More mayors for a Greater Manchester?
This week saw their first success as they handed in a petition, signed by 10,500 Salford residents and triggered a referendum on the mayoral model. Stephen Morris, the campaign organiser, believes they are also on the brink of collecting the requisite number of signatures in Brentford, Essex.
Salford, a city in Greater Manchester of comparable size to Southampton, will be the 41st local authority in the UK to hold a referendum on whether or not to adopt the mayoral system. Will they say yes? Just under three quarters of the mayoral referenda so far have a resulted in a No. Neighbouring Bury decided to stick with the council leader model in 2008. Salford also has a history of voting No in referenda with nearly 70% voting against AV last year and 84% voting against the introduction of a Manchester congestion charge in 2008. On the other hand, in a recent poll on SalfordOnline, a whopping 94% of the 1760 respondents agreed Salford should have an elected mayor, suggesting the city may be gearing up for a switch.
Campaigners said people on the doorstep were fed up with feeling that they had no influence on the political process. Salford City Council has been under Labour control ever since its creation in 1974. Stephen Morris describes it as a “one party state” and blames the low turnout at local elections, which fluctuates around 20-30%, on the lack of a real choice. Several of the areas which have already opted for mayoral government – including Mansfield, Watford and North Tyneside – had similar histories of single party dominance. The political monopoly has now been broken in all three of these councils.
Salford council has a history of mediocre performance in Audit Commission assessments and the dismissal of the Director of Children’s Services after the murder of two year old girl Demi Leigh-Mahon in 2009 has served to further undermine confidence in the council. Identity politics also plays a part. Fiercely independent Salfordians are keen not to be outdone by Manchester, which is set to vote on whether to adopt the mayoral system in April 2012. There is also a self interested motivation on the part of the English Democrats who are hoping to replicate their success in getting Peter Davies elected as mayor in Doncaster. Davies has proven a controversial figure however and the English Democrats involvement may have its negative as well as positive impact on the campaign to introduce more mayors.
Not ambitious enough?
It’s great to see the mayoral model getting the support it deserves, but are local authority mayors enough? In April the Greater Manchester Combined Authority was established, a region-wide authority with significant powers similar to those of the Greater London Authority. But why not let Greater Manchester vote for the leader of the GMCA in the same way Londoners vote for the Mayor of London? In our report Big Shot or Long Shot: How elected mayors can help drive growth in England’s cities we make the case for just this kind of region-wide mayoral governance in improving transport, planning and skills. Any other authorities in the Greater Manchester region could still choose to have local mayors, just as there are local mayors below the Mayor of London in Hackney, Lewisham and Newham. That should help drive the city-region forward and keep the different areas within Greater Manchester happy, even those independent minded Salfordians.