The Weekend Word - 8th May 2017
The West of England, along with five other city regions in the UK, has elected its first ‘metro mayor’ in the form of Conservative councillor and businessman Tim Bowles.
Whilst the turnout was higher than some forecast, at 29.62% it still only represents a third of the electorate – demonstrating a mix of election fatigue alongside a lack of understanding about what people were voting for. So what should Mayor Bowles do in his first 100 days in office to address this apathy and confusion?
1. Create a clear narrative
The role is not that of a typical Mayor – the West of England’s devolution deal means that the regional Mayor and his cabinet of leaders from Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire councils have a specific focus to deliver sustainable economic growth, with particular powers over transport and infrastructure, planning and housing, and adult skills.
Mayor Bowles needs to create a simple yet powerful vision that clearly sets out what he plans to do in these particular areas. It needs to talk to the general public so that they understand what his role is all about; this will also help to avoid blame being cast upon him when he hasn’t tackled issues that are not within his remit.
2. Identify quick wins
Everyone knows that the first 100 days are vital in winning over your electorate. After that, the honeymoon wears off and the media in particular will start looking for a new angle, usually a negative one.
The new Mayor should identify a few projects that are achievable quickly and get them underway. Whether it’s a couple of small, localised transport schemes, a pilot scheme for bus smart cards or whatever, he just needs to prove that he’s a man of action. That will help when the critics start complaining about him being ‘another layer of bureaucracy’.
3. Make friends with business
Since this role is about delivering economic growth, Mayor Bowles should embrace the region’s business community and ensure their voices are heard. Councils are often criticised for not understanding – or helping – business because at the end of the day it’s residents that vote for them. Business worked hard to help the three local authorities get the devolution deal through for the West of England and they will be key champions going forwards.
4. Be creative
Councils are also criticised for always doing things the same way – and more often than not, doing them too slowly. In a brand new role with no previous baggage, the new Mayor has a fantastic opportunity to think creatively and look to do things differently.
5. Make some noise
A key part of this new role is about championing the West of England, to make sure we are recognised for being the real powerhouse of the UK. We have the most successful economy for any region outside of London and yet we frequently seem to be overlooked by the Government, particularly it comes to major funding.
Mayor Bowles has come across as decent, willing to comprise, and without a huge ego – which makes a nice change in politics and will no doubt smooth the path with the three leaders he now finds himself working alongside. However, when dealing with anyone outside the region, and particularly with the Government, he needs to show a bit of steel and charisma. The electorate, local businesses and fellow leaders need to feel confident that the new Mayor is a dynamic and determined voice for the West of England who is going to demand the things we need to help grow our region.
5. Woo the media
Nationally, the media are crawling all over Andy Street, the former John Lewis CEO and now West Midlands Mayor, and similarly, Andy Burnham, the new Greater Manchester Mayor, also benefits from a high profile.
Mayor Bowles is an unknown and perceived as pretty unexciting at present. He needs to address this. Former Bristol Mayor, George Ferguson, was also relatively unknown outside of Bristol but with the help of his forthright speaking, a few key strong (and sometimes controversial) policies and only wearing red trousers, he quickly became interesting to the media.
Gaining a national media profile will help the region’s profile too and will set Mayor Bowles out as a true leader.
Written by JBP's Associate Director, Catherine Frankpitt