Devolution has the potential to be game-changing for good growth and public service reform across the regions, but to what extent has the public been engaged in the process? With ‘metro’ mayoral elections approaching in 2017, it’s time for the public to have their say in the devolution debate.
of the public know little or nothing about the Government’s plans for devolution
of the public support giving more decision-making powers to local areas
say integrity and honesty are the most important quality in a mayor
believe public service standards should be equal no matter where you live
Devolution has a part to play in delivering good growth and public service reform across the regions, but only if devolving power, resource and accountability results in a real impact on the day to day aspiration, experience and engagement of citizens and communities.
Yet, to date, the devolution debate has largely been confined to Whitehall and City Halls, with little success in bringing devolution to life with the public. Indeed, our research with Ipsos Mori and NLGN has shown that while the public are supportive of localising powers and decision-making in principle, they know less about what is happening in practice.
Better citizen engagement will lead to stronger turn-outs come Election Day and help the new Mayors to set and deliver priorities based on the outcomes that matter most for the public.
In order to address the devolution engagement deficit, during the 2016 Party Conference season, we worked with BritainThinks to convene Citizens’ Juries exploring public perspectives on devolution in the West Midlands and Liverpool. Each Jury brought together 24 members of the public, from across the different geographies, to spend a day deliberating on devolution issues including:
"With a round of mayoral elections coming up in May 2017, engaging the public in the devolution debate is more critical than ever. "
Local identity is a challenging concept for members of the public to pinpoint, and tends to relate to a person’s immediate locality rather than a wider sense of regional identity. With a lack of a strong shared identity in many areas, Combined Authorities need to make the case for building links and connectivity across places.
The political boundaries created by the Liverpool City Region and the West Midlands, similar to other Combined Authority areas, do not correspond to an existing sense of local or regional identity. However, most members of the public can see the logic behind grouping areas together in order to build the international brand of a place, generate investment and improve connectivity. Combined Authorities and the new mayors will need to continue to make the case for working together.
Jurors’ knowledge of the upcoming changes related to devolution and mayoral elections was limited and our national polling shows that only 15% of the wider public know a ‘great deal’ or a ‘fair amount’ about the changes. The newly created Combined Authorities will require extensive explanation and public engagement. For citizens to engage with the election of a mayor, they must feel that the mayor has the power to make real change to the lives of those in the region.
Jurors had a low level of knowledge about devolution and the 2017 mayoral elections and also a low level of awareness of the current mayoral candidates, with only a small minority able to name a candidate in either location. For some, there is concern about introducing additional layers of bureaucracy, and Jurors voiced confusion over where the new mayor would sit in existing governance structures. However, in both locations jurors were also able to see the potential benefits of upcoming changes: some welcomed the idea of having a figurehead who can think about the region’s needs now and in the future and develop strategies for growth and investment, and others recognised the benefits of working together from an efficiency perspective.
Just a little
Heard the proposals, but know nothing about them
Never heard of them
A fair amount
A great deal
Citizens are looking for evidence that the new Mayor will be different from their perceptions of most existing politicians: an individual who understands them and their lives, is motivated by what is best for the region, and who can communicate a compelling vision of the region to the public.
The jurors were eager for the mayor to be someone who has a genuine passion for their area and who understands the lives of ordinary people. They felt that the new Mayor should be a strong and charismatic leader, who could appeal to all sections of society and act as an ambassador for the region across the UK and globally. While jurors were clear that the new mayor should be an effective politician and able to exert influence, they were also keen to see an individual who had experience outside of politics, such as in business. Communication skills are seen as essential, with a good mayor being someone who listens, can deal with the media and is transparent about the reasons for their decisions.
Integrity and honesty
Commited and passionate about your area
Understands the lives of ordinary people
A track record of getting things done
Non-conformist who challenges political conventions
Education and skills emerged as the top priority in both Juries. There is real potential for the mayor to play a convening and campaigning role across all priority areas – bringing people together to make change, and championing the region and its best interests.
Jurors focused their priorities for the region on three policy areas:
Under each area, jurors felt the Mayor could be most effective as a convener of local bodies inside the region and an ambassador from the region to the rest of the world. In the context of some concern about the limited budget allocated to the regions, emphasising this role of the new mayor will be critical in bringing to life what mayors can achieve and why they are important.
Jurors felt that it would take a concerted communications effort to reach people in the region, and that there was some way to go before citizens like them feel genuinely engaged in the devolution agenda. As a first step, creating more awareness of the May 2017 mayoral elections is critical.
Jurors felt that better communication and engagement should be achieved through approaches which are accessible to all sections of society, for example, using social media and a ‘Mayoral App’, in combination with traditional methods such as town hall meetings to ensure a wide appeal. Although there is a desire for frequent communication from the new Mayor, it was accepted that citizens would be unlikely to spend their time looking for or reading this information, and that building knowledge and engagement will be a challenging task.
Our West Midlands Jury, held in Birmingham during Conservative Party Conference, explored the need to build connections across the region in order to deliver real results. Key priorities for the mayor include improving local skills, developing more affordable housing and investing in transport. The Jurors felt that a good mayor needs to be a listener, talker and doer, and also to understand what it means to 'walk in the shoes' of the people living and working across the region.
Watch our short video from the West Midlands Jury to find out more.
Our Liverpool Jury, held during Labour Party Conference, brought together members of the public from across the Liverpool City Region to explore what a good mayor for the city would look like and what their key priorities should be for their time in office. While the Jurors felt bound together by the Mersey, there were concerns that the city regions boundaries tested the limits of common identity. Topping the list of mayoral priorities are improving skills through better engagement with business, and turning around the city's most deprived areas.
Watch our short video from the Liverpool City Region Jury to find out more.
Partner, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 7804 1704
Nick C Jones
Director of PwC’s Public Services Research, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 7213 1593
Devolution Driver, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 207 212 8029