Policy Provocations: Do global cities need mayors?


The panel leads the debate in a packed Small Ballroom at Liverpool Town Hall

The second debate in the University’s Policy Provocations series delivered a largely positive verdict on the concept of urban mayors, a year after Liverpool adopted the system.

The city’s first Mayor, Labour’s Joe Anderson, was on the panel, alongside Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities; Professor Patrick Le Galí¨s, Director of Research at the Centre of European Studies in Paris and Professor Alan Harding, Director of the University’s newly formed Heseltine Institute for Public Policy and Practice.

Old system’s “inertia”

Hosted at Liverpool Town Hall, Mayor Joe Anderson was first to speak and told the audience of around 250 that, in his view, politics was “broken” and the old city council system created “inertia”.

Regarding the new role, which he considered difficult to assess properly after just 12 months, Joe Anderson said: “I believe as an elected Mayor, I am responsible for the city and accountable to the city, and for those who voted for me.”

”I believe as an elected Mayor, I am responsible for the city and accountable to the city”
He stressed the value of accountability and that he no longer felt “at the behest of a small group of councillors”.

Following Joe Anderson, was Alexandra Jones, who offered an international perspective on the concept of city mayors. She said her organisation, Centre for Cities “would argue that Mayors are more likely to perform better than other systems, and should have more power.”

She said Mayors possess greater capacity to take strategic decisions because they have been elected, and that the visibility this delivers aids negotiation on behalf of the people they represent. Alexandra also introduced the concept of metro Mayors – working across city and council boundaries – to the debate, and suggested that London’s system “has been able to achieve a lot”.


Patrick Le Galí¨s, Professor Alan Harding, Chairman John Flamson, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson and Alexandra Jones

Patrick Le Galí¨s opened with a note of caution, citing the recent arrest of Montreal’s Mayor on corruption charges, but said: “A Mayor’s job is to bring unity, strategy and provide direction. Elected Mayors tend to do this better.”

Access to decision-makers

Professor Alan Harding spoke ahead of questions from the floor and echoed Joe Anderson’s point about the difficulty of assessing the role’s success a year in, and particularly in circumstances that have seen major reductions in revenue from central government. He added that he believes the “signal of being city mayor” delivers greater access to decision-makers on behalf of the electorate.

”Liverpool is full of people with passion for helping and changing the city”
The debate was then opened up to the floor, with questions ranging from whether the panel believes the Mayor’s office should be set up as an organisation separate from the council, to safeguards against corruption.

The concept of development of a Liverpool City Region was also mooted and a show of hands from the audience suggested overwhelming support for this system. The only audience member to express an alternative opinion, stressed his view on the value of maintaining localism.

Joe Anderson closed the debate, he said: “Liverpool is full of people with passion for helping and changing the city. I’ve set up a commission on health care with Sir Ian Gilmore and I’m doing the same on Europe and on green capital. Bringing in people with expertise is something I can do as Mayor.”

Prior to the Policy Provocations debate, the Heseltine Institute held a round table discussion for leaders from across Liverpool City Region on the policy agenda for cities in 2020. Taking the cue from the Government’s recent response to Lord Heseltine’s report, No Stone Unturned, the session asked what ‘megachallenges’ would define Liverpool – and the institute’s – future policy agenda in an era of growing devolution and continuing austerity.

The next Policy Provocations debate takes place on Wednesday October 2, from 6pm, in the Concert Room at St George’s Hall and asks: Ageing: More life of just more years?

For more information, and to book your free ticket, visit: http://www.liv.ac.uk/events/policy-provocations/ageing.php


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