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First came the revolution, now comes the evolution in devolution

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram Photo: ITV Granada

By Daniel Hewitt, Political Correspondent

Politicians like power. Some for more noble reasons than others.

It’s perhaps no surprise then that England’s seven regional mayors want more of it. They are meeting today for the first time to collectivity call on the government to ‘increase the pace and scale of devolution’.

At the gathering in London, they will make the case for giving the regions of Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and others more control over public services, tax and the revenue they raise.

Andy Turnham (centre), Steve Rotheram (right) Credit: PA

This, they will argue, is the best way of boosting economic growth and improving public services, pointing to the fact that the regions they represent account for 39% of all economic growth (what’s known as GVA - Gross Value Added).

Six of the seven mayors gathering at City Hall were first elected six months ago this week, as part of the first wave of devolution deals orchestrated by the former Chancellor George Osborne. The Mayor of London post has been in place since 2000.

Mayors in most regions have certain powers over skills, housing and transport. In addition Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has more powers over criminal justice and health and social care.

Both Mr Burnham and Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram have made it clear those powers aren’t enough. In recent weeks both mayors have called on the Department for Work and Pensions budget to be devolved, arguing the problems over Universal Credit could be better solved at regional level.

Andy Burnham has also called for control of railway stations to be devolved so Transport for Greater Manchester can improve facilities and disability access quicker.

“We are seeking more control and powers, based on the individual needs of our regions - criminal justice, health and care services, work and pension issues and schools,” said Mayor Burnham.

“Crucially, this should include significant fiscal devolution to city regions. Rather than individual Government grants or handouts, we should be given greater control over existing taxes and the revenues they create.“

– Andy Burnham

Mr Burnham and Mr Rotheram recently travelled to New York, along with other mayors from across the world, for a series of talks with former New York Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Mr Rotherham in particular was inspired by stories of what other mayors in other countries have achieved with greater powers from central government.

The talks clearly rubbed of on Andy Burnham too, who has said this ahead of today’s meeting: “As Mayors, we have far less control over the key economic levers and far less say over the management of public services, than our counterparts in other cities around the world. This means we are less able to shape and improve our city economies or tailor services to meet the specific needs of local people.”

It’s not just Labour mayors though banging on the government’s door. Four of the seven regional mayors are Conservative, and they are united with their Labour counterparts in making the case for more power from Whitehall. The Tory mayor of Birmingham Andy Street says “We are already proving our worth, now let us really kick on with the job."

There is an inevitability about this of course. Give a politician a little bit of power and they will want more. The more you give, the more they’ll want. There are plenty of Tory MPs in the North who’ve told me they were against devolution - it gives Labour a big stick to freely bash a Tory government over the head with.

But Burnham and Rotherham have Tories on their side and that has to help.

Will they get tax-raising powers any time soon, or control of the entire DWP budget? Almost certainly not. But they will keep chipping away, arguing for a little more and a little more still, “proving their worth”.

The devolution revolution that took place six months ago is now in the evolution stage. The government will need to work out how far they are willing to let it go.