective regional leadership across the UK even more critical. The City and Growth Deals for the next 15-20 years are in place, economic recovery is requiring more resources and powers to be transferred from the centre.

So, do we now agree that now is the time for Scottish elected Mayors to make their entrance, share the burden of providing leadership and inspiration to weary citizens and businesses at every level as UK and Scottish Government set the framework for economic recovery and social renewal?   


Melvyn Ingleson

CSPP Non-Executive Director

Centre for Scottish Public Policy
c/o Digby Brown LLP
160 Causewayside
Causewayside House
Edinburgh EH9 1PR
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