With so much political news over the last few months, the election of six new Metro Mayors in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Tees Valley, West of England and the West Midlands has not received as much attention as it might in less turbulent times.
The Mayors are powerful new figures, marking a significant shift in the accountability relationships between national and local government in England. As leaders of combined authorities, they take over powers from central government for key policy and strategic issues as wide as transport, housing, planning, skills and economic development, each with investment funds for 30 years. Their duties vary from area to area, with the remit of each Mayor determined by the individual devolution settlement agreed with government.
For example, the Greater Manchester Authority will have direct control over a £6bn health and social care budget, while Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and the Liverpool City Region will have powers over planning for health and social care. In Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham will also take over the powers of the region's elected Police and Crime Commissioner.
With responsibilities for commissioning and delivering front line services to millions of citizens and significant powers for strategic decision making across their city regions, these are undoubtedly some of the most challenging roles in England.
The public will be looking to the new Mayors to demonstrate they provide strong leadership in their area which reflects local issues and responds to local needs. Just like the new Police and Crime Commissioners in 2015, they have a unique opportunity to take a new approach which shows they are taking responsibility and are willing to be held to account. They can only do this by ensuring they work closely with locally elected politicians, particularly leaders of their local councils who make up the combined authority cabinet, as well as local councillors on the overview and scrutiny committee. High ethical standards and good governance are essential if these arrangements are going to ensure effective public accountability.
In common with other public officials – as well as those from other sectors responsible for delivering services to the public - the Metro Mayors are subject to the Nolan Principles. The seven principles are the generally-accepted baseline of conduct for public office holders and research shows that upholding these standards helps to maintain public trust.
Observers such as the IfG have pointed out that one strength of the elected Mayors is their capacity for ‘soft power’ and influence, something that can only be sustained by high levels of public trust and confidence that high standards of conduct are being observed. Recognising this, the Committee has invited all six Mayors to a roundtable to discuss how they can best uphold these important principles and to offer guidance based on our research and experience. Our recent reports ‘Tone from the Top’ and ‘Ethical standards for providers of public services’ both contain evidence-based recommendations that will undoubtedly be of relevance.
As part of their own leadership role, the new Mayors will set the tone to promote the Seven Principles of Public Life within their combined authorities, and to take a lead in embedding them across local government as a whole. As high profile figures with an exciting new mandate to deliver change across city regions, the public will expect nothing less from their new Mayors.