As a local government reporter some years ago, I was told by senior figures in Manchester, whenever I asked the question - which was often - would Greater Manchester ever adopt a city region mayor?
No, was always the emphatic answer - we don’t need one, we work perfectly well together as things are, thanks very much.
But now they have, with Greater Manchester’s police and crime commissioner Tony Lloyd last week selected as the city region’s interim mayor ahead of a public vote for the first elected mayor in 2017.
The leaders in Manchester weren’t wrong of course - they did work very well together without a mayor. However, times change and Manchester’s power brokers are nothing if not pragmatic.
George Osborne has made it a clear condition that if government is to devolve significant powers to city regions then those new ‘super councils’ need clear, accountable, democratic leadership, in the form of mayors.
Whether you agree with the merits of the mayoral model or not this is the offer on the table. And for Manchester’s leaders, it was strong enough for them to move beyond their opposition to the concept and accept Osborne’s quid pro quo: give me a mayor and I’ll hand you greater control over your city.
Can other cities follow Manchester’s lead? Liverpool has a mayor in place, although the wider city region partnership is still fragile, and elsewhere there are some signs of progress. As we report this week, the leaders of eight councils across the Greater Birmingham area have agreed to press ahead with plans to create a combined authority for the city region, following a meeting with the chancellor, Lord Heseltine and communities secretary Greg Clark. This comes after Heseltine told Property Week back in April that the city region was the next in line to receive significant powers from the government.
This is good news as progress in the West Midlands on collaborative working has been sluggish. But for all the leaders’ talk of creating a “Midlands powerhouse” there was a catch: the leaders made it clear they had shelved talks over a metro mayor and haven’t yet even been able to agree on a name for the new city region, with ‘Greater Birmingham’ apparently ruled out, due to local sensitivities.
Further up the M6, there were and still are similar sensitivities but also a realisation that if a mayor was what was needed to get what they wanted then a mayor is what they would have. Westminster is offering to devolve power - if other city leaders want to seize the opportunity they may well have to follow suit.
Floating into summer
Speaking of seizing opportunities, could we be set for a flurry of IPOs? The market is running hot and it seems almost every other day another propco posts record results - this week it was Workspace’s turn, with the London office specialist reporting a 42% leap in net asset value in its full-year results.
Some are already making their move. Cairn, the Irish housebuilder, announced its intention to float this week, and it may well be that the firms that abandoned floats last summer - Miller Homes comes to mind - or those that have been thinking about doing so - step forward McCarthy & Stone - finally take the plunge. Logicor is another candidate as owner Blackstone will be looking to cash in before too long.
There has been a flurry of smaller IPOs in recent weeks, such as AEW REIT and Drum REIT, which could be the sign of bigger things to come. Last summer, market volatility stopped many floats in their tracks. This summer could be very different.