Making mayoral accountability fit for English devolution

Accountable for what and to who?

1 February 2022

By Zoë Billingham and Matthew Wood

2 minute read

Ahead of their upcoming investigation into the accountability of Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs), CPP Co-Director Zoë Billingham and Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield Dr Matthew Wood consider the gaps in our present system.

The process of the devolution of power and resources in England is very much a work in progress. Since 2014 Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) have become an increasingly important part of the governance landscape. There are now nine MCAs each with a metro mayor and a bespoke devolution deal with central government, covering governance, devolved powers and allocation of funding. As the MCA model evolves, deepens and broadens out to new areas of the country, the accountability of these institutions and their political leaders grows in importance.

The increasing public visibility of metro mayors during the past two years of the pandemic has put a renewed political focus on what role metro mayors can and should play in reducing the UK’s stubborn geographical inequalities, both within and between regions. A successful place-based approach to reducing inequalities relies upon clear, integrated and accountable governance between tiers of local, regional and national institutions

The lack of a universally understood system of accountability of metro mayors and their combined authorities is by no means the only reason for the slow development of the MCA model. The political dynamic between a Conservative government and predominantly Labour metro mayors has no doubt reopened the question of the political beneficiaries of the mayoral model in England. As has more recent debate to extend a mayoral model to rural England. But accountability is, by mutual consent of the political leaders involved, a tool available to formalise and develop the mayoral model, no matter who is in power.

This research note sets out the framework for how we will approach the question of the accountability of MCAs and some early provocations to stimulate debate and interest in the topic. The complex, siloed and uneven accountability of MCAs remains unresolved. Our emerging hypothesis is that these accountability issues will be replicated in any further roll out of the MCA model or in upcoming county deals, without further reform.