Mayors hail ‘step change’ after Downing Street meeting with Starmer

Wednesday, Jul 10, 2024

LONDON: Regional mayors have hailed the potential for a “step change” in their relationship with the Government after Sir Keir Starmer said he would strive to build a “real partnership” with the English leaders.

The Prime Minister and his deputy Angela Rayner held a meeting with 11 regional leaders, including Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, and the only Conservative mayor, Tees Valley’s Lord Ben Houchen.

The gathering followed hot on the heels of a whistlestop tour of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales by Sir Keir, where he met the leaders of the devolved administrations.At Tuesday morning’s meeting, the regional mayors were told the new Government wanted to build on their local growth plans and to explore further devolved powers.

Sir Keir told the regional leaders: “I know many of you already have growth plans in place – some of you have shared them and that is fantastic.“What we want to do is build on that with a real partnership where you feel that the Government is up alongside you, supporting what you’re doing.” The Prime Minister added: “I think it’s the first meeting like this in Downing Street. “I don’t think all the metro mayors have come together in Downing Street like this – so this is a first and that’s good.” Voters in some large cities in England elect mayors with regional responsibilities for transport, housing, and in some cases policing.

The Downing Street meeting was attended in person by 11 mayors from England, with Mayor of South Yorkshire Oliver Coppard absent because he was ill with Covid. Labour Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin said the meeting “marked a welcome step change in the relationship between mayors and Government”. She added: “We had a productive discussion about how we will grow our economies and put money back into people’s pockets, build new homes and improve local transport.”

Mr Burnham meanwhile told the BBC the Government’s plans for a “council for regions and nations” was “music to my ears”. “People may remember some interactions I had with previous governments. It was always struggling to get heard and struggling to get our perspective in the North understood in Whitehall,” he added.

Mr Khan told the PA news agency Sir Keir discussed “other parts of the country where there could be mayors”. He also insisted having a mayor could be a “real game changer”. As the meeting took place, Deputy Prime Minister Ms Rayner confirmed that the Government would scrap the phrase “levelling up” from the title of the department she oversees, the now-renamed Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The slogan was added to the title of the department during Boris Johnson’s time as premier.

Ms Rayner, who is also the Communities Secretary, said her time in office meant “no more gimmicks and slogans, but the hard yards of governing in the national interest”.The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned of a combined funding gap of more than £6 billion over the next two years in the local authority sector.

After the General Election result last week, LGA chairwoman Louise Gittins said it was important to “find a sustainable and long-term financial solution” for councils, and claimed the new Government was facing a “period of huge change but also opportunity”.

Sir Keir has turned his attention to devolution over the weekend, having spent Sunday in Scotland, and Monday in Northern Ireland and Wales. Before the tour, the Prime Minister said his appearances would signal his ambition to “push power and resource out of Whitehall”.

US President Joe Biden is expected to host Sir Keir at the White House later this week as a Nato summit takes place in Washington. Mr Biden’s press secretary said the move will “underscore the importance of continuing to strengthen the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom”.