I believe there are a number of ways in which local government could, and should, be reformed but simply grafting an expensive new elected mayor system onto the existing framework is not the way to achieve that.
Despite Government rhetoric, a mayor does not come with the guarantee of additional powers. A mayor can do no more for a city in terms of job creation, transport or economic development than the current council leader. Indeed, negotiations about a City Deal for Leeds, whilst still ongoing, demonstrate that the current council leader is already actively engaged in bringing inward investment to the city.
If all 10 cities who have had a referendum imposed upon them elected a mayor, this region will have 3 expensive elected mayors in a 10 mile radius. While I can see the logic of a Leeds City Region mayor in terms of attracting investment, having three mayors competing within a small area only seems to undermine this aim.
An elected mayor is a very expensive option for Leeds at a time when public funding is being drastically reduced in most other areas. Typically the position of elected mayor attracts a salary of around £150k. That is more than three times the level of allowances awarded to the current leader – for no additional benefit. When other areas of public funding are being cut this represents excessive spending on what is essentially a vanity project for Government.
If a mayor is introduced and proves to be a poor choice, there is very little anyone can do to remove that person for their 4 year term in office. Currently the council constitution enables the council to remove a poor or failing leader.
You only have to look to Doncaster, where there is already an elected mayor, to see the damage caused to a city by concentrating such a significant amount of power in the hands of a poor decision maker.
It has been suggested that the selection of a council leader is undemocratic. This is also fundamentally inaccurate. A leader – like the Prime Minister – is a democratically elected individual who is nominated by other publicly elected representatives. If that system is good enough for Parliament, why is it not good enough for Leeds?
The current Leader represents the party that is in administration. To elect a Leader, potentially from a different party, is a recipe for further conflict and less accountable decision making.
The current commitment of the Council and its Leader to driving forward the city’s ambitions is evidenced in part by its development projects – such as the Arena, Trinity and Eastgate. It will be creative partnership arrangements like this between the public, private and voluntary sectors that will determine this city’s future success – not an elected mayor.
Councillor Mark Dobson