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Consultation may fox anti-mayor campaigners – but businesses need to engage

Consultation may fox anti-mayor campaigners – but businesses need to engage

🕔03.Nov 2011

THE GOVERNMENT is seeking to spark a higher level of debate about elected mayors with its announcement of a public consultation on what powers the new roles should have.

Up to now, reluctant local authorities and most local politicians have adopted something of an ‘ignore it and it will go away’ approach. This has left it to a handful of political obsessives (guilty as charged), enthusiasts, informal citizens’ groups and just a few lone – potentially opportunist – local politicians to set the agenda.

Now, though, the smart move by cities minister Greg Clark‘s of launching a formal consultation will force the debate out into the open. In particular, the local authorities concerned are to be consulted directly on what mayors should do, how they should do it, and how their performance should be scrutinised.

This is bad news for the nay sayers who like to argue that there’s no point in having elected mayors because they’ll have no more powers than the current set-up. The very process of discussing  what new powers a mayor should have will most likely work in favour of the ‘yes’ campaigners.

In the consultation paper, the Government says:

We do not presume to know what is best for each of the cities in terms of the specific powers that should be exercised by individual city mayors. We are thus proposing to look to the cities themselves to come forward with their own proposals.

Where a mayor is … elected in any of the mayoral cities we expect that mayor to put to us any proposals he or she has for decentralising services and powers to that city mayor. We also expect others in the city, including businesses, the voluntary and community sector and other public bodies, to come forward with their own proposals.

Where the Government shares the view that in a city a mayor is the lowest appropriate level to have responsibility for a function or service, the presumption will be that we will transfer that function to the mayor subject to the mayor’s agreement.

In triggering the consulation, the Government is also formally approaching local Chambers of Commerce and the new Local Enterprise Partnerships. This challenges a distinct reluctance amongst the business community to discuss publicly the mayoral issue – despite the vast majority expressing strong support privately.

Sitting on their hands is surely not an option for any of the businesses representative groups. Complaints about a too-powerful mayor in two years’ time will ring hollow if businesses and others missed the opportunity to help shape the mayor’s powers.

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