Greater London and the West Midlands are the two most populous counties in England, and as such, their local governments have considerably more responsibility than some other counties in the nation. At Redfield & Wilton Strategies, we recently polled residents of the West Midlands and London on their respective mayoral elections and took the opportunity to ask respondents about the extent of devolution to their local authorities—namely, how they perceive power is currently devolved in a variety of policy areas and how they think power should be devolved in such areas.
Our research finds that overall, pluralities in both the West Midlands (48%) and London (46%) believe the Prime Minister has more control than the regions’ Mayors over policies specific to their counties. A slightly greater proportion of Londoners (33%) think the London Mayor has the most control when compared to West Midlands residents (26%) who think the West Midlands Mayor has the most control.
A greater proportion of Londoners also believe the role of London Mayor has a huge impact (57%) rather than little impact (27%) on the day-to-day lives of Londoners. By contrast, West Midlands residents are notably divided on whether the West Midlands Mayor has a huge impact (39%) or little impact (41%) on their day-to-day lives.
Looking at specific policy areas, majorities in both the West Midlands and London believe the Prime Minister and Westminster currently have the most power and responsibility in their county with respect to most areas on which we polled, including Immigration (65% and 63%), Taxation (63% and 62%), Coronavirus Restrictions (61% and 63%), Healthcare (63% in both), and Welfare (54% and 57%).
A majority of respondents in both counties—but a greater proportion in London (63%) than in the West Midlands (54%)—also say the Prime Minister and Westminster have more power and responsibility with respect to Economic Growth. Meanwhile, pluralities in the West Midlands and in London think the UK Government has the most power and responsibility regarding the Environment (47% and 45%) and Policing (47% in both).
The only policy area in which a majority or plurality of both counties’ respondents believe their local Mayor and Government have the most control is Transport: 56% in London and 43% in the West Midlands think their county’s Mayor and Assembly or Combined Authority have the most power and responsibility over Transport.
A plurality (46%) in London also believe the London Mayor and Assembly have the most power and responsibility over Housing, whereas the plurality (44%) in the West Midlands say the Prime Minister and Westminster have more control. Therefore, Housing is the only policy area in which the plurality of Londoners and West Midlands residents do not agree with each other on which authority has the most power in their county.
However, when it comes to which authority respondents think should have the most control, majorities in both the West Midlands (52%) and London (53%) think their Mayor and local Government should have the most power and responsibility with respect to Housing. Over half of West Midlands (51%) and London (58%) residents think their local Governments should possess the most power over Transport in their respective counties as well.
Furthermore, although 47% in both regions believe the Prime Minister and Westminster currently have the most control over Policing, a plurality in the West Midlands (47%) and London (46%) believe their Mayor and Combined Authority or Assembly should instead have the most power and responsibility with respect to Policing.
On the topic of Environmental policy, respondents in both the West Midlands and London are divided on whether the Prime Minister and Westminster (41% and 44%) or the Mayor and local Government (42% and 43%) should have the most power and responsibility.
Compared to the majorities who say the national Government currently has the most power in the following areas, a relatively smaller proportion of West Midlands and London residents believe the Prime Minister and Westminster should have the most power over Coronavirus Restrictions (49% and 54%), Welfare (44% and 46%), and Healthcare (49% and 52%). That being said, a plurality or majority of respondents in both regions still say the national Government should have the most power in these areas.
Likewise, majorities in both the West Midlands and London maintain that the Prime Minister and Westminster should have the most power and responsibility over Immigration (58% and 56%), Taxation (57% and 54%), and Economic Growth (54% and 56%).
The West Midlands and London have many differences, but when it comes to how they feel power is and should be devolved in their counties, residents’ perceptions are largely comparable. Respondents from both regions believe power currently rests mainly with their national rather than local Government in many policy areas, and with the exception of Policing and the Environment, most residents believe this level of devolution is how it should be. The only areas in which a substantial proportion of respondents believe their local authorities do (and should) have more control than Westminster are Housing and Transport, suggesting that most Londoners and West Midlands residents are otherwise satisfied with the current level of devolution their counties have in these respects.