Feature article: how would you like LCC to be run?

Guest Post by Alison Neale.

Just in case you hadn’t heard (where have you been?!), on Thursday 3 May a referendum will be held alongside the local elections. The question being asked is:

How would you like Leeds City Council to be run?

By a leader who is an elected councillor chosen by a vote of the other elected councillors. This is how the council is run now.
or
By a mayor who is elected by voters. This would be a change from how the council is run now.

While trying to decide how to vote in recent weeks, I have found it so frustrating that little of any substance is being written. Articles in the media seem either vague or terribly biased and contradictory. It doesn’t help that most of the details will only emerge after the referendum has been held. I ended up with a list of the various arguments ‘out there’, and it occurred to me that it might be useful to others. I have tried to present it here in an unbiased fashion… If you can tell which way I’m going to vote then I’ve failed miserably! If you have heard other arguments or have other views, please do add them. I don’t pretend to know the right answer, but without debate, how can we possibly make an informed decision?

Pros Cons
An elected mayor would have the current powers of the Council leader, plus further ‘bespoke’ powers to be announced at a later date, and dependent on the city in question. This is a more dictatorial position than that which currently exists, whereby decisions are taken at cabinet, committee and full council levels. A two-thirds majority would be needed by councillors to overturn a mayor’s policy.
The new powers being suggested for an elected mayor include: transport and infrastructure; apprenticeships and skills; investment; local enterprise partnerships; regeneration funding. An elected mayor wouldn’t have the powers of the Mayor of London, which is the example that is being held up. This leaves voters with no clear mayoral model to consider when choosing which way to vote.
Having an elected mayor would qualify Leeds for these devolved powers being planned by Government. Leeds would be able to get these powers without an elected mayor, but other changes would need to be made in order to qualify.
A high-profile mayor would be recognised locally and nationally/internationally in a way that is not true of Council leaders. If the ‘wrong’ person were elected it could damage the reputation of a city. Some suggest that the position would attract ‘mavericks and self-publicists’.
An elected mayor is more likely to vote for the good of the city rather than the good of a political party. This might rely on the mayor being an independent candidate, or being confident enough to stand up to their own party line.
An elected mayor would have a mandate laid out for the voters to assess. They would be more directly accountable to the electorate and judged on their performance. This might result in an elected mayor focusing on policies that would get them re-elected rather than on the best thing at the time for the city.
It is argued that the election of a mayor would bring people out in greater numbers to vote. There is no solid evidence offered for this argument, and if a higher number did not vote, would the current system thus be more representative of the whole city’s population?
With a strong voice, a mayor could attract more investment and jobs to a city, and be a focal point and ‘cheerleader’. Is the current model really incapable of doing the same thing?
An elected mayor would have a four-year term. This could mean a longevity of viewpoint and decision-making. The current leader of a Council is chosen by their peers, and serves until those peers believe a change is needed. While this could lead to short-termism, are councillors perhaps in a more informed position to judge leadership performance?
If we were not to vote for an elected mayor, would this put Leeds at a disadvantage to other UK cities that did have one? Our decision should be made based on what is best for Leeds, rather than comparing ourselves to other cities.

If you want to read more, the official documents outlining the plan are here:
http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/localgovernment/pdf/2020982.pdf
http://www.dpm.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files_dpm/resources/CO_Unlocking%20GrowthCities_acc.pdf

Some links to the ‘yes’ campaign in Leeds:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Vote-YES-to-an-elected-Mayor-in-Leeds/227217044026154
http://theleedscitizen.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/if-none-of-us-do-anything-leeds-wont-get-an-elected-mayor/

Some links to the Leeds ‘no’ campaign:
http://www.noleedsmayor.net/index.htm
http://www.aspdin.net/mayor/index.htm

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11 Responses to Feature article: how would you like LCC to be run?

  1. I just can’t decide. Usually stuff like this is a no-brainer for me but it’s a real brain-hurter!

    If I could take issue with just one point – I would perhaps not use the term “dictatorial” and suggest “autocratic” instead.

    A few people are using language like “Dictorial” to back an argument that somehow ” elected Mayors are undemocratic” – when I just don’t buy that at all.

    • Alison Neale says:

      I have just checked the OED: ‘dictatorial’ and ‘autocratic’ have precisely the same meaning of ‘relating to a ruler who has absolute power’. Use of one or the other would thus be down to personal choice, although I agree that ‘dictatorial’ sounds harsher.

  2. jeremym0rton says:

    Reblogged this on South Leeds Life and commented:
    Here’s a useful guide to the issues raised by the Mayor referendum published over at Beyond Guardian Leeds

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  4. Rachael Unsworth says:

    Thanks for the clear exposition of pros and cons. Like most people who have given this some thought, I have mixed views. An elected mayor can be extremely effective but it depends on their having sufficient powers that are used well, and it doesn’t seem that this offer comes with adequate powers. The best effects around the world tend to have been in places where there has been a visionary mayor who can unite people behind him/her and is able to serve consecutive terms and thus see through innovative measures. The democratic element is double-edged: they are directly accountable yet when they have extensive powers, able to push through changes which voters might not have supported if given a choice on the individual matters. Some such changes might be for the long-term good of the city and much more radical than is likely with the current system while others might be batty. A directly elected mayor can have a fresher approach, rather than having to come up through the party system, or they can be dangerously unaccustomed to the whole minefield and lack real grasp of what it takes to make a city work effectively.
    If the politicians currently in power think that they could run the city to give it the benefits that an elected mayor could bring, without the potential downsides, will they promise to do this???

    • johnwhitworth says:

      Like ,I suspect many people I am still very much in the dark as to what powers yhis new mayor,if elected would have.Would we suffer the experience of Doncaster which seems to have lurched to near disaster from this experiment in so democracy We won’t have a mayor with the power or charisma of London yet as a premier city in the North can we afford to take a chance on an untried system of local government.Have received no info as to who is putting ttheir hats in tthe ring nor what their policies are.Even the local paper is devoid of useful info.ARE WE SUPPOSED TO TRUST TO LUCK AND KEEP OUR FINGERS CROSSED ??
      ?nor what t

  5. SDC says:

    It is not right to compare these civic mayors with the London mayor. In London there are still the local authorities/boroughs below the mayor. In Leeds there would be no intermediate layer of democratic accountability.

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  8. tawny says:

    Thanks for pulling out the pros/cons, v useful. Given how much is uncertain about what it would mean having an elected mayor, it feels almost like people are asked to vote for or against the existing leadership model. In the hope that the unknown may be better.

    There is one more thing that I’d add to your points, and that is the simple issue of money. Local authorities are not going to wallow in money in the near future, and tough decisions will have to be made about allocations. I can’t help thinking: is this part of the reason why there is a push for electing a single leader who is more likely to make those decisions than a bunch of arguing people? (Who is perhaps easier to lobby too?)

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