In January 2012 I wrote to the Departmnent of Communities and Local Government with my response to their consultation on a directly elected mayor for Birmingham. Here’s the text of my letter:
The proposal to establish an elected Mayor for the City of Birmingham is one that offers exciting possibilities for city and the wider West Midlands region. The prospect of creating fresh mechanisms of local governance, which allow for reinvigorated, effective local leadership and a repatriation of powers to localities, is one that I hope the people of Birmingham will fully embrace when they vote in the referendum this May.
Birmingham is unique amongst the initial twelve “mayoral cities”. Geographically, it covers a much larger area than other cities, taking in a population of over a million people and encompassing a degree of demographic diversity far more marked than is the case with other English cities. Its public sector budgets are, in turn, of a far greater scale. The City Council alone accounts for £3billion a year.
In turn, our city sits at the heart of the UK’s second most populous conurbation, providing the central driving force behind the West Midlands’ economy. The key questions facing Birmingham, whether in terms of economic development, of educational attainment, of crime and security or of transport infrastructure are as much regional questions as they are city-wide ones. Therefore, it is inevitable that the newly elected Mayor of Birmingham will be expected to exercise a degree of regional, rather than strictly municipal leadership.
The allocation of additional powers to Birmingham’s elected Mayor has to take strong account of this regional dimension. You will be aware that the Birmingham Chamber of
Commerce made a similar point in its response to the consultation, recommending that the Mayor should take the lead roles on both the Local Enterprise Partnership Board and the Integrated Transport Authority. The ability to meaningfully influence both of these policy areas would be essential to the success of otherwise of an elected Mayor. (more…)
1. Why do we need change?
The current leader-council system in Birmingham:
- Not democratic
- The council leader is not selected by the public, but by the council itself, excluding the electorate from the process and potentially leading to partisan politics.
- Major cities across Europe and America have their democratic say over who should hold executive power.
- Lack of accountability
- No clear place for where the buck stops, council leader does not have mandate.
- No visibility or leadership for Birmingham
- Lord Adonis – mayor of Cologne has 19 times more presence on internet than Birmingham council leader
- Lack of awareness of council members/council leader
- Therefore lack of contact and connection with electorate
Developments in local government have reflected dissatisfaction with current system and have sought to remedy these problems.
Devolution part of Labour party manifesto – Scotland Act 1998, Government of Wales Act 1998, Northern Ireland Act 1999, Greater London Authority Act 1999
Developments in local government over the previous two decades have reflected this trend…
- Local Government Act 2000 – important milestone in devolution of powers to local authorities
- Phased out the committee system for local authorities with populations above 85,000
- Stipulated that local authorities must choose between either a mayoral leadership model or leader-cabinet model of executive power
- Strengthened executive power at local level
- Choice was further defined by the 2006 White Paper – proposed that local authorities choose one of three executive leadership systems, each with a four year term:
- Directly elected mayor
- Directly elected executive
- Indirectly elected leader
‘all executive powers will be vested in the mayor or leader who will have responsibility for deciding how these powers should be discharged’
2. What difference will an elected Mayor make to my life?
It will provide effective leadership
- Olympic Games, congestion charge would not have occurred without mayoral mandate
- Local growth white paper:
- Mayors will “work closely with neighbouring council leaders on issues such as transport, the strategic approach to planning and wider economic priorities”
- Transport especially an important factor for Birmingham
- Major motorways linking north and south
- Train (plus HS2)
- Greater freedom to make decisions
Getting things done
- Reports from the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) have shown that mayors demonstrate stronger and more effective leadership
- For example, in his first year of office as mayor of Middlesbrough, Ray Mallon gained a reputation for getting things done by “banging heads together” and cut crime by 18 percent
- Hartlepool’s mayor, while seen as a “joke” candidate when first elected, garnered a serious reputation by coordinating policies which led to a 20 percent cut in crime, and by gaining the town an “excellent” rating by the CPA.
- An elected mayor would be responsible to the public over their political party and would exercise far greater freedom from partisan politics than does the council leader. Instead of being political figure, an elected mayor would be seen more as a community leader.
Mayoral model as a means of achieving facilitative leadership
Recent decades have seen the emergence of a facilitative model style of leadership for urban governance.
- “Modern urban governance, because of its demanding and complex environment, requires a facilitative style of local political leadership that is visible, outward looking, open, and less partisan than more established forms”
This model of leadership was first highlighted by Yates – Ungovernable City (1977) – domineering style of leadership in decline due to lack of access to resources, control over organizations and stakeholders, and a defining vision
A facilitator can be defined as a leader “who promotes positive interaction and a high level of communication among officials in city government and with the public and who also provides guidance in goal setting and policy making” ( Svara 2003 , 157).
Research conducted by Stephen Greasley (Lecturer in Politics at the University of East Anglia) and Gerry Stoker (Professor of Governance at the University of Southampton) suggests that a mayoral model is most suitable for this form of leadership. (more…)