New reports explore the responsibility of a mayor

  • Reports from researchers at the University of Sheffield highlight pressing challenges for policymakers seeking to reduce regional inequalities in England
  • The authors of the first report argue that a new accountability model for Combined Municipal Authorities (MCA) is needed to strengthen local democracy and demonstrate the effectiveness of the decentralized system
  • The second report explores how economic shocks, such as the 2008 global recession or the Covid-19 pandemic, fuel regional inequalities and national recovery data masks troubled areas
  • Policy makers are identified as ideally placed to support vulnerable areas with low economic resilience to future “shocks”

New reports exploring mayoral accountability and regional economic resilience by experts at the University of Sheffield show that the UK government’s Leveling Up white paper is just the start to reducing the lingering regional inequalities that still plague communities in England today.

As a member of Commission UK2070a survey of regional inequalities chaired by Lord Kerslake, reports from researchers at the University of Sheffield have highlighted pressing challenges for policy makers seeking to address these challenges in England.

Reports by Sheffield researchers, funded by the Crook Public Service Scholarships which give future leaders the opportunity to tackle pressing policy issues, were released as the government launched its flagship white paper, Leveling Up. The document sets out the government’s 12 tasks to tackle regional disparities – including a commitment that every part of England that wishes can reach a devolution deal by 2030.

The responsibility of mayors is the subject of the first report, ‘Responsible for what and to whom? Making mayoral accountability suitable for decentralization in Englishby Dr Matthew Wood, from the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Sheffield, and Zoë Billingham, Sheffield Crook Civil Service Scholar.

There are currently nine Combined Municipal Authorities (MCAs) in England, each with a metro mayor and a bespoke devolution agreement with central government, covering governance, devolved powers and allocation of funds.

Following the publication of the Leveling Up white paper, which extended the city hall model to new parts of the country, the accountability of these local institutions and their political leaders has grown in importance. There is no plan yet to improve the accountability system for mayors.

Sheffield Crook Service Fellow Zoë Billingham said: “The White Paper recognizes that decentralization of power away from Whitehall is essential to a successful upgrading programme. However, as our report indicates, an increasing number of directly elected mayors increases the importance of accountable local leadership and its institutions. In England.”

The report also offers a series of provocations or questions that experts will use to frame further research into what a new model of AMC capable of promoting and sustaining democracy will look like. This will include whether further regional monitoring of decentralization outcomes and how local spending decision-making can be made more visible and inclusive to the public.

Dr Matthew Wood said: “Introducing clear legislative mandates and annual reporting for decentralized authorities in the White Paper will help to account for how society achieves value for money from the funding made available.

“MCAs must be core, empowered community policy-making institutions and not top-down implementation agencies.”

Wood and Billingham aim to continue their research to come up with a set of recommendations on MCA accountability by mid-2022 that should help policymakers achieve the missions set out in the White Paper.

In a separate report, Dr Aidan While from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield, together with Daniel Timms from Metro Dynamics, wrote ‘Measure, monitor and improve the resilience of places to economic shocks across the UK‘ which examines the importance of regional resilience in the face of major economic shocks such as the 2008 global recession or the Covid-19 pandemic.

Such major events can fuel unemployment and cripple local and national productivity. The authors therefore explored how policymakers can plan for future “shocks,” build regional responses and resilience, and reduce spatial inequalities in how well some economic areas recover while others struggle. for years afterwards.

Dr Aidan While said: “Our report recommends that local authorities perform a ‘stress test’ for the vulnerabilities of their local economies, to release real-time economic data at the local level during a crisis and that less resilient areas should continue to be supported by policymakers. policies (through furlough schemes for example), even though national data suggests an overall recovery.These three areas will help protect vulnerable communities from worsening regional inequalities.

Employment and productivity levels have far-reaching consequences beyond the initial crisis, affecting household incomes, well-being and longer-term health and well-being outcomes, as some regions may struggle to attract new employers or retrain communities of skilled workers.

Dr While added: “Many missions in the government’s White Paper highlight the ambition to reduce territorial inequalities on a wide range of economic and social markers. This includes raising national wages, employment and productivity, and the gap between the best performing sectors and the others will close by 2030.

“An ambitious goal that requires integrating resilience planning into policy-making and, we believe, empowering local places to plan scenarios, collect and use data to track and assess vulnerabilities will ensure that future shocks do not fuel persistent inequality across the UK.”

Professor Tony Crook, Emeritus Professor at the University of Sheffield and founder of the Crooks Fellowship Scheme, said: “I am delighted to see these two reports from our Crook Fellows. The collaboration between two outstanding policy practitioners and two of our leading academic colleagues in policy research is exactly what we wanted to achieve with the Crook Fellowships. Not only do these reports raise critical political questions, but they come at a good time given the impending announcement of the leveling program by the government.

“The reports also feed into the work of the UK2070 Commission on Regional Inequalities chaired by Lord Kerslake and I would like to highlight the collaboration we have had with his team.”

Professor John Flint, Director of Research and Innovation at the Faculty of Social Sciences, said: “I would like to commend everyone involved in researching and producing these reports and their very important recommendations to ensure accountability in the decentralization of English and to build our resilience to economic shocks across the UK.

“These projects exemplify the value of Crook Fellowships by enabling our academics and their partners in policy and practice to share and learn from each other’s expertise and work together to develop innovative new thinking focused on social sciences on the great challenges of our time. I would like to thank Professor Crook for his generous support which allows this scholarship program to continue to thrive. »


Media contact: Rebecca Ferguson, Media Relations Officer, 0114 222 3670, [email protected]

Notes to Editors:

  • All academics are available for interviews, please contact the media officer for any enquiries.
  • The reports were produced following the most recent cohort of the Crook Public Service Scholarships, founded by and named for Emeritus Professor Anthony Crook CBE. The fellowships offer future leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors the opportunity to immerse themselves in a collaborative project on a pressing policy issue or challenge – taking short periods away from their day-to-day work.
  • Professor Crook served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for a decade until 2008 and was appointed CBE in 2014 for his services to housing. Professor Crook was chairman of Shelter and Sheffield Homes and also held senior positions with Orbit Housing Group and Coalfields Regeneration Trust. He currently chairs The Conservation Volunteers and sits on the Architects Registration Board, the Council of the Royal Institute of Town Planning and the Council of the National Academy of Social Sciences.

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