The flawed concept that saw voters reject city mayors
Published: 4th May 2012 18:18:00
Voters have spoken. With the exception of Bristol, England's biggest cities did not want directly elected mayors.
Perhaps the scale of the no vote wasn't that surprising in the end.
This was a top-down campaign. It was the government that was keen on the idea of mayors. Voters in the cities needed to be persuaded - and the case clearly wasn't made to them.
Without any grass roots enthusiasm, the debate was often confined to the political elite, leaving voters unmoved. Support from business was thin on the ground.
And at a time when people take a dim view of politicians, asking them to vote for an extra one in the shape of mayor clearly didn't appeal.
I think the government also hoped city voters would look at London with envy and want their own mayoral contest.
But anecdotally many of the voters I spoke to in Newcastle were turned off by the personality politics of Boris v Ken.
They didn't fancy seeing their own versions of spats in lifts.
There was also an incoherence in the government's proposals that chimes with the other problems that have dogged the coalition in the last few weeks.
The government says it's keen on handing power to the people and, in truth, giving people a vote on whether to have a mayor fits in with that.
But at the same time the government is imposing directly-elected police commissioners on communities without any referendum.
If mayors are as good for communities as the government claims, why not just introduce them without a vote?
Then there is the problem of powers.
The government offered the referendums without specifying what might be on offer.
And while Nick Clegg told the cities that they could have extra powers whether they had a mayor or not, the PM seemed to suggest those that voted for mayors would get special treatment.
But in reality other government policies were actually removing powers.
The introduction of police commissioners meant the new city mayors would have less power over law and order than existing council leaders.
The growth of free schools and academies would also see them have more limited power over education.
Then there was the government's argument that city mayors would have influence beyond local authority boundaries.
There was never any guarantee that could happen, just a vague desire.
If you really wanted that sort of politician, why not create mayors covering wider metropolitan areas - for Tyneside, Greater Manchester or West Yorkshire?
They might have been able to go toe-to-toe with their equivalent in London.
All this incoherence weakened the arguments of the yes campaign.
At a time when people take a dim view of politicians, asking them to vote for an extra one in the shape of mayor clearly didn't appeal”
If the government is serious about handing powers to communities, it will now have to look for other solutions.
The government saw elected mayors as the key to the unresolved problem of English devolution.
In 2004, Labour saw elected regional assemblies as the solution.
Both have now been firmly rejected by the electorate.
But the problem of how to take power out of Whitehall remains.
The reality now is that the government will have to work with what's already there - the existing councils.
And there is a model for that. The councils in Greater Manchester have secured a city deal worth millions of pounds by signing a deal to co-operate together.
Others like Newcastle have been made to wait for similar extra powers and resources because the government wanted to see which way the mayoral referendums went.
It'll be up to the government now to prove it is still serious about handing powers to England's big cities.
But it will also be up to the cities to show leadership by co-operating with their neighbours to secure these city deals, and proving they'll use the resources and powers wisely.
There's little question our big cities are crucial to getting the economy growing again.
On that point the government was right, but now it must find other ways of unlocking that potential.
And as for David Cameron's proposed cabinet of city mayors, he may have to search for a smaller room than he originally booked.
At 02:56:31 in HeadlinesBritain has a new Minister of State for Disabled People - Mark Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean. As he gets to grips with his new brief - the fourth person to do so in this government - Kate Ansell outlines some of the responsibilities he has inherited.
At 02:35:54 in EntertainmentGabriel Prokofiev, the grandson of the 20th Century composer Sergei Prokofiev, is presenting the world premiere of his new violin concerto at the BBC Proms. He tells the BBC his forebear's fame just adds to the pressure of giving a new work its first outing.
At 02:29:39 in HeadlinesIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned of a "prolonged" military campaign in Gaza.
At 02:27:50 in ScotlandA leading legal body has urged the Scottish and UK governments to undertake an urgent review of employment tribunal fees.
At 02:03:10 in HeadlinesThe time during which EU migrants can claim a range of UK benefits if they do not have realistic job prospects is to be halved to three months.
At 01:58:30 in BusinessMicrosoft has confirmed that officials from China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce - the body responsible for enforcing business laws - have visited some of its offices.
At 01:40:42 in HeadlinesScientists say a part of the brain, smaller than a pea, triggers the instinctive feeling that something bad is about to happen.
At 01:35:00 in PoliticsThe recruitment process has begun for the new post of chief executive of the Civil Service, following recent changes at the top of the organisation.
At 01:27:57 in PoliticsCommunity volunteers who help out in their local library or do charitable work should get discounts on their council tax bills, a new plan proposes.
At 01:13:45 in EnglandLabour has called for the NHS in England to stop privatising services until after the general election.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. The flawed concept that saw voters reject city mayors [Online] (Updated 4th May 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1426645/The-flawed-concept-that-saw-voters-reject-city-mayors [Accessed 29th Jul 2014]
News In Other Categories
Gabriel Prokofiev, the grandson of the 20th Century composer Sergei Prokofiev, is presenting the world premiere of his new violin concerto at the BBC Proms. He tells the BBC his forebear's fame just adds to the pressure of giving a new work its first outing.
A leading legal body has urged the Scottish and UK governments to undertake an urgent review of employment tribunal fees.
Microsoft has confirmed that officials from China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce - the body responsible for enforcing business laws - have visited some of its offices.
Labour has called for the NHS in England to stop privatising services until after the general election.
Louis van Gaal will not rush to make signings despite being forced to employ a wing-back system in his opening games as Manchester United boss.
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com