`Should the electors for the area of Salford elect a Mayor who, with a Cabinet, will be in charge of our local services and lead Salford City Council?'
This is the question that anyone who bothers to vote in Salford's Mayoral Referendum will be faced with on Thursday. But what does it mean? The short answer is that no-one is really sure…
First of all, the vote on Thursday isn't to elect a Mayor, it's just to see if Salford people want an elected Mayor. If a majority of people vote `Yes' on Thursday, in May there will be a full election with all sorts of candidates standing, from the main parties and beyond. Well beyond! Like, a monkey got elected Mayor in Hartlepool…
Once elected, the Mayor can't be shifted for four years. He, she or it will get power from controlling decision making and the direction of the council, while also reducing accountability - if he, she or it wants - by reducing scrutiny committees and stuff. Although many might say that accountability and scrutiny doesn't happen properly under the current system anyway, with one party overwhelmingly controlling Salford Council and no effective opposition
Beyond this, it all gets incredibly woolly – like, those pushing for an elected Mayor are saying they could reduce Council Tax - but the Council's Chief Executive, setting out future powers in an official report * states that "In the event of an Elected Mayor, full Council would continue to set the Council budget as is the case now"…
…So, presumably the Council could block such a move? No idea! The campaigners for Yes and No votes haven't concentrated on the detail, just on slagging each other off. Which is probably why so few people seem interested. A citywide Questionnaire late last year on Mayoral changes to the Council Constitution drew just 36 responses or 0.02% of the population.
From what we can gather, an elected Mayor would have pretty much the same powers as the current Leader of Salford Council (John Merry), given the state of the political parties in the city which is totally controlled by the Labour Party…
…The only difference would be that the current Leader is accountable to his own party and councillors, rather than the electorate at large. But councillors from that party can be turfed out at annual local elections, whereas the Mayor can't be touched for four years.
To balance things up here's two opposing views on an elected Mayor…
WHY I'M VOTING `YES' FOR AN ELECTED MAYOR…
By Gareth Lyons
People may say that it's a daft way to vote, but I am sick and tired of this "clowncil" (as people have coined the phrase) spending money they haven't got and saddling us with huge debts. I am sick and tired of them metaphorically opening their legs to any big business. I am sick and tired of their egotism. I am sick and tired of their selfishness. How many people have lost their jobs? Or had their council services cut? Yet how many of our councillors have refused their expenses payments?
Call it a protest vote and a silly way of voting but in my mind anything that shakes up the nest of serpents at the town hall gets my vote. What galls me the most is when the lead councillors say this vote is a waste of public money. It's democracy in action. Although, to be fair, I have to admit that they are the experts in wasting public money and are therefore well qualified to tell us what is a waste or not…
WHY WE'RE RECOMMENDING `NO'…
By Salford City UNISON
Does Salford need an Elected Mayor? At a time when Salford and its citizens are bearing the full brunt of ConDem cuts it seems extravagant in the extreme that a suggestion is being made that Salford should have an Elected Mayor. Local people need jobs and services not an irrelevant political flunky funded from the public purse!
Let's be clear, an Elected Mayor would have little to do, they would have no role in the provision of day-to-day services to Salford citizens. Neither would they play a part in attracting additional resources to Salford, finance and investment. The devil finds work for idle hands, lacking a proper role - there is a very real danger that Salford's Elected Mayor could all too easily degenerate into a laughing stock!
Apart from the unnecessary expense, the concept of an `Elected Mayor' is inherently undemocratic; such a figure would leach power and resources away from the current body of elected councillors. It is interesting to note that the leading advocates of an Elected Mayor in Salford, the Liberal Democrats and the English Democrats, have been decisively rejected by the electorate in recent local elections.
There is a well founded fear that these political parties are using the cause of an Elected Mayor as a Trojan Horse to foist their own political agenda onto how our city organises its affairs. Say `No' to an Elected Mayor in Salford…
So there you have it – two opposing views. But what of Hazel Blears? Elected mayors were her Big Idea. When the Salford MP was Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in 2008 she brought out a White Paper called Communities In Control and stated…
"We want more visible and accountable local leaders. We support the directly elected mayor model, already in operation in 12 towns in addition to the high profile London Mayor. We want to see more mayors directly elected and will consult on making it easier for local people to demand a referendum…"
Now, when we asked Hazel Blears for her views on the current referendum the tune had changed…
"I remain in favour of elected mayors but believe they are most effective when they cover large areas such as Greater London, encompassing a number of local authorities. In single Council areas there is a danger that the costs are disproportionate to the benefits.
"At this time when the Government is inflicting severe cuts on Salford Council, now is not the time to be incurring extra costs which would be better spent on frontline services."
That's not what Hazel said in 2008 when she was on about "towns" having directly elected mayors. So does she have designs on being Salford's elected Mayor?
"I will continue to work for the people of Salford and Eccles as their local MP and I am not considering any other roles" she told us.
Salford Mayor? No. Greater Manchester Mayor? Boris Blears? Who knows, especially when the Salford MP's seat disappears in the current constituency shake up.
In the short term meantime, there's the referendum for Salford on Thursday. Ballot boxes are open 7am-10pm.
* Here's the official Council Report on Mayoral powers
a) Policy Framework - the Policy Framework is a series of major strategies and plans that affect the City. Currently approval for such plans is given at meetings of the full Council. An elected mayor could determine that decisions on these issues should be approved differently including taking the decisions themselves.
b) Scheme of Delegation - the scheme of delegation sets out the powers and duties of council members and senior officers. These are approved and can only be changed by a decision of full Council. An elected mayor would not need Council approval to decide who has what decision making powers but could take those decisions themselves.
c) Key Decisions - currently the Council determines what will be a key decision and sets the limits on when this rule will apply. An Elected Mayor would not need Council approval to change these limits. He or she alone would have the power to change the scheme of delegation to adjust this limit either up or down.
d) Overview and Scrutiny Arrangements - under the current arrangements the Council appoints six scrutiny committees. Each with a politically balanced membership involving all political parties represented on the City Council. The decisions of an elected mayor would be scrutinised by the Council but the elected mayor can determine the number of committees and members that undertake this function which could be reduced to as few as one committee.
e) The Ceremonial Mayor - the Mayor of Salford currently is appointed by the
Council and based upon the seniority of elected members. The Mayor carries out ceremonial duties on behalf of the City and has social precedence as the Queen's first citizen. The Mayor also chairs Council meetings. It is not possible for an Elected Mayor to chair Council meetings but an Elected Mayor could decide to remove the Ceremonial Mayor and nominate someone else to chair Council meetings.
1.4 In addition to the above the public have been informed that the four year term of office for an Elected Mayor is determined by statute and is therefore not an issue for consultation.
1.5 An Elected Mayor would automatically represent the Council on the new Police and Crime Panel or they could nominate somebody to take on this role on their behalf. Where there is not an Elected Mayor the Council would appoint their representative to the Panel.
1.6 In the event of an Elected Mayor, full Council would continue to set the Council budget as is the case now.