Election fever or fatigue? Why the mayoral elections on 4 May really matter
The rubber has hardly hit the road on the June General Election. But important elections are also happening closer to home. Local and metro mayoral elections are happening on 4 May, and there are some big opportunities for parts of the country to make their voices heard.
The mayoral elections stem from devolution deals that have been agreed between the government and combined authorities in six areas:
- Liverpool City Region
- Greater Manchester
- West Midlands
- Tees Valley
- West of England
- Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
In total, devolution deals (including London) cover around a third of England’s workforce and around half of the country’s trade union members. The new mayors will have significant (but varied) powers in the region, which could impact our daily working lives:
(Source: Centre for Cities)
This new model of devolution isn’t perfect. There are of course reasons to be sceptical about the mayors, especially where they have been imposed on areas against their will. There are also big concerns about the devolution agenda being used by central government to devolve austerity down to the local level, rather than establish devo deals with enough funding to genuinely rebalance the economy. Nevertheless metro mayors are coming – and mark the beginning of a longer constitutional shake-up in Britain that will see power shift away from Whitehall.
What have trade unions got to do with the metro mayors?
In many of the areas covered by these devo deals – from Oldham to Middlesbrough, from Hartlepool to Walsall – good skilled, unionised jobs that pay enough to raise a family have gone. Deindustrialisation and the hollowing out of local labour markets has been decades in the making, and has only got worse since the financial crash in 2008. Standing up for abandoned communities like these is a key TUC priority, and in the wake of the EU referendum vote and the impending economic challenges ahead, it has never been so important.
The new combined authorities, led by metro mayors, offer an important opportunity for trade unions to speak up on behalf of citizens who deserve a better deal at work. And with a seat at the table, unions can influence policy to help working people across the regions – whether that’s on an industrial strategy that improves jobs or creates decent work in the area, reforming public services, or on changing procurement policy so that the authorities (for example) only work with employers that pay their staff the real living wage, meet equality standards, offer decent opportunities for employees’ development and progression, and recognise unions.
Progress is already underway. For example, unions are represented on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Workforce Engagement Board and Forum, working on issues like employment standard charters, ethical procurement, and measuring inclusive growth. In the West Midlands, the largest devolved region outside of London, the TUC is a co-opted member of the Combined Authority Board. Unions are also feeding into various Commissions run by the West Midlands Combined Authority, like that on Productivity and Skills. Importantly, several mayoral candidates across the regions are pledging to enact exciting policies that chime with trade union values and policies.
Why bother voting?
These mayoral elections could be a an opportunity to amplify the voice of workers across the country so that central government – whatever form it takes on 8 June – has to local concerns of its people. The elections could be an opportunity to burst the Westminster bubble, and begin a new chapter in the devolution process that puts inclusive growth at its heart. In the context of leaving the EU, speaking up for places that have huge amounts at stake has never been so important.