So what should England’s new mayors do now?

Andy Burnham, looking pleased at having won something. Image: Getty.

Our new mayors have wasted no time. They would have been forgiven for taking the weekend off, but there was no time for a hangover. The morning after the election before, Andy Burnham had announced his top team, and Andy Street had met with the Prime Minister. The devolution tremor (it could hardly be called an earthquake) rumbled on.

All six of England’s new mayors will naturally look for some quick wins. We have already seen some of the glamour we’ve come to expect of our-front bench politicians – high-profile photo opportunities and interviews with national media, normally reserved only for our London-based stars.

No doubt, with all this attention, in about three months’ time, people will be asking the mayors “what have you achieved in your 100 days?” – as many did with our London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Absolutely right. IPPR has pushed for mayors for decades, and, since they were first proposed, IPPR North has argued that this model has great potential. These mayors have a mountain to climb; they need to get off to a good start.

But if they only to focus on making a short-term impact they will waste the full potential they have. They only have 3 years – so more like a 1000 days – to make far bigger changes. And if, when they stand in front of the electorate again in 2020, they simply reel off a list of the low-hanging fruit they’ve picked, then many of us will be disappointed – not least the people they could have helped.

These mayors are a big deal – they shouldn’t set their sights so low. Yes, people are right to point out the technical limitations of their powers. As an individual they have little direct power – rightly, given the need for checks and balances in any fair and mature democratic system.

When interviewing people for our recent report, the ‘soft power’ of the position came up a great deal. But it is so important not to mistake ‘soft’ for ‘ineffective’ – or worse, ‘weak’.

‘Soft power’ is the power to convene homelessness charities across a city region, and help rough sleepers directly within days of taking office. And ‘soft power’ becomes ‘hard power’ when it translates into the politics of the combined authorities these mayors will chair. If they can work with their colleagues then billions of pounds can be marshalled to a more effective, collective cause.

A new forum of debate and a new politics has been ignited within our city regions – some of the biggest issues will be within these mayors’ soft and subtle influence and combined authorities’ direct remit – from the quality of the air we breathe, to the pay and progression of the jobs many do.

And if they deliver, this could in time be seen as one of the most profound changes to English governance in decades. For those of us who recognise the UK – or more specifically England – is the most centralised of developed countries, we hope this is the thin end of a powerful wedge.

We hope that more mayors will follow (some are pencilled in for next year). And we hope that this opens up a fresh conversation about how England is governed – a country of 55m people, now ruled almost entirely from Whitehall.

The new mayors have already broadened the debate beyond their own borders – Andy Burnham has supported IPPR North’s ideas for Council of the North and both he and Steve Rotheram have pushed for northern leaders to come together on Brexit.

So yes, it is important to have a short-term impact, and raise the profile of our city regions. It’s exactly what we need. But there’s a much bigger prize to be won. Last week’s tremor has finally opened a crack in our centralised politics. Let’s hope we can now break it wide open.

Luke Raikes is a Senior Research Fellow at IPPR North. He tweets at @lukeraikes.

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The ATM is 50. Here’s how a hole in the wall changed the world

The olden days. Image Lloyds Banking Group Archives & Museum.

Next time you withdraw money from a hole in the wall, consider singing a rendition of happy birthday. For today, the Automated Teller Machine (or ATM) celebrates its half century.

Fifty years ago, the first cash machine was put to work at the Enfield branch of Barclays Bank in London. Two days later, a Swedish device known as the Bankomat was in operation in Uppsala. And a couple of weeks after that, another one built by Chubb and Smith Industries was inaugurated in London by Westminster Bank (today part of RBS Group).

These events fired the starting gun for today’s self-service banking culture – long before the widespread acceptance of debit and credit cards. The success of the cash machine enabled people to make impromptu purchases, spend more money on weekend and evening leisure, and demand banking services when and where they wanted them. The infrastructure, systems and knowledge they spawned also enabled bankers to offer their customers point of sale terminals, and telephone and internet banking.

There was substantial media attention when these “robot cashiers” were launched. Banks promised their customers that the cash machine would liberate them from the shackles of business hours and banking at a single branch. But customers had to learn how to use – and remember – a PIN, perform a self-service transaction and trust a machine with their money.

