May local elections 2021: voters in English cities want more devolved powers, new poll shows

Voters are crying out for more regional power, but is the government dragging its feet on English devolution?

May local elections 2021: voters in English cities want more devolved powers, new poll shows (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

Voters in England’s cities want to see more devolution of powers to their regions so they can better recover from the pandemic, a new poll shows.

A major new poll carried out by Savanta ComRes for the Centre for Cities think tank shows England’s city regions are crying out for further devolved power.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

More than 80 per cent support for greater devolution, according to the poll, which also highlights the key issues which voters want to see their regional leaders further empowered to tackle.

Based on this new data, the think tank is calling on the government to publish its delayed plans for shifting power out of the capital - which was promised in the 2019 Conservative manifesto.

May elections

When voters head out to the polls on May 6th for the local elections in England, more people than ever before will be able to cast their ballot for a directly-elected metropolitan mayor.

Almost 40 per cent of the population in England across eight city-regions will be able to vote for a metro-mayor.

The regions which currently have these elected officials are:

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Greater London Greater Manchester Liverpool City Region West Midlands Tees Valley West of England North of Tyne (no election this year) South Yorkshire (no election this year)

While West Yorkshire will elect its first metro mayor in May.

What issues do people care most about?

The polling suggests that the pandemic has had a clear impact on the issues voters are most keen to see addressed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, health care is the most common primary concern for voters (51 per cent) followed by schools (38 per cent) and housing (30 per cent).

The pandemic has also seen support for business and adult education increasingly becoming a common concern - both in the short-term for the former, and in the long term for the latter by helping people reskill and find work in growth sectors.

Voters are clear on their concerns, and they are also seemingly clear that granting further devolved powers to their mayor’s office is one way of addressing them.

Among the 83 per cent of people in city-regions who backed more devolved powers, the main goals they wanted to achieve through this all tie in with their concerns.

People want to see their regional leaders empowered to provide affordable housing, to support businesses and to provide access to skills and education, the poll found.

Less than half those polled in West Yorkshire were aware of upcoming mayoral election

While the data does suggest a real desire to see power brought to where people are, rather than being hoarded in Westminster, it also suggests that more should be done to inform people about devolved power.

The mayors of Greater Manchester and Greater London - Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan - score highest for name recognition among their constituents, with 63 per cent and 60 per cent able to name them respectively.

However, awareness of who runs England’s cities is generally fairly low among the people who live in them.

Less than 10 per cent of people in the West of England could name their mayor, compared with an average of 33 per cent across all regions.

In West Yorkshire, where voters will elect their first metro-mayor next month, less than half those polled were aware of the upcoming election.

‘Still waiting’ for government’s plans

Centre for Cities’ Chief Executive Andrew Carter said: “People in England’s largest city regions overwhelmingly support shifting power out of Whitehall and down to their communities.

“At the 2019 election, the Government backed the principle of more devolution in England yet, more than a year later, we are still waiting to see what its plans are.

“As places look to recover from the pandemic, it is vital that the Government listens to demands for more devolution and gives mayors and other local leaders the powers and resources to build back better.

He added: “People want Whitehall to do less, it’s time for it to listen.”