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Now the poetry is over: how metro mayors can govern in prose and deliver for citizens

MV’s Emmet Regan looks at how a close focus on delivery can help the new metro mayors meet their pledges to citizens.

New ‘metro-mayors’ are now in place in Manchester, Liverpool, the West Midlands, the Tees Valley, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and the West of England. The newly elected politicians have an ability to drive forward campaign promises and turn their manifestos into reality for millions of people who rely on public services. As the former governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, said “you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose”.

The mayors, other than Labour’s Andy Burnham in Manchester, have limited experience of taking manifesto promises and turning them into deliverable policies and even less experience in the front-line delivery of services. They now lead city regions with combined budgets in hundreds of millions of pounds. The question now is how can they ensure what they promised during the election campaigns become a reality?

Issues including economic regeneration, transport and homelessness received wide-scale coverage during the election period. Now, with great power, comes great responsibility and the mayors have a limited time to make an impact and show how they can improve people’s lives. They must now deliver.

Mayors across the country must now understand how they will take each of their campaign promises and make them happen. Each has power over a variety of policy areas from planning to economic regeneration and, in some cases, over health and social care. However, without a detailed plan and without priorities, it is unclear how they will deliver the change they have promised.

Turning policy into action was an issue that governments of all hues must tackle. In 2001, Tony Blair established the delivery unit, in essence a small group of people who focused entirely of seeing through the promises in the Labour Party’s 2001 manifesto. These policies ranged from waiting times in the NHS to GCSE results to crime rates and rail punctuality. Led by Michael Barber, the delivery unit ensured a continued focus on public service targets throughout the subsequent period.

What lessons can be drawn from the experience of the delivery unit which might be helpful to the incoming mayors?

  • Prioritisation – it is easier said than done to openly admit that you will only prioritise a small number of key policy areas. However, the mayors’ time and resources are finite but public policy problems are infinite. Prioritisation will be key to the success of the newly elected members.
  • People – The mayors must find the right people to work on their priorities. In order to deliver on their promises they need people who can ensure they understand both the strategy of delivery but also how front-line services can be changed to deliver better for the public. The mayors should look across the public, private and third sectors for dynamic leadership that will be need to drive systemic change.
  • Politics – In all areas, the mayors will need to work with people from different political parties and with different views to deliver for their city regions. Understanding the need to work with others is vital to ensure delivery. The same is true of working with central government, an effective and productive relationship between the newly elected mayors and central government will be a key ingredient in the success of the regions.

The “three’ P’s” above are some of the key ingredients that are required for delivering policy. The model of the Delivery Unit has since provided a template for countries across the world – from the US to Indonesia, to Australia, governments have sought to replicate it. The newly elected mayors have a blue-print for delivery. They should follow it.

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