Last week, voters in eight regions of England elected metro mayors. Also known as combined authority mayors, this maturing level of government is starting to recognise the role charities play in building stronger communities. This has been particularly true throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The door is opening to charities, but as the country starts to rebuild and the levelling up agenda gathers pace, the sector must show its relevance and cement its role at this level of government.
A maturing tier of government
Charities are used to working with local authorities and with national governments. Whether that be through delivering local contracts or advocating for policy change at Westminster, Holyrood or the Senedd. The relationships have not always been harmonious but they have been well understood.
A new batch of metro mayors joined the Mayor of London in 2017. With varying powers and budgets in each region, there wasn’t a one size fits all model for how charities should work with these newly elected politicians.
Indeed, the focus of power on transport, adult skills and housing in many regions made it unclear if charities could easily work with them. Now that most have had four years to bed in though, it is becoming clearer how charities can work with metro mayors.
Working with charities
The eight mayors elected last week includes five incumbents. However, Ben Houchen in Tees Valley and Andy Street in the West Midlands were the only Conservative metro mayors to retain their status. Two of the three newly elected mayors, Nik Johnson in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and Dan Norris in the West of England, are Labour mayors replacing existing Conservative mayors. And West Yorkshire saw Labour’s Tracy Brabin become its first metro mayor. This means six of the eight elected mayors are now Labour mayors.
The manifesto commitments of the eight mayors inevitably vary but there are some clear commonalities when it comes to both the role of charities and the prominence of the causes they work on.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given their powers over housing, tackling homelessness was a priority for all the elected mayors who published a manifesto prior to the election. Homelessness charities will no doubt want to speak to Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire, who committed to producing homelessness reduction plans, as well as Andy Street in the West Midlands and Steve Rotheram in the Liverpool City Region who are joining Burnham and Brabin in adopting a Housing First approach.
Charities working on mental health and domestic violence will also be interested in recent commitments made by some of the mayors. Andy Street, Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham have spoken about providing support to those whose mental health has been affected by the pandemic. Plus, Sadiq Khan and Tracy Brabin both included measures to tackle violence against women in their manifestos.
Through the lens of building back better and creating stronger communities, support for community ownership models and social enterprises was also a feature of a number of mayoral manifestos. Andy Burnham and Tracy Brabin have committed to establishing community wealth hubs, to support the development of community enterprises and cooperatives, particularly focussed on community ownership. And in London, Sadiq Khan will develop a framework to allow community groups to use vacant spaces.
However, arguably the greatest recognition of charities came from those mayors who had seen how charities and volunteers responded to the pandemic; rapidly organising themselves and their services to get support to people who needed housing, food packages, mental health care and much more. Andy Street, Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram and Sadiq Khan all specifically mentioned the role of charities in the pandemic in their manifestos, with Steve Rotheram and Andy Street committing to establishing or continuing funding to support the charity sector.
An opportunity for charities
For charities in areas where metro mayors are committed to supporting them or their causes, there is an opportunity for charities to be a part of that region’s social recovery.
But charities can’t be complacent. It is important they maintain the momentum from their Covid-19 response, continuing to show how they can respond rapidly and flexibly when there is the right support from government.
In the three regions where the mayors said little about how they intend to work with the social sector, Tees Valley, the West of England, and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, it is less clear how charities and social enterprises can be involved in their agendas. For example, Ben Houchen in Tees Valley has a strong focus on economic recovery and businesses. However, with Nik Johnson in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and Dan Norris in the West of England in the early days of the job, charities should move fast to show them how they can help deliver their agendas.
At NPC, we’re working with the sector to better understand the policy opportunities open to charities and funders eager to be a part of the country’s social recovery. This includes exploring how they can work with different levels of government. To see what ideas we’re already working on, and to share your thoughts on this topic, visit our Rethink Policy page, part of our Rethink, Rebuild project.