Setting the Mayoral Agenda

Mike Wild, Chief Executive at MACC

Why we need an alchemist with a practical working knowledge of doughnut

With mayoral elections for Greater Manchester and five areas across England fast approaching, how are people supposed to judge who is the best fit for a role which is so little understood? Candidates are left both trying to market the role itself and to prove their capability of taking it on.

As a member of the Greater Manchester VCSE sector Devolution Reference Group I have been in various meetings with candidates, pressing the case for a collaborative relationship with the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. Of course, that is not an end in itself: the outcome we are seeking is a shared ambition to eradicate inequality in Greater Manchester in a generation. It is an unashamedly big ask. We have no expectation that the mayor will be able to deliver on it alone: it is the collaboration which will be crucial. It will be fundamental to the role because the Greater Manchester Mayor is not the same role as the London Mayor, simply an 11th member of the combined authority – not above or below but alongside.

The mayor will hold considerable ‘soft power’, with the largest electoral mandate in the North West, a built-in political and media profile when he or she speaks and the potential to shape the conversation. Whoever is elected will suddenly become the face of ‘Devo Manc’ and surely a key figure in the ‘northern powerhouse’.

They will need the skills of an alchemist and have to create a potent brew from these various powers, connections and expectations. With no formal authority on many matters, delivering on a public mandate will require the mayor to work collectively. So far, the public sector reform agenda has focused too much on the redesign of services and not enough on the remaking of the institutions which provide them.The mayor’s office could be the model for a new culture of working and lay out the path for the combined authority and other public bodies to follow. The challenge will be making sure the mayor remains an effective catalyst: if the role becomes about taking the credit rather than enabling, its potential will be unfulfilled. If it only enables but never gets any credit, it will quickly be perceived as pointless and ineffective. The alchemy will be in blending some new balance in civic leadership.

The mayor will need to address inequalities within Greater Manchester: the ‘doughnut effect’ where the central area is (perceived to be) wealthy, surrounded by more deprived boroughs. Will redistribution within Greater Manchester be politically acceptable? With a city-region-wide electorate to answer to, the mayor will need a long term view and an understanding of the bigger picture. Nonetheless, he or she is will also need to be visibly improving the lives of those who live in, work in, study in or simply visit Greater Manchester.

There are lessons from Wales: I am impressed with the ambition in the Welsh Government’s 2015 Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. This places a duty on all public bodies to show how decisions are made with consideration of the economy, environment, society and culture. The statement that all four aspects are of value and reframe what is meant by ‘success’ or ‘growth’ is a bold ambition from which Greater Manchester could learn. This is a similar idea to challenge of the ‘Raworth Doughnut’ a view proposed by the economist Kate Raworth. She argues that the new model must lie between a socially essential minimum and the limit of natural resources:

If we want to get anywhere near to eradicating inequality within a generation, this is the transmutation we need in the way we see Greater Manchester, how we work together in it and how it is shared and seen by everyone. Our first mayor might do well to start by putting two doughnuts together.

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