Does Leeds want an elected mayor? BBC poll (and Rachel Reeves) say ‘yes’

No appetite in Leeds?

“There is rare unity among the political parties of Leeds – no one wants a mayor.” So ran the latest report in the Yorkshire Evening Post on the referendum we’re going to have in Leeds in May on whether we want an elected mayor.

The story, published last Thursday, went on to quote the leaders of all three main political parties in Leeds City Council.

And it was all pretty predictable stuff.

An elected mayor could cost Leeds up to £250,000 more a year, Council Leader Keith Wakefield (Labour) told the paper, without specifying why. An elected mayor would be a “recipe for conflict”, Conservative group leader Cllr Andrew Carter said, without specifying why. There is “no appetite for an elected mayor in Leeds” Liberal group leader Stewart Golton was quoted as saying, without giving any evidence.

By Friday evening, however, the picture of a Leeds united against the whole idea was a bit less clear: a poll conducted by the BBC showed that a majority of people in Leeds apparently DO want an elected mayor; and the Labour Party’s rising star, Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, said she does too.

The BBC poll was admittedly taken from a pretty small sample of the local population (500 in Leeds), and showed that most people were pretty much in the dark about the whole idea of an elected mayor, but the gut reaction of 57% was to say ‘yes’ and only 34% to say ‘no’.

No appetite? Hmmm.

“Strong case” for elected mayor – Rachel Reeves

Rachel Reeves told BBC Radio Leeds on Friday morning that she thought an elected mayor would probably give Leeds a stronger voice.

“I do think that there is a strong case for having an elected mayor, because at the moment the government are making huge cuts to the support they give to local councils – in Leeds we’re having our budget cut by 27% over four years and as a result libraries are having to close, leisure centres…

“There’s big cuts to local services and I think that an elected mayor might have more of a chance of standing up for Leeds against what the government are doing and also internationally as well,” she said.

“I do think that having a mayor would probably give us a stronger voice when we’re standing up against what the government are doing to our city,” she added.

Not sure elected mayor would cost more

All this under one person?

Asked about reports that an elected mayor would cost more, she said:

“I’m not sure that having a mayor is going to cost more than having a leader of the council, because my understanding is that the mayor replaces the leader of the council and the chief executive of the council, so I’m not sure that will cost more money…

“I don’t think the government have got the right priorities, but given that we’ve got the referendum, I think I’m going to be voting yes.”

One of the many unanswered questions about how the idea of an elected city mayor would pan out in practice is this: couldn’t a mayor of Leeds put the mockers on plans already in place for the region as a whole? And where could that leave emerging regional bodies like the Leeds City Region’s Local Enterprise Partnership?

Maybe that’s why we’re already hearing voices saying that what we really need is not a mayor of Leeds, but a mayor of the Leeds City Region – one person leading the affairs of every town and city from Ripon to Pontefract, from Skipton to Barnsley and all points in between.

Expect much more of that (and this) over the coming weeks.


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26 Responses to Does Leeds want an elected mayor? BBC poll (and Rachel Reeves) say ‘yes’

  1. John says:

    You comment that the three Leeds Party Leaders give no evidence to back up their comments but don’t say the same about Ms Reeves comments.

    An elected Mayors salary would be around that of the current Chief Exec that they replace but what about the salaries of those they appoint to their cabinet – Ms Reeves doesn’t take that into account. These appointees may well have skills that the City needs but they don’t have to – the system is wide open to nepotism.

    Whilst Leeds is being forced by central to Government to have this referendum, Doncaster & is having a referendum to get rid of theirs and option that will not be open to Leeds in the future.

    Cllr Carter is right about the recipe for conflict which you dismiss. As the Mayor needn’t listen to the Councillors what happens when the Councillors disagree with a decision of the Mayors? It doesn’t matter how wrong the Mayor may be, they hold all the power and what they say goes.

    Welcome to the Leeds dictatorship.

    If Ms Reeves wants to see strong Local Government leadership she should be lobbying her colleagues to give more power to the current system not foisting a solution on Leeds that will reduce democracy.

    • Re money: we don’t know what an elected mayor’s salary would be, but if we’ve got any sense and get the right person it will NOT be the £176,000 a year that our chief executive currently gets (13 TIMES the amount the lowest paid worker at the council currently gets. 13 TIMES!!!). Does the council leader get any financial reward for being leader? If so, that would go into the pot too. Still, if you’ve got hard info about cabinet costs under the current system and under an elected mayor, i’d like to see it.

      Re Doncaster: of the cities polled by the BBC, Doncaster came out MOST in favour of an elected mayor. Didn’t know, however, that there was a specification in the bill that this mayoral system would be for EVER. Sorry, but if it really doesn’t work WE might just get rid of it.

      Re powers/dictatorship: Have you seen something somewhere that spells out the powers that an elected mayor would have? If so, please pass it on. Ditto the arrangements for scrutiny/impeachment of an elected mayor.

      Re democracy: am genuinely confused by the argument that i’ve heard (from among others the local Labour Party) that a leader elected by councillors and a chief executive elected by nobody is more democratic than a mayor elected by the people. Hey ho.

      What this poll, small though it is, tells me is that people quite like the idea of having a go at being free from the party political status quo (no surprise there) and parties and their councillors ought to get on and find a way of making the new system (if that’s what we get) work.

