Opening debate ahead of first-ever East Midlands Mayor vote sees Labour, Conservative and independent candidates clash on local knowledge and influence
An opening debate for those vying to become the first-ever East Midlands Mayor saw candidates clash on who had the best local knowledge and influence to hold what will be one of the most powerful regional positions in the UK.
Labour’s Claire Ward, Conservative Ben Bradley MP and independent Matthew Relf spoke to business leaders at Cleaver and Wake in Nottingham’s Island Quarter on Friday, February 2.
Reform candidate Alan Graves was invited to attend but declined.
The vote to decide the region’s first directly-elected mayor will take place on May 2, 2024.
They will have power to make sweeping decisions affecting transport, housing, public health, the environment and education across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
The role will be similar to that held by Labour’s Andy Burnham in Manchester and will be the figurehead for the region’s £1.14bn devolution deal, bringing extra funding and powers into the East Midlands.
Devolution involves more direct planning powers and funds being transferred by government to town halls and councils to give more control to local politicians.
Mr Bradley, who is the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, argued the devolution deal had been a “two-year labour of love”.
At the debate he said: “I will make a strong argument that this will have more impact on your community than even the general election will.
“I’m as experienced as you can get. I have a genuine local connection around our entire region.
“We are terrible at attracting inward investment to our region. This is a fund which will allow us to sort the roads out.”
Ms Ward said she was “the only candidate with broad experience” citing her 13 years as a Labour MP.
She said: “I will be the champion for this region, and I will put this place before party.
“I don’t think that the people who have broken our country, who have been responsible for creating the mess we’re in, should be given the chance to build our future in this region.
“This is the chance for us to get control from Westminster and make decisions here.”
Mr Relf added: “The major parties are unfortunately destroying our democracy.
“Our MPs have failed us in Westminster, we have been forgotten.”
Addressing MrBradley, he said: “The highways are his control at the county council, they are in the state they are because of his decisions.
“For him to suggest we should use this funding to fix our roads is wrong. This should be about transformational change of our transport network.
“I’m independent — I don’t have to answer to party leaders. I only answer to the electorate here.”
A public consultation on the plans was held from November 2022 to January 2023. While it indicated people supported devolution as a project, the idea of a new elected regional mayor failed to win overall public support.
The consultation found 45% of more than 4,800 people surveyed did not want a directly-elected mayoral role to be installed in the region, although most supported to idea of devolution itself.
This was narrowly higher than the 42% who said they did support the proposed position, with the remaining 13% saying they ‘don’t know’ if they back the idea.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked all candidates present for their views on the consulation results.
Mr Relf said: “At the end of the day, I don’t think they’re necessarily wrong.
“The MPs should’ve been selling this region and making sure we are getting the government investment that it so desperately needs. They have failed us on that.
“The combined authority is in some degree being pushed upon us, but now is it here we need to make the best of it and the most of it.
“I am just focused on the local area, I only answer to the electorate.”
Mr Bradley said: “We are getting this role so it’s important we choose the right person.
“It’s not a new layer [of bureaucracy], we have a complicated regional layer of organisations and what this does is bring all of those together with more clout and funding.
“We’ve talked a lot about our roads and our transport. This is the only we can get £4bn of funding to sort those things out.
“This is a real opportunity to fix and influence those things.”
Ms Ward said her priorities would be economic regeneration, transport and meeting environmental targets.
She said she “understands” people who did not want to see the new role.
She said: “People are often fed up of politicians, but this is the deal on offer to get the maximum available in terms of devolution powers and funding.
“I want to make it work for people so they can see the difference in having an elected mayor. Having a champion for our region will show people that it’s worth having a mayor.”
A vote to choose a Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire will also be held alongside the May 2 mayoral poll.