More than 90% of most powerful positions in the new English mayoralties and their cabinets are likely to be held by white men, according to analysis by the Electoral Reform Society.
The thinktank said English devolution risked becoming a “plaything of the old boys’ club” on its current trajectory, as residents of six city regions - Greater Manchester, Birmingham, west of England metropolitan area, Tees Valley, Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, and Liverpool - prepare for their first directly elected mayors.
Its report, From City Hall to Citizens’ Hall, predicts that only one of the six mayoralties will go to a female mayor. Just seven of the 39 candidates are women.
It also suggests the mayors will have cabinets made up of council leaders from local authorities that go to make up the new city regions. Only two cabinet members are likely to be women and only one from a black and minority ethnic background.
In the most gender-diverse cabinet of the combined authorities, only one of five leaders is a woman, while in four there are no women at all.
Sue Jeffrey, the frontrunner to be Labour mayor of Tees Valley, said the design of the system was at fault for creating such a lack of diversity, but that it was also a reflection of the picture at the top of local government.
“If metro mayors are going to be successful there has to be a way of making them representative of the people who voted. People will not tolerate a system on an ongoing basis that allows this selection process to happen that means we don’t get a representative mix of people in the top positions,” she said.
She argued that it would be the responsibility of new mayors to make sure they engage with and involve a wide variety of different groups from their communities, given the lack of elected assemblies holding them to account.
Katie Ghose, the chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said it showed the parties had “dropped their guard when it comes to diversity and democracy in the new combined authorities”.
“With 93% of the most powerful posts being controlled by men, these institutions risk magnifying the problems of representation that already exist in local government,” she added. “And many of the new institutions will effectively be ‘one-party states’, with mayors held to account by their own party colleagues.
“It’s concerning to see the most powerful positions in these new authorities being dominated by the ‘usual suspects’. These new bodies can’t be allowed to be the preserve of the old boys’ club – with the new mayors and cabinet members often being the same as those who previously had power, only with less accountability.”
The new mayoralties were announced by David Cameron’s government, which wanted to see more responsibility for spending decisions taken by city regions.
The new combined authorities will get new powers over transport, housing, planning, policing and public health in return for accepting directly elected mayors, but there have been concerns about how they will be scrutinised.
The Electoral Reform Society called on the parties to take “urgent action towards equal gender representation for the councils that make up combined authorities” and to make sure scrutiny committees are comprised of councillors representing the vote share of parties at the previous election.
The mayoral elections are taking place on 4 May, with Andy Burnham, the former Labour cabinet minister, expected to take Greater Manchester, and Steve Rotherham, a Labour MP ally of Jeremy Corbyn, likely to win the contest to represent the wider city region.
A tight battle is under way in the West Midlands, with the frontrunners Siôn Simon, the Labour MEP, and Andy Street, the Conservative former John Lewis boss, in close contest.
The Tory candidate Tim Bowles is battling it out with the Lib Dem hopeful Stephen Williams in the West of England metropolitan area around Bristol, Bath, North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
James Palmer, the Conservative candidate, is favourite in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.