“I’ll be with you in a minute. I’m listening to the mayor on the radio.”
On 5 May 2017, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will join a handful of cities and regions with powers and money devolved from government. The newly elected mayor will chair a ‘combined authority’ comprising the seven leaders from our county, district and city councils, and a business representative.
They will manage a budget that includes £170m for housing and £20m a year for transport, plus some of the money that currently goes to the county and Peterborough. The Bus Services Bill will confer useful new powers to help improve bus services. And, if our devolution deal follows the path of others, new powers and money will follow in future years.
The mayor is expected to develop a new transport strategy in the context of the wider region (which extends to London, Oxford, Norwich and Ipswich). Even those who opposed devolution might be won around if we see a strategy emerge that looks fit for 2030 rather than 1980.
So what do we want from our Great Leader? They don’t need to have their own vision. In fact, I doubt any individual can have the solution in their head already. The region is already brimming with innovative ideas, so they first need to listen – to residents, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, schoolchildren, architects, academics, as well as transport and planning professionals from around the world.
In developing their vision for the region, the mayor will need to demonstrate integrity and impartiality, to win the trust of ordinary folk and multinational business executives, Whitehall mandarins and wily councillors.
Once the mayor’s delivery team starts working up projects to realise the big vision, that’s when we’ll need to find that the mayor is also an inspiring communicator, with an effective publicity machine in place. Change is necessary, and change can be unpopular. But most people will accept inconvenience if they understand the end goal and believe it to be worthwhile.
Ask yourself when you come to vote: “Is this just another suit wearing a party rosette? Or is it someone I’d stop to listen to on the radio?”
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 30 November 2016.