18. Mayors

Mayors includes local government governing style, single member wards, regeneration.

We shouldn’t have elected mayors or the cabinet style of local government in which all key decisions are taken by the inner group of cabinet members or by the mayor with little detailed democratic scrutiny by the ordinary councillors. There is no forum tin which to subject such decisions to proper democratic debate. There are scrutiny committees but they can only question whether stipulated procedures have been followed but not the decision itself.

People in the street in Birmingham (or many of them) feel remote from decision-making. They think the local politicians are going to go ahead and do what they want whatever the people feel. I may have met an unrepresentative sample but it is a large one. ie I have met lots of people who think this.

Cabinet members are not very accessible people. To be fair, they are busy, but it isn’t easy to get to meet them if they aren’t keen to meet you – in my personal experience.

They cannot deviate too much from their local government officers’ advice or they become personally liable if the scheme in question doesn’t work.

It’s an unhealthy situation. Do the officers give advice what the cabinet member wants to hear. They have to live with him or her and they might feel safer in their jobs if their advice is usually welcome.

I think going back to the old committee system is better. It still might not work if it is dominated by a single party but at least there can be real argument in a committee comprising members of all parties instead of in the brain of the solitary cabinet member.  I understand that major decisions have to go to the full cabinet meeting but the other cabinet members will not understand the issue in question as well as the relevant cabinet member so I see this as an inadequate safeguard.

I think it is less likely to be vulnerable to corruption if there is open democratic debate. 

It is a potential danger where the local authority is handling large contracts that are often rather opaque for reasons of commercial confidentiality – not that I am claiming that it is an actual extant evil but in principle the risk is probably greater  when decision-making is less open to scrutiny.

The present Cabinet System that we have in Birmingham leaves precious little for ordinary councillors to do except to try to calm down arguments between constituents and squabbing neighbours which can’t be much fun. They have little scope to contribute to the big decisions. It doesn’t sound like a very nice job to me nor one that is attractive unless a candidate can advance through the party ranks to a position of real power.

We also need single member wards. At present here and in many local authority areas electors elect three councillors per ward. That’s complicated and confusing and it is hard to track down an individual councillor and get them to give  a sensible and prompt reply to a question about serious policy. It’s hard to track down who can change this. It seems to be the boundary commission but they only have power to advise and then only at the times of reviews which are infrequent.

Regeneration schemes. These are more likely to succeed where there is a healthy attitude among the local people who want to pull together to help the regeneration to produce the right social benefits. I suspect that you can pour lots of money into socially deprived areas without much gain. So the ethos matters and the ethos is much likely to be wholesome if that in the nation as a whole is and if there are good self-respecting jobs to be had and if people have kindly colleaguely thoughts about each other. So my vision comes into its own in helping regeneration of difficult areas to succeed.

Community Relations. I include in this the issue of addressing the exclusive ghetto atmosphere of some urban areas. We’ll get on better together if we are committed to the same goal. If we are all on board with the project of making the world a better place there will be more jobs generally and people from, say, Pakistan will be more integrated and will more happily collaborate with a national desire to improve, for instance, the lot of the ordinary people of Pakistan.  A buoyant unifying vision to try to make the whole world a better place can do a lot to bring our own nation together as a team committed to such a worthy goal and this will help overcome the current isolation of ethic groups in ghettos.

See (click) also video on regional government on a sub page of “Mayors”