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.
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?
|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:
Some links to the ‘yes’ campaign in Leeds: