UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Friday, 2 March 2012

New Mayoral system is 'fundamentally flawed' - UNISON

In a recent local government circular LG/10/2012, UNISON has set out its opposition to the Mayoral system and the union’s preference for municipal government by democratically accountable, locally elected Councillors. The advice, which is not yet available on the UNISON website, can be read below. Meanwhile, it appears that the electoral commission approved question in the upcoming (and imposed) May referenda on the creation of Elected Mayors in England’s largest cities, has been rigged against the status quo:

"How would you like Birmingham to be run? By a leader who is an elected councillor chosen by a vote of the other elected councillors? This is how the council is run now. Or by a mayor who is elected by voters? This would be a change from how the council is run now." The Guardian adds that ‘supporters of Mayors are delighted with the wording of the question, since it is more likely to lead to yes votes wherever local government is unpopular’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/mar/01/whitehall-battling-avoid-losing-powers-mayors-heseltine

UNISON advice to local government branches is as follows:

The Government has announced that there will be referenda to introduce mayors in 10 English cities on the day of local elections – 3 May 2012. This is under new powers the Secretary of State was given under part 1 of the Localism Act 2011.

The cities are Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield. There are currently 14 councils with mayors in England, and Liverpool has just voted (under existing powers) to convert to a mayoral system, and an election will be held there on 3 May 2012.

UNISON believes that adopting Mayoral systems in areas which already have elected councillors is fundamentally flawed. This is because they:

• Reduce the role of back-bench councillors and lead to less accountability

• Reduce the ability of community campaigns to raise issues of concern to local people

• Concentrating power and influence into the hands of just one person, leading to less accountability and transparency

• Directly elected mayors foster a climate of personality politics rather than dealing with real issues

• The vested interests of the private sector may be the likely winners in more centralised decision-making

The further removal of powers from ordinary councillors will do little to promote active engagement in local democratic processes.

If the referenda result in ‘yes’ votes, then elections for the new mayors are likely to take place on 15 November 2012, the same day as elections for 41 police commissioners in England and Wales (outside London). There is no restriction on mayors running for police commissioner jobs.

Part of the incentive for cities to create mayors is that under the Localism Act 2011, the Government has pledged to delegate some powers to “core cities” which have strong governance, and Mayors are an indicator of that. However these powers will vary from case-to-case, and CLG will not state what powers will be delegated until after a ‘yes’ vote.

The move to mayors in some cities comes at the same time as other local authorities (Brighton and Hove City Council, Kingston-Upon-Thames, Nottinghamshire) are using Localism Act Powers to move from the current ‘leader and cabinet’ model back to a ‘committee system’, where backbench councillors have much more power.

Instead we support modernised committee structures, such as those under consideration in the areas listed above. At present, no mainstream political party has come out strongly in favour of mayors.

However, at the present time many councils will be concentrating on minimising the impact of cuts, rather than changing their governance structures.

Branch action:

· Branches should approach their local authority to find out if a change of governance – either to a mayoral system or a committee system – is being contemplated. If it is, branches should try to open discussions on the impact on your local industrial relations arrangements and the impact on workforce issues

· Branches should also work politically to inform local councillors or our concerns about mayoral models, and use Labour Link to do this in the Labour Party.