AGENDA: Mayors the Most Effective Form of Local Leadership; They Have Brought a New Dimension - by and Large Successfully - to Politics, So It's Time the Government Introduced Elected Mayors in Every Major Town and City in England, Say Michael Kenny and Guy Lodge

The Birmingham Post (England), April 23, 2008 | Go to article overview

AGENDA: Mayors the Most Effective Form of Local Leadership; They Have Brought a New Dimension - by and Large Successfully - to Politics, So It's Time the Government Introduced Elected Mayors in Every Major Town and City in England, Say Michael Kenny and Guy Lodge


Byline: Michael Kenny and Guy Lodge

On May 3, Londoners get the chance to exercise a democratic right denied to most other English citizens. They will get to vote for their mayor.

It is not just Londoners who enjoy this privilege. In March, Parisians re-elected their socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe, following a successful term, characterised by popular policy innovations. Across many other European and American cities, mayors are providing a sense of direction and vision.

In the 1990s, the first Blair government, with such international examples, became convinced of the merits of mayors. Blair saw them as the central plank of his plans for local government reform. Yet, a policy that might have blazed a democratising trail ended a damp squib.

Powerful voices in local government and politics opposed the introduction of mayors, believing them to represent a threat to their power and influence, and were aided by a flawed implementation process. As a result, there are still only 13 elected mayors.

The failure to roll out mayors represents a great missed opportunity for those who wish to see more vibrant local politics. The last six years has proved mayors work: by providing a name and face they have delivered a more visible and accountable leadership, and, moreover, have proved best equipped to deal with the challenges of contemporary governance and service delivery.

There is also considerable evidence mayors have overseen an improvement in the performance of councils. There are signs of renewed interest in elected mayors across the main parties.

Elected mayors have figured prominently in the prognoses for the revival of local government set out in recent reports, not least the Government's Local Government White Paper, which declared mayors to be the most effective form of leadership.

Despite this support, none of the parties has, as yet, developed a concrete proposal to introduce them more widely.

At the heart of our argument is the belief it is only when mayors are in place central government will begin to transfer powers and functions to local government.

Mayors are therefore necessary if we are to begin to unravel the excessive levels of centralism that characterise English governance. As well as their local merits, elected mayors may also contain part of the answer to the increasingly vexatious 'English Question'.

England's experience of directly elected mayors has produced an array of positive stories - of initiative, achievement and legitimacy - which contribute significantly to the case for the mayoral model. Though few, all our mayors have been shown to make a difference.

In Middlesbrough, 'Robocop' Ray Mallon cut crime by 18 per cent in his first year. In London, Ken Livingstone has pioneered ambitious and agenda-setting policies in relation to transport and the environment, most notably through the congestion charge. In Doncaster, Martin Winter developed a high-profile Fighting Litter, Abandoned Cars and Graffiti (FLAG) campaign. And, in Stoke-on-Trent, Mike Wolfe developed a Better Service Fund (known locally as 'Mike's Millions'), which used money from an increase in council tax to clean up and improve the city. Even Hartlepool's mayor, Stuart Drum-mond, who achieved celebrity status for standing dressed as a monkey, confounded sceptics. His election was widely considered as emblematic of how this system could open local government to mavericks. Since he threw away his costume, and proved willing to be tutored in local government, his record of achievement is commendable.

He has coordinated policies that have led to a 20 per cent fall in crime, and overseen demonstrable improvements in education and social services.

In its last CPA review, Hartlepool was judged to be one of the top-performing authorities, achieving a four-star ('excellent') rating. Drummond was subsequently re-elected with a massively increased majority. …

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AGENDA: Mayors the Most Effective Form of Local Leadership; They Have Brought a New Dimension - by and Large Successfully - to Politics, So It's Time the Government Introduced Elected Mayors in Every Major Town and City in England, Say Michael Kenny and Guy Lodge
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