On 4 May, the West Midlands will elect its first combined authority Mayor. Here is some information on how the vote will work, how this election came about, what the new Mayor will do and what it means for the region, its politicians and local councils.
What is a directly elected combined authority Mayor?
The combined authority Mayor will be elected by voters in the seven constituent members of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) – Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton. The Mayor will chair the combined authority and have powers and responsibilities to make strategic decisions across the whole region. This is in contrast to local council leaders who only make decisions for, and on behalf of, their local authority.
Why is the West Midlands having an elected combined authority Mayor?
The new combined authority Mayor is being introduced as part of the Government’s devolution agenda, which allows combined authorities to take on functions over and above those they were allowed under previous legislation. The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 states that for a combined authority to be given these powers, a combined authority Mayor must be elected for the area.
Who are the candidates?
We will know who the candidates are when the nominations period closes at 4pm on Tuesday 4 April.
What powers will the Mayor have?
The Mayor will control a £1.1bn, 30-year investment fund, an adult skills budget and have compulsory purchase powers over housing and planning. The Mayor will also control the consolidated transport budget, the local roads network, bus franchising and smart ticketing on the transport network.
Previously the majority of these powers lay either with individual local authorities, such as most planning or local transport decisions, or with national decision makers, such as the adult skills budget administered through the Skills Funding Agency.
The combined authority Mayor’s powers are determined by the devolution deal that the West Midlands agreed with government. The majority of city regions around the country are, like the West Midlands, focusing on gaining powers over skills, housing and transport.
Over time, the powers of the combined authority Mayor may increase, as has happened in London. The Cities and Local Government Act is a deliberately non-prescriptive and enabling piece of legislation that allows for the devolution of almost anything to a local level. The limit to the level of devolution under this model will be the willingness and ability of local and national politicians to reach agreement on what other functions may be devolved in the future.
How will they govern and who will they work with?
The Mayor will chair a cabinet made up of the seven West Midlands council leaders who will each hold a portfolio for which they will be responsible for delivering. Whilst the Mayor will have sole authority over the areas mentioned in the previous question, all other combined authority decisions will be made in conjunction with the council leaders.
However, the council leaders cannot ‘overrule’ the exercise of Mayoral functions.
The Mayor will also be required to appoint a deputy mayor, drawn from one of the constituent authority leaders, to whom the Mayor can delegate powers as they see fit. The deputy mayor will also step in if the Mayor is incapacitated. The Mayor will also be able to appoint one political advisor. The Mayor will be able to hand certain functions to the deputy, or any of the local authority leaders within the combined authority. The Mayor can also hand these functions down to a committee they appoint, made up of members of the combined authority.
Why are we having a Mayor when it was rejected in a referendum in 2012?
In 2012 Birmingham and Coventry were two of 10 English cities that held referendums on whether they wanted to introduce a directly elected city Mayor to replace their current council leaders. All except Bristol voted against the proposal. Liverpool opted for a city Mayor in the same year, but without the need for a referendum.
The introduction of combined authority Mayors was part of the Government’s wider plan to devolve more powers from national government to city regions. Devolution deals have since been agreed by national politicians with a mandate to act, and local politicians with a mandate to represent their areas. As a result, only a handful of areas have chosen to run referendums on these new deals.
What is devolution?
Details of the first West Midlands devolution deal can be found here.
What will the combined authority Mayor mean for councils, council leaders and councillors?
The combined authority Mayor will work with leaders of the local authorities to create a strategy for the wider area. Local authorities will still be responsible for most public service delivery (such as waste management, schools, recreational facilities and fire services) and councillors will be elected to make decisions and represent their electors as they do now. The combined authority Mayor will focus on wider issues that span across the city region, such as transport, regeneration and economic growth.
What will a Mayor mean for the Police and Crime Commissioner?
In some areas such as Greater Manchester the two roles are being merged but in the West Midlands the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, a position currently held by David Jamieson, will continue independently, though the two will work closely together.
How will the combined authority Mayor be different from a Lord (or ceremonial) Mayor?
Some cities like Liverpool and Bristol have elected city Mayors, however there are none in the West Midlands. Other types of Mayors, such as Lord Mayors, perform official civic functions and act as a local figurehead but do not engage in political decision-making during their (usually) one-year term of office.
What scrutiny arrangements will be in place for the combined authority Mayor?
The West Midlands devolution deal will require the new Mayor to consult the WMCA cabinet (the council leaders) on their strategies. These can be rejected if two thirds of the cabinet members do not agree with them. The cabinet will also review the Mayor’s spending plans, and will be able to amend these with a two-thirds majority.
The 2016 Cities and Local Government Act requires all combined authorities to set up at least one overview and scrutiny committee. Each local authority within the combined authority will appoint one member. The committee will have the power to suspend decisions put forward by the Mayor and cabinet.
The level of scrutiny of combined authority Mayors will be higher than that faced by the Mayor of London. But while combined authority Mayors will not be able to take decisions affecting the whole area alone, they will have a significant democratic mandate across the whole of the West Midlands region.
Central Government will invite each combined authority to set out the details of how the checks and balances will work in their city region. This will need to work within the framework of the Act and be agreed by the Secretary of State, thus allowing for different arrangements in different places.
Who can vote in the election?
To participate on 4 May, people need to make sure they are registered to vote – the deadline to register is Thursday 13 April 2017.
If you are not already on the electoral roll, you must register to vote here.
If you happen to live in two local authority areas, as a student or otherwise, you can be registered in both areas but you can only vote in this once otherwise you might be guilty of a criminal offence. Find out more here.
If you’ve moved address or just need to confirm your voting rights, you can contact your local electoral services office here.
How do I vote?
Once registered to vote, you should receive a polling card through the post at your home address. You are then able to cast your vote in person, by post or by proxy on 4 May.
If you vote in person your poll card will tell you which polling station to attend. Polling stations will be open between 7am and 10pm.
You can find your polling station by entering your postcode into the following websites:
For Birmingham residents click here and enter your postcode into the box marked ‘Find your local services and facilities’
For Coventry, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton residents you can use the Democracy Club tool by entering your postcode here
Dudley residents should contact the Electoral Services Office
When going to the polling station it helps to take your polling card with you. However if you forget your polling card you will still be able to vote.
Staff at your polling station on polling day will ask you to confirm your name and address and will then hand you your ballot paper.
If you cannot make it in person to the polling station you can vote by post or have someone do so in person on your behalf, by ‘proxy vote’. You will, however, need to register to vote by either method in advance. Speak to your local authority to do so.
Voters with a physical or visual impairment who are unable to mark their own paper may be assisted by one of the presiding officers.
Do I just mark an X against the candidate I want, like at general or council elections?
No. A different system, called the Supplementary Voting System, is being used to elect the combined authority Mayor. In one of the polling booths at the polling station, read and double check the question you are being asked on the ballot paper.
The ballot paper will list all the candidates standing. Next to the list of candidates there will be two columns.
You will be asked to:
This video explains how the Supplementary Voting System works.
When will the result be known?
The following day – Friday 5 May.
How long will the combined authority Mayor be in office?
Three years. The next election is in May 2020, then every four years after that.
What legislation covers this election?
There is strict legislation covering the running of this election. It is particularly important that candidates and agents familiarise themselves with this information.