Mayors could be a guiding light in post-Brexit Britain, but they’ll need greater powers

Sarah Ayres, University of Bristol and Andrew Beer, University of South Australia

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.

The path less trodden.
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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.The Conversation

Sarah Ayres, Reader in Public Policy and Governance, University of Bristol and Andrew Beer, Dean, Research and Innovation, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the idea of ‘good work’ in a gig economy remains a distant ideal

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Tonia Novitz, University of Bristol; Alan L Bogg, University of Bristol; Katie Bales, University of Bristol; Michael Ford, University of Bristol, and Roseanne Russell, University of Bristol

Don Lane’s employment contract for his work as a courier described him as an “independent contractor”. This meant he was neither an “employee” nor a “worker”, so not entitled to legal rights such as protection against dismissal, paid holidays, or statutory sick pay.

The 53-year-old also suffered from diabetes, and had previously been fined £150 by the delivery firm he worked for for missing work to attend a hospital appointment. He died in January 2018 after working through the Christmas season despite his illness. Continue reading

Reforming modern employment: have the Conservatives done enough to become the party of workers?

Credit: Pixabay/Public Domain.


Have the Conservatives fulfilled Theresa May’s pledge to become Britain’s workers’ party? Not as it currently stands, writes Tonia Novitz. She explains what the actual plight of British workers is, what steps have been taken by May’s government to address it, and why they fall short of what is needed.

Can the Tories can become ‘the workers’ party’? This was the latest ambition of Robert Halfon, a Conservative MP. Observing the decline in support from women and those under 30, he sought a rebranding to revitalize Conservative popularity. His pitch for a ‘workers’ charter’ might be equated with what is currently envisaged in the Taylor Review initiated by the government, but if so such a charter would be hollow and inadequate. Much more would need to be done. Continue reading

“Buy Brexit”? Using “cultural fit” as evaluation criteria breaches EU and UK public procurement law

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

On March 1, 2017, The Guardian  reported that the UK’s Department for International Trade had tendered contracts where they expected that tech companies should have the right ‘cultural fit’ if they wanted to be hired. This was interpreted in the news report as a clear mechanism whereby “Firms bidding for government contracts [were] asked if they back Brexit“. It is indeed a worrying requirement due to the clear risk of unfettered discretion and ensuing discrimination that such ‘cultural fit’ requirement creates. In my opinion, the requirement runs contrary to both EU and UK public procurement rules (and this was later echoed by the follow-up coverage story by The Guardian as well: “Trade department may have broken EU rules with ‘pro-Brexit’ contract criteria”).

In this post, I develop the reasons for the assessment that such a ‘Buy Brexit’ requirement is illegal (which I previously published in my personal blog and the specialised EU Law Analysis blog). I will try to keep this post as jargon free as possible and limit the technical details of my legal assessment as much as possible. However, this is a rather technical area of economic law, so some technicalities will be unavoidable. Continue reading

Industrial strategy: some lessons from the past

Dr Hugh Pemberton
Reader in Contemporary British History, University of Bristol, Department of History

Industrial strategy is back on the government’s agenda, with a promise to produce a ‘match fit’ economy that ‘works for everyone’ and is able to thrive after Brexit. As yet, however, there is little sign of the promised broadly-based and coherent industrial strategy emerging. In crafting it, explains Hugh Pemberton, its architects may profitably look back to the 1960s for some pointers.

For nearly a century, governments have tried to shape Britain’s industrial and commercial landscape. Yet, whilst they often wanted to raise industry’s efficiency and competitiveness, historically there was little consensus on how best to do it. And, whilst ‘industrial policy’ and ‘regional policy’ were often in evidence, the crafting of a broader ‘industrial strategy’ was a rarer event. Continue reading

Miller: Why the Government should argue that Article 50 is reversible

Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law, University of Bristol

Professor Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law, University of Bristol

Last week’s judgement in the High Court is a ringing endorsement of the sovereignty of Parliament. It asserts that ‘Parliament can, by enactment of primary legislation, change the law of the land in any way it chooses’ (at [20]).

It explains why the ‘subordination of the Crown (i.e. executive government) to law is the foundation of the rule of law in the United Kingdom’ (at [26]), including references to the bedrock of the UK’s Constitution, the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights, and constitutional jurist AV Dicey’s An Introduction to the Law of the Constitution.

The Crown has broad powers on the international plane, for example to make and unmake treaties, but as a matter of English law, these powers reach their limits where domestic law rights are affected. EU law, by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972 (described again as a constitutional statute), does indeed have direct effect in domestic law. As a result of the fact that the decision to withdraw from the European Union would have a direct bearing on various

The Royal Courts of Justice in London, home of the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Credit- Anthony M. from Rome, Italy - Flickr

The Royal Courts of Justice in London, home of the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Credit- Anthony M. from Rome, Italy – Flickr

categories of rights outlined in the judgement (at [57]-[61]), the Crown cannot, without the approval of Parliament, give notice under Article 50.  Continue reading