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Power to the regions: What will the mayoral elections mean for criminal justice?

Wednesday 12 April 2017

On 4 May 2017 six regions of England will hold elections for newly created combined authority ‘metro’ mayors, covering multiple local authorities in mostly urban areas, for the first time.

The creation of these new roles is inextricably tied to English devolution, reflecting government’s belief that regions would benefit from having a London or New York-style figurehead to go out and raise their profile, to speak on their behalf and set out a strategy to boost the area’s economy and public services.

Until now, most of the mayoral campaigns have concentrated on economic issues, such as planning, housing and infrastructure, reflecting the fact that the devolution deals struck to date have been largely economically focused. The two exceptions to this are the campaigns in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, reflecting the breadth of devolution discussions in both areas.

Greater Manchester's new mayor will subsume the powers of the existing PCC


Arguably the most powerful of these new positions will be Greater Manchester’s new mayor, who will subsume the powers of the existing police and crime commissioner (PCC), along with control over fire, house-building and transport. As well as taking over running of the police, Greater Manchester’s new mayor will need to decide whether to build on current PCC Tony Lloyd’s work to join up local justice services around people and places, and whether to push for further powers over youth justice, probation and adult prison budgets. These issues have risen back to the top of the political agenda following the explosion of the psychoactive substance, ‘spice’, within Greater Manchester’s prisons and on the streets, which has fuelled a worrying rise in violence, debt and mental ill health. A classic ‘wicked’ issue - this is exactly the kind of problem that the new mayor will be expected to resolve, requiring strong, visible leadership and coordination of multiple services, including the police, prisons, homeless services, health and education.

A pledge to tackle anti-social behaviour on public transport


Unlike in Greater Manchester, the new mayor for the West Midlands will not have responsibility over policing but that has not stopped crime and justice issues from playing a part in the election campaign. The Conservative candidate Andy Street has called for the role of PCC to be scrapped and subsumed under the mayor by 2020; a move he argues will allow for a more coordinated and cost-effective approach to policing in the region. He has also pledged to lead a ‘Coalition Against Crime’ and secure greater powers to tackle anti-social behaviour on public transport. His intervention is unlikely to be welcomed by the existing PCC, David Jamieson, who has previously raised concerns about the independence and remit of the new mayoral role. 

These debates reflect a broader truth: that whilst policing is amongst a number of areas in which the new mayor is, on paper, unlikely to have formal power, the mayor will have considerable ‘soft’ power to wield. Indeed Andy Street is not the only mayoral candidate to have felt emboldened to make pledges on things that aren’t mentioned in the region’s devolution agreement. The new mayor will hope to use his or her position to knock heads together, apply public pressure and set priorities for the region.

The new mayors will be in charge of areas with a combined population of over 8 million


In these two regions alone, the new mayors will be powerful, visible figures, in charge of areas with a combined population of over 8 million and multi-billion pound budgets. For people working within and using the criminal justice system, these elections are likely to have significant implications, from the policing priorities that are set through to the potential for further deals with government to devolve powers over local justice services. 

Here at Crest, we have already been working with an increasing number of PCCs, mayors and combined authorities to turn justice devolution into a reality. The next 12 months are going to be nothing if not fascinating.

The elections are likely to have significant implications on the criminal justice system.


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