Radical Change Could Bring Radical Opportunity for Business; Wyn Grant, Chairman of the University of Warwick's Commission on Elected Mayors and City Leadership, Considers the Choice Facing Birmingham Voters on May 3

The Birmingham Post (England), April 19, 2012 | Go to article overview

Radical Change Could Bring Radical Opportunity for Business; Wyn Grant, Chairman of the University of Warwick's Commission on Elected Mayors and City Leadership, Considers the Choice Facing Birmingham Voters on May 3


Byline: Wyn Grant

The summary report of The Warwick Commission on Elected Mayors and City Leadership concludes with the line "Politics is too important to be left to politicians".

In less than two weeks Birmingham voters will decide how they want to be governed - by a council cabinet and a leader selected by fellow councillors, or a mayor elected directly by citizens.

For many in the business community the decision to move to a directly elected mayor, or not, is out of their hands. Those who don't live within the city borders will have no say either in the referendum or any resulting contest. However, for voters and everyone with an interest in Birmingham, the impending referendum is important. The choice, on the face of it, appears straightforward: keep the current system or go with something new. However, the issues are far more complex, as the commission discovered.

We set out to unpick many aspects that are part and parcel of the Government's mayor policy. The central question we focused on was: "What is the role of elected mayors in providing strategic leadership to cities." Earlier this week, The University of Warwick published a summary of our work to date. To anyone looking for a simple yes or no answer on mayors will have been disappointed. The evidence and the arguments are, of course, too complex. Our data does suggest, though, that elected mayors offer a real opportunity for change in a place where change is needed.

But in some cities an elected mayor may not be necessary because they have already constructed a significant identity and are vigorously and strategically led.

We found that greater clarity from government would have helped to better inform the electorate on the choice they are about to make. However, we have also encouraged candidates to make clear the powers they want - indeed demand - in their manifestos.

Perhaps more importantly, we have made the distinction between "power" and "powers". Our commissioners noted the importance of soft and invisible power effectively vested in a politician with a direct mandate, as well as the accumulation of powers that often follows effective deployment of such power.

Our other headline issue is footprint. We believe that a sense of place and identity are essential for an executive mayor to succeed and that such a figure should govern an economic area rather than an artificial one. …

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Radical Change Could Bring Radical Opportunity for Business; Wyn Grant, Chairman of the University of Warwick's Commission on Elected Mayors and City Leadership, Considers the Choice Facing Birmingham Voters on May 3
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