THE SALFORD STAR COUNTDOWN TO GETTING RID OF THE MAYORAL SYSTEM – 26TH JANUARY 2022…
Six months of the mayoral system in Salford has convinced us that this is no way to run a city. While people who are unhappy with the performance of current Mayor, Ian Stewart, will say that a different Mayor might run things better, the Salford Star believes that the whole mayoral system is inherently undemocratic and open to abuse.
Transparency and Accountability
As has been shown over the last six months, a Mayor can appoint anyone he wants to be Assistant Mayor, without those Assistants being answerable to anyone. For instance, what does the Assistant Mayor for International Relations do all day? What does the Assistant Mayor for Technology do all day? And what does the Assistant Mayor for Communication and Community Engagement do all day?
They might be doing lots of great work for their `allowances'. But we'll never know. Because they don't hold publicly accessible meetings where Salford people, or the press for that matter, can actually find out. They could be doing loads. They could be doing nothing. They could be great. They could be useless. But whatever it is they are doing is hidden behind a cloak of secrecy.
There's no compulsion to be open to either their own Council or to the electorate. The only declaration anyone has to make public is decisions involving the spending of over £100,000. And even these are laced in secrecy under the guise of `commercial confidentially'.
The `Mayoral Team' has met exactly twice since the May election, discussing only three agenda items in public. The Mayor himself has held seven `City Issues Briefings', with only three items open to the public over six months.
A shocking indictment of the mayoral system came from Councillor George Wilson, when asked by campaigners how he felt about mental health service cuts… "That's not my decision; that's for other people who are more powerful than me" he explained "I'd retain them but that's just me speaking." (see here).
It appears that, outside of the Mayor and his Assistants, democratically elected councillors are being omitted from decision making.
People could argue that the old Council Leader and Cabinet system was also open to democracy abuse. And yes, it was hardly open government. There was an incredible amount of secrecy and decisions nodded through without proper debate.
The difference is that if a Leader was unpopular, he could be kicked out by his own councillors and voted out by his own electorate. A Mayor is there for four years and can't be touched.
The `Me' Factor
The whole idea of putting a city's fate in the hands of one `powerful' person is kind of creepy. The Salford Star has never heard Ian Stewart say the word `We' when referring to the Council. It's always `I' and `Me' – usually in the context of `I wish I had a magic wand' … `I make no promises', but that's another story.
A Council Leader was at least responsible to his Cabinet. A Mayor is answerable to no-one. Except, in Ian Stewart's case, a small number of local Labour Party people. If there are any future Mayors elected who aren't in the Labour Party, they too will be accountable to no-one, apart from a cross in a box once every four years. By which time it might be too late to reverse the mess.
The City Mayor and his Deputy are already costing the city well over £100,000 a year, just in their own `allowances'. Does the Mayor have his own budget to spend on a giant tv for his office or to hand money to pet projects? The Salford Star asked the question and it was promptly put in the Mayoral bin.
Meanwhile, we have a Ceremonial Mayor and a Chief Executive and a City Mayor, all drawing wages, and all getting in each other's way. No-one knows the true cost because, as yet, no-one has declared it.
No-one seems to know the proper legal role of the Mayor because the Government still hasn't published proposed changes. Where is the Mayor's job description? There doesn't seem to be one. Although there is a helpful explanation of the City Mayor's role on his page on Salford Council's website – it's three and a half lines long!
In September, the Mayor announced a new system of Select Committees to improve accountability. Each would meet up to nine times a year and would have the "power to request the attendance of the City Mayor, Strategic Assistant Mayors, Assistant Mayors and any officer of the Council but specifically directors and heads of service". They would be open to the public "except when it is necessary to hold proceedings under Part 2".
Firstly, `Part 2' is where all the real financial decisions are taken and this would still be off limits for `scrutiny'. Secondly, who would sit on these `Select Committees'? No details as yet. In the meantime, there is total scrutiny stagnation at the heart of the Council.
GET RID OF THE MAYORAL SYSTEM – THE CLOCK IS TICKING
Once there has been a referendum on whether to have a Mayor or not, another one can't be held for ten years. In Salford's case this will be on 26th January 2022.
Salford Labour Party actually (half heartedly) campaigned for a `No' vote in the Mayoral referendum this year for some of the very reasons cited above. It's a sad indictment that once the Party has its man as Mayor those reasons have quietly been forgotten.
If Salford people so choose, they can get rid of Ian Stewart in three and a half years time. But the mayoral system stands for another nine and a half years.
So, the Salford Star has begun its ticking clock counting down to the day. Some potential mayoral candidates may say it's the man in power who is the problem. The Salford Star believes it is the mayoral system itself that creates potential for an undemocratic abuse of power.
The Salford Star Countdown Clock is on the right hand side of website pages.
See also previous Salford Star article: Salford Mayor Turns Chicken – click here