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The Leicester test case: what does an elected city mayor do?

The Leicester test case: what does an elected city mayor do?

🕔27.Jun 2011

SO WHAT would an elected mayor in a major English city actually do?

Fortunately for mayoral advocates (if he’s a success), Leicester’s new elected mayor Sir Peter Soulsby is helping to answer that question and has just unveiled his 100-day policy plan for the city.

The Leicester Mercury’s report of the 100 pledges it contains, made at an open meeting of the city’s cabinet, is here, and you can download Soulsby’s complete 100-day programme here.

It’s an interesting mix of mainly populist measures to grab the local paper’s future headlines, with an emphasis on environmental concerns. Critics will probably highlight the relative paucity of measures addressing business and economic development, and the complete lack of any mention of funding of the ideas it posits, but there’s no doubt that Soulsby’s 100-day plan is ambitious in content and scale.

The Mercury highlights a selection of the measures:

  • Repair 1,000 potholes across the city within the 100 days and 5,000 over the next year.
  • Bring back free swimming for young people – aged 16 and under – in the city at council leisure centres.
  • Create extra evening on-street car parking beginning with new spaces for 100 cars to support the night time economy in the city centre.
  • Announce a programme for Meet the Mayor events across Leicester’s neighbourhoods, including the city centre.
  • Hold a summit meeting with businesses, the Job Centre, trade unions and others to draw up plans to get more people into work.
  • Bring in additional ‘end of term’ refuse and waste collections in areas with large numbers of student houses.
  • Announce a rolling calendar of community clean-up days
  • Begin consulting with councillors and residents on the introduction of 20mph zones near schools, community facilities and in residential areas.
  • Launch a public transport smartcard scheme.

 

It will be up to the citizens of Leicester to judge whether the man they elected is focussing on the right issues – and whether he successfully tackles them, but for us, Soulsby’s approach is already providing some interesting lessons for other cities contemplating next year’s mayoral referenda.

Three themes are worth noting for the moment:

Pace: Local government isn’t famous for the rapidity of its decision-making and delivery, but Soulsby is committing himself and all of Leicester’s local authority staff and officers to delivering results within 100 days. Admittedly, many of these are pledges to ‘report on’ or to ‘look at’, but others – such as the launch of a public transport smartcard scheme are pretty back-and-white in terms of measurability. Delays due to bureaucracy or local authority culture will be laid bare by this commitment to pace, and many in the council will be in for a rollercoaster ride if Soulsby follows through on his promises.

Transparency: The cabinet meeting at which the pledges were launched was open to the public for the first time, with the promise that big issues and decisions will be aired much earlier in the process than was previously the case. Members of the public can ask questions of the cabinet, and one of the 100 pledges is itself a promise to report truthfully on progress of the other 99.

Scrutiny: The move to tranparency denotes a subtle power shift in Leicester. As the Mercury points out, under the old system, decisions arrived at major committees for scrutiny and sign-off  with only around a week allowed for public examination. With the public now engaged at the cabinet level, it will be a brave councillor indeed who nay-says a decision that has collected demonstrable public support. Scrutineering councillors must be an important brake on wreckless proposals, of course, but their ability to frustrate what the mayor wants to deliver is severely curtailed by his popular mandate.

 

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