People take these things for granted today, but when cash machines first appeared many had never before been in contact with advanced electronics.

And the system was far from perfect. Despite widespread demand, only bank customers considered to have “better credit” were offered the service. The early machines were also clunky, heavy (and dangerous) to move, insecure, unreliable, and seldom conveniently located.

Indeed, unlike today’s machines, the first ATMs could do only one thing: dispense a fixed amount of cash when activated by a paper token or bespoke plastic card issued to customers at retail branches during business hours. Once used, tokens would be stored by the machine so that branch staff could retrieve them and debit the appropriate accounts. The plastic cards, meanwhile, would have to be sent back to the customer by post. Needless to say, it took banks and technology companies years to agree common standards and finally deliver on their promise of 24/7 access to cash.

The globalisation effect

Estimates by RBR London concur with my research, suggesting that by 1970, there were still fewer than 1,500 of the machines around the world, concentrated in Europe, North America and Japan. But there were 40,000 by 1980 and a million by 2000.

A number of factors made this ATM explosion possible. First, sharing locations created more transaction volume at individual ATMs. This gave incentives for small and medium-sized financial institutions to invest in this technology. At one point, for instance, there were some 200 shared ATM networks in the US and 80 shared networks in Japan.

They also became more popular once banks digitised their records, allowing the machines to perform a host of other tasks, such as bank transfers, balance requests and bill payments. Over the last five decades, a huge number of people have made the shift away from the cash economy and into the banking system. Consequently, ATMs became a key way of avoiding congestion at branches.

ATM design began to accommodate people with visual and mobility disabilities, too. And in recent decades, many countries have allowed non-bank companies, known as Independent ATM Deployers (IAD) to operate machines. The IAD were key to populating non-bank locations such as corner shops, petrol stations and casinos.

Indeed, while a large bank in the UK might own 4,000 devices and one in the US as many as 12,000, Cardtronics, the largest IAD, manages a fleet of 230,000 ATMs in 11 countries.

Bank to the future

The ATM has remained a relevant and convenient self-service channel for the last half century – and its history is one of invention and re-invention, evolution rather than revolution.

Self-service banking and ATMs continue to evolve. Instead of PIN authentication, some ATMS now use “tap and go” contactless payment technology using bank cards and mobile phones. Meanwhile, ATMs in Poland and Japan have used biometric recognition, which can identify a customer’s iris, fingerprint or voice, for some time, while banks in other countries are considering them.

So it’s a good time to consider what the history of cash dispensers can teach us. The ATM was not the result of a eureka moment of a single middle-aged man in a bath or garage, but from active collaboration between various groups of bankers and engineers to solve the significant challenges of a changing world. It took two decades for the ATM to mature and gain widespread, worldwide acceptance, but today there are 3.5m ATMs with another 500,000 expected by 2020.

Research I am currently undertaking suggests that ATMs may have reached saturation point in some Western countries. However, research by the ATM Industry Association suggests there is strong demand for them in China, India and the Middle East. In fact, while in the West people tend to use them for three self-service functions (cash withdrawal, balance enquiries, and purchasing mobile phone airtime), Chinese customers consumers regularly use them for as many as 100 different tasks.

Taken for granted?

Interestingly, people in most urban areas around the world tend to interact with the same five ATMs. But they shouldn’t be taken for granted. In many countries in Africa, Asia and South America, they offer services to millions of people otherwise excluded from the banking sector.

In most developed counties, meanwhile, the retail branch and the ATM are the only two channels over which financial institutions have 100 per cent control. This is important when you need to verify the authenticity of your customer. Banks do not control the make and model of their customers’ smart phones, tablets or personal computers, which are vulnerable to hacking and fraud. While ATMs are targeted by thieves, mass cybernetic attacks on them have yet to materialise.

The ConversationI am often asked whether the advent of a cashless, digital economy heralds the end of the ATM. My response is that while the world might do away with cash and call ATMs something else, the revolution of automated self-service banking that began 50 years ago is here to stay.

Bernardo Batiz-Lazo is professor of business history and bank management at Bangor University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.