Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by Councillor Nigel Todd, Newcastle City Council (LAG 04)

  My submission supports the introduction of directly elected executive mayors into the English local government system. The substantial case for establishing a new kind of popularly elected office is outlined in the enclosed pamphlet The Democratic City: an elected mayor for Newcastle? which I wrote and published early last year. Since publication, the pamphlet has been circulated widely in Newcastle upon Tyne and via a website—www.geocities.com/democraticcity/ —and has been discussed at numbers of local meetings. The City Council is currently in the process of appointing a Constitutional Forum to consider forms of local governance, including an elected mayor, with the intention of producing a report prior to a referendum anticipated in the autumn of 2001.

  My starting point in writing the The Democratic City was one of moving from being a deep sceptic about the idea of elected mayors to changing my mind in the light of experience of the drawbacks of the cabinet-scrutiny model of local government. This was no easy shift to make, especially as I spent the first half of 1999 chairing a City Council Select Committee, composed of Councillors and people external to the local authority, created to devise a system of scrutiny to be utilised under new local governance arrangements.

  The Committee produced a model that would have been effective, and was apparently agreed by the then Policy and Resources Committee of the City Council, but the reality since the establishment of scrutiny committees in the autumn of 1999 has been very disappointing. Indeed, most Councillors now feel excluded from real decisions to the extent that the City Council is again reviewing the situation.

  In fairness, it has to be said that the City Council has made some progress in modernising its governance structures and practices, yet the cabinet-scrutiny system is proving too obscure and anonymous for people generally to understand, and seems to have been accompanied by a considerable shift in the balance of power from elected representatives accountable to the voters and in favour of senior officers of the local authority.

  My first point in favour of introducing a directly elected mayor, therefore, is one of restoring the democratic features of local government. A referendum would enable people to decide at the ballot box just how they would like their City to be governed. The subsequent election of a mayor—depending upon the perspectives put forward by the successful candidate and endorsed by the electorate—could expose decision-making to greater public accountability and visibility.

  The Democratic City discusses the advantages and disadvantages of elected mayors. It makes the point that elected mayors may not herald a new dawn for local government and may not result in vastly increased election turnouts, and may even produce some unpleasant variants in the exercise of the office. On the other hand, existing systems of local governance can, and do, have the same impact. But an elected mayor, potentially, could bring new energy and imagination onto the scene.

  Given the right circumstances, locally determined, an elected mayor may be able to "kick start" local democracy in ways appropriate for the beginning of the 21st Century, viz:

    —  By locating the office firmly in a belief in the value of urban living and the important role played by cities in meeting social and economic needs for millions of people and ensuring cultural variety and educational opportunities.

    —  By offering clear leadership across a city so that the directions of policies are known and there is clarity about the locus of decision-making.

    —  By connecting the office of mayor directly with the electorate and involving people in shaping policies for the future of their city.

    —  By creating new structures for the development and monitoring of policies—for example, setting up Mayor's Commissions to take partnership working into major themes such as life long learning, public transport, community safety, housing, cultural developments.

    —  By recognising that the accountability of the mayor to an entire city necessarily requires fresh efforts to ensure that all sectors of a city's population are represented in the formulation and delivery of policies and services, thereby placing an enhanced priority on the achievement of social inclusion and equality of opportunity.

  This is a brief synopsis of what I think is now the case for an elected mayor. Should the Select Committee wish to explore these ideas in more detail, I would be happy to be of help and could supply further copies of The Democratic City if necessary.

Nigel Todd

January 2001


 
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