Will city get an elected mayor?

Inside Bradford Council’s chamber at City Hall. Could changes be on the way?

Inside Bradford Council’s chamber at City Hall. Could changes be on the way?

First published in Behind the News Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , T&A Reporter

When Bradford Council’s three main political groups unanimously reject an idea, the sceptical outside City Hall are bound to suspect there must be something in it.

Earlier this month, the leadership of Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats all came out against Government plans for the metropolitan district to have an Elected mayor. They said Bradford was too culturally, economically and geographically diverse.

The proposal is to be put to the test in May when the public have a vote on the issue. Former Conservative Cabinet Minister Lord Heseltine believes that an elected mayor could have an energising “transformational” effect on the local economy.

The Prime Minister went further, saying he would have no objection if the people wanted to have an elected mayor for the whole of West Yorkshire. The political leaders of Kirklees, Calderdale, Wakefield and Leeds would love that about as much as the party leaders in Bradford.

To those disillusioned with the established political process, the form of Cabinet governance imposed on Bradford during Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister, and which now costs more than £1.8 million a year, an elected mayor could be just the job.

In the words of John Tempest, director of Bradford Soup Run: “In the past the Council has not responded to the wishes of the people of Bradford. With an elected mayor you might get a chap who had Bradford’s best interest at heart and wants to crack on.”

By way of an example he mentioned Peter Davies, Mayor of Doncaster. Interestingly, Mr Davies’s son Philip, Conservative MP for Shipley, says he will be voting against the referendum on the issue next May.

The MP said: “I don’t have any philosphical objection to an elected mayor; in many respects it could be good to have someone accountable for what’s going on.

“My objection is that during the Localism Bill, I said in the debate to have an elected mayor you would have to get rid of two-thirds of councillors, but it was dropped.

“If we have an elected mayor on top of 90 councillors that is an added layer of bureaucracy we’re paying for. If we are going to get rid of 60 councillors in Bradford, I would be in favour of an elected mayor.

“Elected mayors are not like Rudy Giuliani in New York, the picture that most people have of a mayor. Here they need a third of councillors to support them to get things through.

“My father proposed a three per cent cut in council tax in Doncaster. The councillors opposed that and voted instead for a three per cent rise.”

Mr Giuliani is chiefly remembered for the way he handled New York City’s public response to the chaotic aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, and for his zero tolerance policy on crime.

Closer to home is Ray Mallon, Middlesbrough’s former police chief and three-times elected mayor. Earlier this month he made a citizen’s arrest at a Remembrance Day ceremony, after an egg thrown by a 54-year-old man hit MP Sir Stuart Bell in the head. An Independent, he prefers to describe himself as a businessman rather than a politician whose priorities are to turn red-brick Middlesbrough into a “designer label” town.

A critical profile of Peter Davies in a national newspaper, which concluded with him being dismissed as a “bumbling little Englander”, resulted in illuminating responses from the public.

One person said he was “the least worst option considering what had gone before”. What had gone before Mr Davies’s election in June 2009, including the deaths of seven children from abuse or neglect in local authority care, led last year to Local Government supremo Eric Pickles MP sending three commissioners to Doncaster “after 15 years of poor governance and dysfunctional leadership”.

Another analyst said: “...the elected mayor-plus-elected-council model doesn’t work because the two have competing claims as to who has the more democratic mandate. As such, the system is a recipe for instability.

“The London model with a mayor overseen by an assembly roughly carrying out the functions of the old metropolitan counties does seem to work.”

But if Bradford’s political leaders have their way, there won’t be an elected mayor at all.

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