11/03/2016 11:25 GMT | Updated 12/03/2017 05:12 GMT

Metro Mayors Should Shake Up Their Cities

The race is on to lead the North's major cities. This May it is Londoners who will elect their mayor. But on May 4 2017 it will finally be the turn of citizens in Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, the North East and other areas to elect 'metro mayors' to govern their city regions.

This will be a significant moment. At 2.8 million, Greater Manchester is not far short of Wales' population - and its economy is in fact bigger.

And in some ways, these mayors could hold more power over their cities than the Mayor of London does over the capital.

They could become a 'leader of leaders' - working closely with their constituent districts to build public services around their citizens. They could be just the catalyst required for these local authorities to become greater than the sum of their parts.

Transport will be a vital area of policy, and a key political battleground. Londoners might be surprised to learn that in the rest of the country buses compete on the street for passengers, in what can either be a complete free for all, or can leave some people with no services at all. This makes oyster- or contactless-style ticketing impossible, prevents investment and makes public transport significantly harder to use.

Mayors in the North should soon have the power to 'franchise' their buses in the same way TfL does - a welcome but long overdue step.

But they could do far more, as IPPR North research - published today - shows. With the right leadership they could use their transport networks to radically change both the daily lives of their citizens and the long-term future of their cities. Mayors could connect their more deprived citizens with the jobs they need with new bus routes; they could prioritise cleaner air or environmental sustainability.

To do so they will need to invest, and that means raising revenue from the right sources. Each city is different and will require a different approach. But the candidates should first look at the powers they're already set to have: workplace parking levies, congestion charges and the 2p business rate premium.

But central government should enable them to go further. Whitehall should make implementing these charges far easier, and lift the cap on the business rate premium. It should allow mayors to spend this money on whatever mix of transport investments their city needs.

For mayors to do so will require firm leadership. But while executive power can be a great enabler, in isolation it can lead to poor decisions and wasted public money. Mayors therefore need to be held accountable with firm checks and balances. So we also need to see beefed-up local transport committees, that enable the representation of the diverse communities that make up our Northern cities.

With the right leadership, our major cities can start to punch their weight on the global stage. But in order to do so, first they must bind their cities together with the transport networks they need and deserve.

Luke Raikes is a Research Fellow at IPPR North

IPPR North's report, Connecting Lines, is available to read here