What the mayoral elections mean for communities

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Recent local elections welcomed new mayors and combined authorities to England. As the dust settles, we reflect on what it means for the community business sector.
10 May, 2024
Natalie White

Natalie White

Portfolio Manager

Last week’s mayoral elections had some surprising results and ended with a nail-biter final outcome in the West Midlands. Yet, over the long weekend I watched my family members’ eyes glaze over at my talk of metro mayors. I’ve since enjoyed digesting the news with colleagues this week. The big question on our minds is what the mayoral elections mean for the community business sector. 

Do voters care about devolution? 

It would appear my family’s disinterest in these elections is by no means unique. Recent polling shows voters are twice as likely to trust local politicians to improve their areas than national politicians. But that doesn’t seem to be enough to get many of us down to the polling station. Already low voter turnout was down further this year on previous years. Recent analysis by Locality indicates it is lowest in the most deprived areas.  

So why do we care? Power to Change’s ultimate vision is for more communities in England to run businesses that give them the power to change what matters to them. We know when given the right support and opportunities, these businesses create more resilient places that are better to live and work in for everyone. To achieve this, we’re focused on shaping the conditions for community businesses to thrive. Where we’re seeing real opportunities to do this impactfully is at the regional level.  

Why regional government matters

As the UK grapples with societal and environmental challenges, there is growing consensus that something needs to change. Devolution provides an opportunity to strategically address national or even global challenges through a place-based lens.  

At the regional level, the concept of inclusive growth has gained momentum over recent years. With their understanding of their area’s unique needs, local leaders are at the forefront of making ambitions around this a reality. Crucially, more and more devolved authorities and their leaders are recognising the need to focus on building strong regional social economies. They are seeing how investing in this can build thriving local economies that are good for people and planet.

How we’re working with partners 

Power to Change is partnering with places to support the development of their own approaches to intentionally grow the social economy. Regional authorities and their mayors play a key role in these partnerships. They offer strategic leadership and convening power to bring together key stakeholders to design and deliver social economy growth.  

The approaches are varied and respond to the unique needs of place. But across all regions, we recommend a few strategies that we know work to strengthen communities and the local social economy. In the West Midlands Combined Authority, we are implementing a growth strategy co-developed with the local social economy. In Liverpool City Region and the newly-formed North East Combined Authority, we co-design regional social investment vehicles to provide flexible, affordable, and patient finance. In all areas, we direct funding allocations towards tailored and trusted business support. And we focus on strengthening networks of community businesses, particularly those led by and serving minoritised communities.  

So, this week we welcome the election of the twelve metro mayors and the formation of a number of new combined authorities. We hope that they will join us in backing the community business sector in order to create more inclusive regional economies.  

Meanwhile, we hope that the next Government will strengthen and deepen devolution, pushing power beyond the city and town hall into the hands of communities. If voter turnout tells us anything, it’s that we urgently need to enable greater local democracy and community empowerment across the country if we are to face tomorrow’s challenges.