The good news: The Government is proposing to devolve some powers, giving Cambridgeshire and Peterborough control over funding for new housing, transport and other infrastructure.
The bad news: in return, they are demanding we have an elected mayor. Unlike ceremonial mayors, elected mayors take executive decisions. The government’s plan is for an elected mayor to lead the new combined authority that would take decisions on the spending.
The Liberal Democrats have opposed having an elected mayor, at Cambridgeshire County Council and in other councils in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area (see my post on Peterborough City Council’s meeting). We have voted against the proposals, but have been outvoted by the Labour and Conservative parties.
I spoke on the elected mayor element at an extraordinary meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council on Tuesday.
Devolution is meant to be a step forward for democracy, but elected mayors are a step backwards, making government more remote from the people it serves. An individual representing a million people is not likely to have more than a superficial knowledge of local areas.
It is dangerous to concentrate power into the hands of one individual, especially as the proposals we have provide for no right of recall. I fear there is a risk of slipping into ‘personality politics’.
Ironically, it was that great populist Tony Blair who introduced elected mayors in 2000. But even he didn’t force them upon local areas: if cities wanted a mayor they had to get 5% of the population to sign a petition for a referendum, and only if that referendum was passed would a mayor be introduced. Out of 40 referendums, only 13 cities said yes. I remember that the Labour party in Cambridge tried to get a petition up for a mayor, though as we never saw it, we assume they couldn’t get enough signatures.
As there haven’t been any successful petitions anywhere else in Cambridgeshire or Peterborough, it looks as though people here don’t want an elected mayor.
We are told ‘a mayor is necessary’, but why? Why can’t the new combined authority just elect a chair from its own members? The case for an elected mayor has not been made.
We hear the mayor is going to have a salary of £60-80,000 and have an office costing about £300,000. And this after huge cuts to essential services to children’s services and social care!
I applaud the devolving of powers and welcome the extra funding for infrastructure, especially for new houses. But we must say that we do not want an elected mayor on a big salary. I think the public is very unlikely to support that.
UPDATE: Sign the Liberal Democrat petition opposing an elected mayor.