A survey for the Centre for Cities thinktank has found strong support among Greater Mancunians for the city region’s mayor to have more powers over the provision of “affordable” housing.
Ahead of May’s election, the Centre for Cities commissioned Savanta ComRes to gauge public feeling about the role and performance of the combined authority’s mayoral office.
The survey found overwhelming public support for the devolution of more powers to the Greater Manchester Mayor, in what is clearly an endorsement of the office. For the current incumbent, Andy Burnham, however, the results are a little more ambiguous.
Despite strong ‘brand’ recognition, there was found to be a lack of clarity on his achievements since taking office in May 2017.
“The office of Greater Manchester Mayor is just three years old but there is already overwhelming public support for it to be given more powers to improve Mancunians’ lives and level up the city-region,” said Andrew Carter, the Centre for Cities’ chief executive.
“But as Greater Manchester gears up for its second mayoral campaign, the public seems unclear about the specifics of its impact on people’s lives. It is clear that more information is needed ahead of May’s election and into the next mayoral term to inform the public about the mayor’s work. Irrespective of who wins in May, improving transport infrastructure, skills provision and access to housing should be at the top of their agenda.”
Responding to the survey findings, GM Mayor Andy Burnham said: “What I think this shows is that people recognise the potential of our devolution deal to get things done for Greater Manchester – so much so that they want to see more powers devolved to our city-region so we can control our own destiny.
“In the past three years as Mayor of Greater Manchester I’ve made significant progress on reducing rough sleeping, helped young people access opportunities with free bus travel, started work on the UK’s biggest cycling network, and forced the Government to take action on our railways. We have an ambitious agenda to make this one of Europe’s leading digital city-regions, and we’re taking action to reach net zero carbon by 2038, beating the national target by 12 years.
“We know that there’s always more that we can do, but I think we’ve shown that when you devolve powers and funding to our regions, you get results.”
The Centre for Cities poll found that 87% of respondents backed giving the Mayor more powers:
- 62% wanted the Mayor to have more direct responsibility for providing affordable housing across Greater Manchester
- 57% wanted the Mayor to take more responsibility over buses while 52% wanted the same for trains
- Providing access to skills and training also proved a priority, though for less people (40%)
However, despite this broad public support for a more powerful Greater Manchester Mayor, 60% of those polled could not name a policy achievement from Burnham’s time in office.
The Centre for Cities said this suggests he has “more work to do to convince voters” ahead of May’s election.
Nonetheless, there was some recognition: Tackling homelessness came out on top (17%), followed by improving public transport (10%). Meanwhile, 2% of respondents cited his role helping in the aftermath of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing.
Even so, Burnham enjoys high name recognition among the public, suggesting he has a “strong personal brand”. More than six in ten (64%) of respondents were able to correctly name him.
When asked about priorities for the Greater Manchester Mayor’s next term, around half of respondents said that healthcare provision (57%) and housing (47%) should be among the top three priorities.
There was a significant drop in the number of people prioritising healthcare compared to the last time Centre for Cities published polling in 2016 (68% then), but a significant increase in those citing housing as a top three priority (36% in 2016). This indicates growing concern about Greater Manchester’s affordability.
Just 3% of respondents cited support for sporting and cultural events as a priority for Greater Manchester’s politicians.
Under half (44%) of people in Greater Manchester said they are certain to vote in May’s mayoral election, rising to 59% among those who are able to correctly name the Mayor. The main reason cited for being unlikely to vote was a lack of understanding about the election (29%), suggesting that greater public information about the role of the Greater Manchester Mayor is needed.
Older people aged 55 and over are twice as likely to say they are certain to vote in May’s mayoral election than those aged 17-34 (63% and 31% respectively).
ComRes interviewed 501 residents in Greater Manchester earlier this year to create the poll; all of whom would be eligible to vote in May’s mayoral election.
Of course, with coronavirus now officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, and the UK Government having moved its response from the ‘containment’ to the ‘delay’ phase, it is open to question whether the elections will go ahead on the planned date.
Yesterday, the Electoral Commission wrote to the Government to express its concerns about the “real risks to the successful delivery of the scheduled 7 May 2020 elections”.
In the letter to Chloe Smith MP, minister for the constitution and devolution, the Electoral Commission’s chief executive, Bob Posner added: “Clearly any decisions to delay elections which are due is significant and would not normally be desirable; however, we are in unprecedented times.
“The risks to delivery that have been identified are such that we cannot be confident that voters will be able to participate in the polls safely and confidently, nor that campaigners and parties will be able to put their case to the electorate.
“We therefore call on the Government to take steps to provide early clarity to all those with an interest in the electoral process.”