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Elected Mayor: Sir Richard Leese and others say yea or nay

Paul Berentzen talks to civic leaders about leadership

Published on January 16th 2012.

Elected Mayor: Sir Richard Leese and others say yea or nay

SHOULD Manchester be run by a mayor who is elected by voters?

That is the question that will be put to residents of the city in May. 

'Structural change rarely does anything other than take time and energy away from more important things. What is on offer at the moment does not – in any way, shape or form – help us with what we want to do

The problem, according to Councillor Marc Ramsbottom, is that we are being asked the wrong question. 

The Leader of the Opposition is all for change, but not the changes that are currently on offer. 

As it stands, voters will have two choices: keep the current model of local government or move to an elected mayor for Manchester. But the general consensus is that there should be a third. 

“I’m not generally in favour of an elected mayor for the city of Manchester,” said Cllr Ramsbottom. “I don’t think that would have sufficient benefit.” 

Instead, he argued, we should look to re-create what has been done in the capital. 

“I am in favour of an elected mayor for Greater Manchester,” he said. “That would be on a par with what London has at the moment.” 

Council leader, Sir Richard Leese, is less convinced. He also believes any changes should be made on a regional level, but is more concerned about the new powers that would come to the city, not how its leader is elected. 

LeeseSir Richard Leese

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with directly elected mayors but there’s nothing inherently right with them either,” he said.

“A directly elected mayor is not the solution. A comparison is made with London but what’s on offer has no comparison with that whatsoever. 

“The mayor of London doesn’t provide the things we do with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA)." 

The GMCA was set up last year to give new legal powers to the area, following on from 25 years of voluntary collaboration between the ten councils in the county as the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities. 

Councillor Leese added: “Structural change rarely does anything other than take time and energy away from more important things. 

“What is on offer at the moment does not – in any way, shape or form – help us with what we want to do.” 

The proposed changes have come from the government as part of their decentralisation and localism agenda. Under the Localism Act, eleven cities will hold a referendum on whether or not to have a directly elected mayor. 

As part of a consultation process on what powers they would like a mayor to have, Manchester City Council and GMCA have both drafted responses expressing concerns over the narrow focus of the plans. 

Both maintain it would be more effective to grant any powers to the whole of Greater Manchester. They also criticise plans for a mayor, saying they do not fit in with the current system. 

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Manchester City Council’s response says: “Only by building on these existing and locally determined structures - rather than creating a new form of governance within the City of Manchester alone – are we likely to make the right contribution to creating the conditions for growth and public sector reform across the city region. 

The report that will be presented at next week’s council meeting adds: “As a matter of principle, the powers which are available to local authorities should not be determined on the narrow basis of whether the authority in question has a Mayor or Leader.” 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those in charge are not in favour of any major shake-up of how the city - or the wider region - is run. 

But that doesn’t mean there is no support for an elected mayor. 

The government’s plans favour mayors because they are more easily recognised by residents and are more directly accountable. It's hoped that more people might vote in local elections. 

Councillor Ramsbottom criticised the GMCA, which is run by the leaders of the ten councils involved, for not being accountable enough. GMCA could be viewed as a sort of European Commission at local level.

He said: “If people are making decisions that you don’t like, then how do you get rid of them? That’s not a democratic process.” 

As it stands residents vote for councillors, but it is the councillors who elect their leader. A mayor would get their power directly from the voting public. 

Councillor Kevin Peel also supports calls for a Greater Manchester model, and believes some change is better than no change. 

He said: “I don’t like the system that the government is proposing but I think that if we take this important first step we can start on that road.” 

However, the Institute for Government has found there is little public support for an elected mayor in the city and remember, in Bury, where residents successfully petitioned the council for a referendum on having a mayor, the ‘No’ camp won comfortably. 

With the referendum taking place at the same time as council elections, it could end up being overshadowed by election campaigns. 

Asked how involved he would be in the referendum, Councillor Leese said: “I will be largely focusing on the Labour party’s local election campaign.” 

But in the end it may not matter how well publicised the referendum is. For all the varying opinions put forward, nobody Confidential spoke to believed an elected mayor for the city of Manchester alone was the way forward. 

It’s all very well asking the public for their opinion; perhaps this is a case of us being asked the wrong question. 

Northern Quarter And Beer Mats 013

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Calum McGJanuary 16th 2012.

I think our region would have a bigger voice if all 10 boroughs merged. You know, like, a proper Greater Manchester should be. Oh, wait a minute...

LukeJanuary 17th 2012.

When was that picture of Piccadilly gardens taken? It looks very tidy with not patched up pot holes.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 17th 2012.

It was taken in September

Calum McGJanuary 17th 2012.

There's still a tiny urchin having a wash.

AnonymousJanuary 18th 2012.

I thought we had a secret mayor already our very own GM etc PooBaa

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