Described by Lord Beecham as one of the localism bill’s ‘stupidest notions’, the idea of elected mayors is struggling to make itself reality.
In May 2010, the Coalition set out its commitment to creating directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities outside London, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors. They enshrined it in the Localism Act and have been busy with consultations while society has been busy with debates.
Bristol had its own Question Time-style debate at the Bristol Council house on February 22 with the audience armed with electronic voting mechanisms and the panel there to answer questions. There was George Ferguson, founder of the Tobacco Factory and Mark Weston, deputy leader of the Conservatives in support; while Barbara Janke, council and Liberal Democrat leader, and management consultant Deborah Hallett were against.
This was a local event geared towards building up interest in the new potential arrangement. The initiative is nationwide to the extent that referendums will take place on 3 May 2012 in 11 cities – Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield.
Leicester already has an elected Mayor in Peter Soulsby who has been in power since May. Soulsby runs the city council and makes decisions on how it delivers services but he cannot make any decisions on licensing or planning issues nor set the budget. Apparently he is seeking more areas to influence such as transport and the ability to decide which buildings are compulsory purchased.
This is not to say, however, that the Bristol mayor will have the ability to set bus ticket prices since each location will be encouraged to find its own way to determine its own powers.
So what will the mayor do?
The government have suggested the mayor will have ‘visible’ and ‘democratically accountable’ leadership (source).
What powers would the elected mayor have?
A consultation has been run by the government about what the mayor can do for us. The responses suggested that the mayor could have powers in areas such as: planning, transport, employment, economic growth, health and policing.
The mayors are being introduced, where wanted, in order to aid decentralisation. How this will happen is up to them so the voters do not know the practicalities for which they are voting until after the fact. The mayors decide what they do once they are elected. All the people know is that it will cost £400,000.
The consultation, What can a mayor do for your city?, suggests ” the Government does not intend to reach any view about specific powers that might be devolved, or about a council’s scrutiny and accountability arrangements”.
It is a lot to take on faith so it will have to be a very trusted candidate voted for by those who have lost their trust in the current local government arrangements. Note that Manchester have decided they do not need one and Stoke have gotten rid of theirs. The London mayor seems to be a world on to his own and there is a whole section in the Localism Bill about all the new powers that role will achieve so I won’t mention that one.