What does the snap election mean for the metro mayor elections?

These lads are probably still winners: Labour's candidates in the Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester, Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham. Image: Getty.

You know, I was almost getting excited. With just under three weeks left until this year’s metro mayor elections on 4 May, I thought, England's cities were at long last coming to the fore. Finally, it would be devolution’s time to shine.

And then Theresa May had to go and blow it all by announcing an unexpected election on 8 June. Bummer.

But what does the snap election mean for the mayorals? Here’s my best guess.

1) It’ll be good for turnout

This might seem counter-intuitive: most people don’t care about politics, and expecting them to vote, just a month before they have to vote again for something more important, looks like taking the mickey somewhat. But I reckon it’s true nonetheless.

Here’s my logic. Turnout in the locals was always going to be appalling: one mayoral candidate predicted to me it’d be 20 per cent, which, bleurgh. But a general election will raise the general level of political awareness, making people more likely to vote.

It’s entirely possible, indeed, that some people will show up on 4 May thinking it’s actually election day. Not many, no; but my guess is that there are more of those than there are people who would have voted, but will now ignore the locals on the grounds that they only vote once a year and national government is more important.

So – we can’t be sure, and the lack of a control group means we’ll never know what turnout would have been without a general election (which is great, as it means you can’t prove me wrong). But if pushed, I reckon this announcement will be good for mayoral turnout.

2) It’ll be bad for Labour

In mayoral elections, more than any other, people for individuals, not parties. This graphic by Matthew Smith charts the history of England’s modern mayoralties: just look how many independents have won.

But a general election campaign will make people more likely to view these elections through the prism of Westminster – to think less about personality and local issues, and more about the parties’ leaders. And, all the evidence suggests that if people are thinking about Jeremy Corbyn when they go to the polls, they are less likely to vote Labour.

So my guess is, where Labour can lose, Theresa May just ensured that it will.

3) Predictable results are still predictable

According to the elections expert Professor John Curtice, if you combine previous election results with national swing since, Labour has about 12 point advantage in Manchester and a 35 point one in Merseyside. The Tories, meanwhile, should be more than 30 points ahead in Peterborough & Cambridgeshire.

We knew who would win those elections before 11am yesterday: we still know now.

4) The West Midlands will go blue

This is meant to be the marginal one: Curtice reckons it’s neck and neck here.

Well, swing voters just became more likely to see the election as May vs Corbyn rather than Street vs Simon. They are, if I’m right on point 1, more likely to turn out, too.

So my guess is: Andy Street wins the West Midlands.

5) So, shockingly, could Tees Valley

Labour’s Sue Jeffrey is campaigning very hard here. But word last week was that Labour's NEC were worrying about the poor reception the party was getting on the doorstep (that man Corbyn's name kept coming up; don’t shoot the messenger, guys). And in a Middlesbrough council byelection over the weekend, the party lost a seat it’s held for 18 years to a Tory on an 8 per cent swing.

This really should be an easy win for Labour: according to Curtice, even taing into account an 8 point swing nationally, it should be around 5 points ahead. But I think it’s entirely possible that Tory Ben Houchen could carry this one.


6) The LibDems could carry the West of England

Okay this one is more speculative, but bear with me. In this area – basically, Greater Bristol – the Tory Tim Bowles has to be the favourite too.

But the LibDems are stronger here than elsewhere, and have a reasonably well-known candidate, in the former MP Stephen Williams. What’s more, the next couple of months are likely to be a good election cycle for the LibDems, as disaffected Remain voters seek a way to protest against Brexit. Those same voters are among the most likely to turnout at any election (richer, more educated).

Williams is still the outsider. But were I a betting man, it might be worth a flutter.

7) No one will pay any attention to the candidates or manifestos

It was pretty difficult attracting any attention to these elections before the general election hullaballoo. That may have changed.

But not all attention is equal – and while I suspect a Tory upset in the Tees Valley will attract national press attention, it won’t be because of Ben Houchen’s plans to take the Durham Tees Valle airport back into public ownership. It's all horserace, all the time from here on in.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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What do new business rates pilots tell us about government’s appetite for devolution?

Sheffield Town Hall, 1897. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

There have been big question marks about any future devolution of business rates ever since the last general election stopped the legislation in its tracks.

Not only did it not make its way to the statute book before the pre-election cut off, it was nowhere to be seen in the Queen’s Speech, suggesting the Government had gone cold on the idea. (This scenario was complicated further recently by the introduction of a private members’ bill on business rates by Conservative MP Peter Bone, details of which remain scarce.)

However, regardless of the situation with legislation, the government’s announcement in recent days of a pilot phase of reforms suggests that business rates devolution will go ahead after all. DCLG has invited local authorities to take part in a pilot scheme which will allow volunteer authorities to retain 100 per cent of the business rates growth they generate locally. (It also notes that a further three pilots are currently in operation as they were set up under the last government.)

There are two interesting things in this announcement that give some insight on how the government would like to push the reform forward.

The first is that only authorities that come forward with their neighbours with a proposal to pool all business rates raised into one pot across a wider geography will be considered. This suggests that pooling is likely to be strongly encouraged under the new system, even more considering that the initial position was to give power to the Secretary of State to form pools unilaterally.

The second is that pooled authorities are given free rein to propose their own local arrangements. This includes determining, where applicable, a tier split (i.e. rates distribution between districts and counties), a plan for distributing additional growth across the pool, and how this will be managed between authorities.

It’s the second which is most interesting. Although current pools already have the ability to decide for some of their arrangements, it’s fair to say that the Theresa May-led government has been much less bullish on devolution than George Osborne in particular was, with policies having a much greater ‘top down’ feel to them (for example, the Industrial Strategy) rather than a move towards giving places the tools they need to support economic growth in their areas. So the decision to allow local authorities to come up with proposed arrangements feels like a change in approach from the centre.


Of course, the point of a pilot is to test different arrangements, and the outcomes of this experiment will be used to shape any future reform of the business rates system. Given the complexity of the system and the multitude of options for reform, this seems like a sensible approach to take. But it remains to be seen whether the complex reform of a national system can be led from the bottom up. In effect, making sure this local governance is driven by common growth objectives, rather than individual authorities’ interests, will be essential.

Nonetheless, the government’s reaffirmation of its commitment to business rates to devolution and its willingness to test new approaches is welcome. Given that the UK is one of the most centralised countries in the western world, moves to allow local authorities to keep at least some of the tax revenue that is generated in their area is a step forward in giving places more autonomy over how they spend their money. That interest in changing this appears to have been whetted once more is encouraging.

There are, however, a number of other issues with the current business rates system which need to be ironed out. Centre for Cities is currently working on a briefing of the business rates system, building on our previous work in this area, and we’ll be making suggestions as to how the system can be improved.

Hugo Bessis is a researcher for the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article originally appeared.

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