For many cities and regions across the UK, Brexit carries profound risks. It seems highly likely to trigger a period of economic instability, as investors seek a better understanding of the on-the-ground realities of a post-EU Britain, as the pound responds to changing economic conditions and as new relationships are established in Europe and beyond.
Leaders of local authorities – already feeling the impact of a decade of austerity and sluggish growth – are worried about their futures under Brexit. In August, Plymouth City Council became the first to issue a legal challenge to the British government over Brexit, requesting information and analysis about possible impacts on the local area. And in October, the eight metropolitan mayors called for further devolution and increased funding under Brexit.
But do these local leaders have the capacity to bring about the changes necessary to deliver a better future for cities and regions? Our research from 2017 suggests that places in England too often lack the leadership they need to achieve a prosperous and secure future.
Odd one out
We compared local leadership in England with Finland, Germany, Italy, Australia and the USA, and found that England was – in some important respects – the odd nation out. When we asked local leaders how they would respond to either a major economic shock or opportunity, the pathway to effective action was far less certain and much less transparent than elsewhere.
For example, in England, local leaders said that they would work within networks of firms to develop complex strategies involving the public and private sectors on the ground, while also seeking central government support. By contrast, in Finland, Germany and Italy the relevant mayor would take charge, with support from their professional staff and central government.
There have been some shifts toward the European model, with the introduction of combined authorities and elected mayors in some parts of the UK from 2011. But according to the participants in our study, this move has added complexity and could reduce coordination in local government, as new ways of working had to be found when previously important roles, such as local authority chief executives and council leaders, were forced to concede some control.
Even so, the local leaders we interviewed also saw this move as adding to the legitimacy of local leadership, because the mayors are directly elected, as well as providing a focal point for community mobilisation and buy-in.
Yet there is a real gap between public expectations of mayors and their formal powers and authority in the UK. And since not all parts of England have mayors, it’s harder for elected leaders to assert their influence at a national level, share their experiences with others and find collective solutions to the problems in their cities.
An ad hoc approach
Local leaders in England have also found it difficult to build momentum and public support for devolved forms of governance. The private sector has a prominent role in local governance through their role on Local Enterprise Partnerships and through prominent business member organisations. Some of the participants in our research saw this as a strength, but they said it also brought uncertainty and ambiguity.
They felt that the reliance on interpersonal relationships between key people in the private and public sectors resulted in an ad hoc approach to local issues and initiatives. There was little learning from past experience, so every challenge required a bespoke approach. As a result, responses tended to be reactive rather than strategic, and short term rather than comprehensive or systematic.
As it stands, England’s local leaders do not seem to be in a good position to ensure a smooth transition through Brexit. National economic and political processes have a significant influence on the well-being of cities and regions in the UK, and Westminster holds its power tightly. In Europe and elsewhere, local leadership has a greater impact on local economic performance.
A new role
Brexit will reshape the UK economy and society, as well as how the nation is governed. There is a strong case to introduce mayors in other English cities and to allow them to take a greater role in political life. Elected mayors could, for example, have an important role working with central government to determine what powers might be repatriated to a local level, after Brexit. So far, they’ve had little opportunity to negotiate.
Mayors are also well placed to act as ambassadors for their local areas by developing strategic partnerships with elected leaders and business interests in Europe and beyond, effectively bypassing central government. Yet they currently lack the powers and prestige of their European counterparts.
There is also scope for elected mayors to influence national and global debates by acting as a united force to demand greater devolution after Brexit. But it’s clear that some elected mayors in England are in a better position to negotiate with central government than others, because of their public profile and perceptions of competence.
Greater devolution will be necessary to empower local leaders to look after the interests of their citizens, while the UK repositions itself in the global economy, and sharing power at the local level will be an important step to greater prosperity and political stability in the nation, after Brexit.
It is perhaps a cruel irony that, on the same day the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a landmark call for urgent action, Jair Bolsonaro surged to victory in the first round of Brazil’s presidential elections. Although the leader of the far-right Partido Social Liberal did not achieve the 50% of the popular vote required to win outright, and will now have a run-off against Fernando Haddad of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party), his rise has posed some painful and divisive questions both within Brazil and beyond. Continue reading
As many as 800,000 people around the world die every year by suicide, with 76% of these deaths in low and middle income countries like India and China. Between 110,000 and 168,000 people die from self-poisoning using pesticides – the same pesticides which are banned in wealthier countries due to human health and environmental concerns. Continue reading
The international community has widely acknowledged the severe threats posed by the impacts of climate change to a series of human rights, including the rights to life, health, and an adequate standard of living. But a stark gap has emerged between this acknowledgement in global climate policy – evidenced by a non-binding clause in the preamble of the Paris Agreement – and their actions to meet promised targets. Continue reading
We know that comparatively disadvantaged people, even in rich countries, have worse health and shorter life expectancy than others. But what is it exactly about socioeconomic disadvantage and other environmental difficulties that affects our biology? And at what age are we most vulnerable to these effects? Continue reading
Blog post by Dr Sumita Mukherjee, Senior Lecturer in History, discussing the roles of history and race in global suffrage.
In February 2018, I held a workshop in parliament to discuss the ways in which we could learn from the history of suffrage struggles, and the fights for political representation in the Global South, and use those lessons in reflecting on the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in Britain. The workshop was supported by PolicyBristol, History&Policy and the national Vote 100 campaign. Some of the podcasts from this event are available online. Speakers came from a range of academic and policy backgrounds, with an equally mixed audience. Continue reading
Controversial changes to disability welfare benefits have left many ill and disabled people unable to access the support they need. In his speech to the Labour Party conference, the party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn, spoke of how benefit assessments had “created a ‘hostile environment’ for disabled people”. Continue reading
Momentum seems to be building for a people’s vote on Brexit. Phil Syrpis (University of Bristol) argues that it will not provide the answer to Brexit – whether or not the government secures a deal with the EU. Rather, he argues that the calls for a people’s vote are distracting campaigners from making the case for the outcomes they really want. Continue reading
When the NHS turned 70 this year, I was reminded of another anniversary which has had an enormous impact on healthcare over many years. Penicillin is 90 this year.
Discovered in September 1928 by Alexander Fleming, it was first used as a cure when George Paine treated eye infections with it in 1930. A method for mass production was devised by Howard Florey and Ernst Chain in 1940, and it was first mass produced in 1942, with half of that total supply used for one patient being treated for streptococcal septicaemia. Continue reading
Dr Sofia Galani, Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School
A quick internet search for human rights in the first week of August retrieved results about the crucifixion of convicted criminals in Saudi Arabia and the political stand-off with Canada, the struggle of Argentinian women to decriminalise abortion and the debate on religion freedom sparked by Boris Johnson’s derogatory comments about women wearing burqas.
With all these human rights debates around us, it is not difficult to understand why we have not considered the human rights violations that take place in the maritime domain. Continue reading