Metro Mayors

 
So now Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool have elected Mayors with some real power and control over some big budgets, probably not as much power or as big a budget as they would want but it's a start. 
 
It's the U.S. Model. Will Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool be the next Chicago? What have we to look forward to? Chicago's Town Hall politics are notorious. 

There is no doubt the Mayor of Chicago is a very powerful position. The city is responsible for Housing, Education, Police, transport infrastructure and economic development. The city also grants or with holds planning permission and can change the zoning regulations to benefit local communities or big business.The city is a major employer but most significantly it places very large contracts in the private sector and has considerable funds to make grants to community groups. This is how the Mayor wheels political power or as people in Chicago rather  pragmatically put it "gets things done". To British voters this amount of power invested in one high profile charismatic leader is foreign to our system of local government. We think our system is more honest, open and transparent. Chicagoans recognise their system has on occasions resulted in corruption in the way contracts are awarded, favouritism in the way grants are distributed, cronyism, the undue influence of big business and the exploitation of ethnic tensions but they consider that this is preferable to a stifling bureaucracy and political stalemate that is open, fair and incapable of delivering against the competing demands. 
 
Does it work? 

Chicago is the third largest city in the U.S. It is a very diverse city, 45 percent are white the rest are black or Hispanic with 5 percent Asian. In politics the Irish/American vote is significant. City hall politics reflect this ethnic make up. As is typical of US cities the very rich and the very poor live there. The murder rate is high but not as high as some smaller less prosperous cites like Detroit or New Orleans but crime rates, and gang related shootings vary tremendously depending on the area, poor neighbourhoods have much higher murder rates, crime and gang related shootings. There is a big gap in life expectancy between the affluent parts of the city and the poor neighbourhoods. But that's the U.S. way they believe in making wealth not redistributing it.

The problem is not more power to the cities or more power to Local Government but that more power rests with one individual.  If we look to the U.S. where this model comes from we can see the increased risk of creating personal fiefdoms and political corruption but we can also see the power to cut through the bureaucracy, to break through traditional organisational boundaries and make things happen. If the US experience is anything to go by it will all depend on the calibre of the individual. 
 
One thing I prediction is that it won't be long before all the newly elected mayors are asking for more power to get things done. 
 


Blair Mcpherson former local authority director,blogger and author www.blairmcpherson.co.uk

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