Monday, 12 May 2008

Something For The Future – Elected Mayors

The recent election victories for the South Tyneside Alliance represented a massive change in the regions political make up. Not only did Labour loose its leader, but after decades of manipulative and hedonistic control, their strangle hold on the Borough is now under serious threat.

Despite this ray of political sunshine, many people still remain negative and dismissive of the regeneration of public involvement in Council politics, their doom and gloom attitude focusing on one tenant – it doesn’t matter which political party is in control at local level, they still have to administer national policies, guidelines and directives. The end result will therefore always be the same.

There is however, a way round this admittedly fairly large stumbling block, and that is the provision of a regionally elected mayor!

The Local Government Act 2000 was Labour’s first major pieces of legislation which was aimed at radically changing the way that local councils and institutions operated. Enshrined in this law was the public’s right to hold a referendum on the election of a mayor to head local governing bodies. To date the electorates of 13 regions have directly chosen their mayors, the most famous being “Robocop” Keith Mallon (Middlesbrough) and Hartlepool’s Stuart Drummond, famously voted in whilst attired in a monkey suit!

Whilst primarily a Euorpean/American concept, the idea of an elected head of the local executive is still in its infancy as far as the English voters are concerned. However, evidence shows that when it comes to regional governance, the concept does work.

~ Keith Mallon – reduced crime by 18% in his first year as an elected mayor
~ Hartlepool Council – 4 star rating achieved under the direction of Stuart Drummond
~ Hackney Council – prior to an elected mayor, the council was on the verge of being taken over by the government. However, to coincide with the period of its elected mayor, it is now on course for a 4 star rating (currently 3).

In conjunction with this evidence, I have always considered the case for an elected mayor to be extremely compelling. Government ministers have always been more willing to devolve powers to councils whose leaderships deliver effective and accountable local governance – in this instance mayoral models score highly. They also collectively form a powerful political voice for change, particularly in local police accountability, revenue generation, political change and economic development. Perhaps more importantly however, they provide visible and accountable leadership and a sense of direction for communities within their regions.

South Tyneside is politically well placed for the introduction of an elected mayor. We have a plethora of eligible candidates, both politically and no-aligned. We also have an increasingly politically active electorate, and together with the changing political landscape, we have a Council institution which is now being viewed as unreflective, unaccountable and stagnant.

Legislation calls for a referendum on the idea of an elected mayor to be endorsed by a majority of councillors or 5% of the eligible electorate. In the case of South Tyneside, this would mean just over 5000 people out of 114166 signing a verifiable petition. The Gypsies Green development opposition group Save Our Seafront managed to get just under 8000 signatures for their petition against the Tavistock hotel plans!

Anything is therefore possible.

No comments: