Democracy, Diversity and English Devolution

19 Apr 2017

The excitement of the general election aside, it’s important to remember that there are other important elections coming up – ones that have gone largely under the national radar.

As well as important local elections in Scotland, Wales and much of England, the first ‘metro-mayors’ will be elected. Six new city-region mayors will be elected with wide-ranging powers over the local economy, transport – and in Greater Manchester even some parts of the NHS and welfare.

These new institutions represent the greatest change to the governance of England in decades. It is vitally important then, to think about how they will work as democratic institutions. The Electoral Reform Society has hence produced a new report, From City Hall to Citizens' Hall: Democracy, Diversity and English Devolution.

Many of these new combined authorities are in areas made up of local ‘one party states’, where a single party dominates the council far out of proportion to their local popularity. There’s a big worry this will have negative repercussions for scrutiny of these new mayors.

One party domination has a huge impact on the composition of the combined authorities – but more worryingly, the scrutiny committees, given that these will be drawn from the highly disproportionate (and one-party dominated) seat make-up of the councils.

The Cost of One Party Councils report commissioned by the ERS has shown the costs imposed by poor scrutiny in one party councils. It founds that public procurement budgets in councils overwhelmingly dominated by a single party spend are more prone to waste – estimated to cost £2.6 billion per year. If the scrutineers are mostly from the governing party, it’s no surprise that they are less effective at holding their own party to account.

But we’re also raising the alarm about potential issues of diversity in the new combined authorities.

The ERS predicts that just one female Mayoral candidate will win next month (most likely in Tees Valley), with only seven female candidates out of 39 in the six races.

In the most gender-diverse cabinet of the Combined Authorities, only one of five leaders is a woman, while in four there are no women at all. 93% of the top jobs in the new CAs are likely to go to white men. It bodes badly for public faith in these institutions, and therefore their sustainability.

The ERS is calling for candidates and the new Mayors to back reforms to open up the Combined Authorities, including: basing scrutiny committees on vote share rather than seat share, prioritising gender balance in upcoming local elections, adopting proportional representation via the Single Transferable Vote for local elections, implementing a ‘Transparency Charter’, and experimenting with new forms of democracy such as citizens’ assemblies.

The new mayoralties are an opportunity to do politics differently: an opportunity that should not be missed.

Read our new report, 'From City Hall to Citizens' Hall: Democracy, Diversity and English Devolution' here


3 Responses to Democracy, Diversity and English Devolution

Adam Reynolds 27 Apr 2017

While I agree that some kind of AV should be introduced I don't hink your policy goes far enough. In order to get a full and accurate vote I would propose two further additions.

Firstly voting should be compulsory, as I believe is the case in Australia, Belgium and several other countries. However this should only happen if combined with the addition of 'None of the above' to every ballot paper. If NotA wins then no one wins and the election will be reheld.

I believe these tow things would force every candidate to fight for every vote and none of the parties or commentators could consider the silent majority to be either not bothered, happy with the status quo or that they won't vote because "it'll make no difference'

Mark Jones 28 Apr 2017

I tore up my electoral voting papers for a metro mayor as I do not believe in or recognise such a political office that the West Midlands or Great Britain doesnt need  

Jonny Wineberg 2 May 2017

I am happy to agree with 5 out of 7 of the Recommendations for English Devolution but points 1 and 3 are not, I believe, correct.
One of the strengths of STV is that it gives people the chance to say what type of candidate they prefer - maybe someone who prioritise youth or older poeple's issues; someone from a minority ethnic group; or possibly someone of a particular gender. Thus, point 1 would not be appropriate under STV. What we need is positive action to encourage gender equality, not positive discrimination.
Point 3 is, however, far worse. The vast majority of people in this country do not belong to a political party. Scrutiny committees should, therefore, be made up mainly of non-affiliated local activists. To make them up of politicos who mirror the vote share of parties is a recipe for disaster and will only serve to see sycophants be appointed. We are much better than that.
As a former Chair of the ERS Campaign Committee, I suggest that these points are revisited asap, especially with the elections happening on Thursday!

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