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Elected mayor needs to control the purse strings – guest post by Councillor Phil Parkin

Elected mayor needs to control the purse strings – guest post by Councillor Phil Parkin

🕔12.Jan 2012

With the government’s consultation on mayoral powers now at an end and submissions from Birmingham City Council, mayoral hopefuls and business representatives piled up in Greg Clark’s in-tray for consideration, it’s apparent that there is a degree of consensus over the need for much greater local control over the decisions that affect this city.

Even those in the ‘no’ camp would (surely) agree that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to running our cities, with the levers of powers firmly in Whitehall and money channelled through a myriad of central and regional agencies, is costly, bureaucratic and an obstacle to helping us solve our own, particular problems.

If we are to fulfil our potential in this city – and the potential is huge – and if we are to make a full contribution to the economic growth of the UK, as well as deliver the best services that we can for local residents then clearly we need to be in far greater control of our own destiny.

There are a number of obvious, practical ways, that we can achieve this ‘bottom up’ approach, all of which appear to have been reflected in the responses to the consultation. For example, we need greater autonomy over local tax raising, borrowing and investment.

Local retention of business rates would give us a much greater incentive to encourage economic growth, rewarding us when we get it right and control over Tax Increment Financing schemes would enable us to re-invest in local infrastructure, providing funding for the city’s economic strategy without us having to constantly refer to central government.

The leader of the city should also be able to exercise – through the ‘duty to co-operate’ requirements in the Localism Act – much greater influence over the spending of the ‘total place’ budget for our area. The city council’s revenue spend represents only about half the total amount of public expenditure in Birmingham, and much of this money is ring fenced. The city’s leader should also have the power to influence priorities over health and skills, have a prominent role on the Transport Authority as well as formal influence with regards to policing.

And if we are to broadly accept that this kind of influence over our own affairs is vital to the economic success of our city, and we find out later in the month that these powers will, in fact, be devolved to us, then the case for an elected mayor is an even stronger one.

A significant devolution of power such as this simply has to be accompanied by a much more democratic system of electing our leaders.

Only someone with a direct mandate from the people who live in this city and who has run on an election campaign to enact these powers should be entrusted to use them. And the more informal kinds of power suggested in the consultation exercise – the leader sitting on ministerial committees when they affect Birmingham, acting as a ‘champion for the city’ on the national and international stage etc – only really become meaningful when accompanied by the strong, local accountability that comes with direct election.

I fully support the Conservative leadership of this city and am proud of the change that we have brought about, and will continue to bring about, here in Birmingham but we need the power to do more and we need a system that’s fit for purpose.

  • Phil Parkin is a conservative Councillor in Sutton Coldfield, and a backer of the ‘Yes to a Birmingham Mayor’ campaign. He also blogs here.
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