      • John, forgot to say that I wasn’t, as you put it, dismissing Cllr Carter’s assertion that an elected mayor would be a “recipe for conflict”. Just that he didn’t say why and how it would be.

  2. Simon Cooke says:

    My guess is that the elected mayor wouldn’t be paid anything like the amount paid to Tom Riordan – nor is it necessarily the case that a mayor would replace the Chief Executive.

    Keith Wakefield currently gets a little more than £50k in ‘allowances’ and, in addition, the members of his “Executive Board” each get around £35k – there are ten of them so the total cost is around £400,000. Leeds also has a couple of Deputy Positions.

    I really can’t see that the elected mayor system will cost more than this.

    And the choice is between what amounts to an unelected mayor (the leader appointed in private by members of his political group and elected by councillors to a four year term) and an elected mayor (a person elected by the public to a four year term).

    • John says:

      “nor is it necessarily the case that a mayor would replace the Chief Executive” – wrong its in the Bill

      Will the appointees to the Mayor’s cabinet do the job that cheaply?

      Leaders of all the political groups are elected annually NOT every 4 years.

      • Hi John, I’m finding it tricky to establish just what the Bill says, but as far as I can work it out, the option exists for a council that goes down the mayoral route to retain a “head of paid service” (currently given the title of chief exec), who might still issue reports but would report directly to the elected mayor, who would be the council’s senior officer. Unlikely that under those circumstances the title of “chief executive officer” would still be appropriate/acceptable. There’s quite a good summary here and some verbatimish stuff at para 89 here.

  3. Hey Simon, you’ve just answered the question that I was asking above while I was writing it. Cheers.

  4. Cllr Neil Walshaw says:

    An Elected Mayor will command a salary of over £100k & probably in region of £150k.
    The fundamental problem with the proposals are the concentration of power in one persons hands with no powers to hold him or her to account. An unconstrained executive is a historical recipe for disaster. The directly elected representatives of the people of Leeds will no powers to remove the elected Mayor if he or she is corrupt or incompetent.
    So it’s less democratic, less accountable, more expensive, & a rather 19th Century approach to Civic Governance.

    • Cheers Neil,
      re costs: who says an elected mayor will command a salary of over £100,000? I’d do it for £38,975. And, according to Simon Cooke’s estimates above, we’ve got £400,000 a year to play with – not counting the chief exec’s salary of £176,000. So, how is it more expensive?

      re powers: I’m genuinely interested how you know that there will be “no powers to hold him or her to account”? Are they scrapping scrutiny boards, for example? Please tell. Believe me, if he/she is corrupt or incompetent we (together with you councillors) will find a way to remove him/her.

    • Lee says:

      The Government’ response to the consultation states that there should be a ‘bespoke approach’ to how each city runs its Mayoral system, so presumably Leeds could choose any system of scrutiny it wants? Something along the lines of 2/3 of councillors voting through a motion of no confidence, triggering an election, would be an effective safeguard. And/or a presidential style system of checks and balances which would enable councillors to veto the Mayor’s proposals, and vice versa.

      I also don’t see how directly electing the chief executive can make it less accountable. It’s much more accessible to people who don’t follow local politics closely, and would provide a visible figurehead for the council.

      I applaud your commitment to keeping the cost of local government down, so hope you and your colleagues will give plenty of thought to reducing the number of councillors. 99 is far too many. Even cutting the number of councillors per ward to 2 would go a long way towards paying for the Mayor!

      • Hey Lee,
        you’ve reminded me to have a slower look at the government response to the consultation. Cheers.

        Until I see something down in black and white, all this stuff about no checks, balances, safeguards etc just feels like hysterical nonsense from people with a vested interest in NO CHANGE.

      • Lee says:

        The consultation is like wading through treacle, and from what I can see there are no suggestions as to what the safeguards should be. But this isn’t because there won’t be any, just that it’ll be up to each individual council to decide.

        As you say, it’s plain daft to suggest that scrutiny committees etc. would become a thing of the past, and as the Mayor would have a higher profile than councillors do at present, we may even pay attention to what happens at their meetings!

  5. Steve Hunt says:

    If you walked down the High Streets of Leeds and stopped the first 50 people on each, how many do you think would be able to tell you the name of the Leader of Leeds City Council? Not many I’d bet. Does that matter? Yes it does and it should. To my shame it wasn’t until very recently that I found out who it is. Leeds is a great City but it lacks strong visible leadership, and I think the new proposed Mayor model could change that.

    I just don’t see how it would be more expensive though – if the Mayor replaces the Leader of the Council (someone suggests they get £50k above) plus the Chief Exec (£176k – wow, really!!!) I suspect we would end up saving money. This just sounds like propaganda from those who are opposed to having a Mayor.

    Councillors are bound to be opposed to the idea, because they see it as a threat to their own positions. Some one told me at work today that we have 99 Councillors and only 8 MPs in Leeds – how can that be right? Why do we need 99 Councillors? I don’t know how much each of them are paid but I suspect we could save some money by reducing that number – even if only by 10% / 20%.

    I would rather chose the leader of my City than leaving it up to Councillors to pick!

    Reading earlier blog entries I see that the Labour Leader in Leeds (humorously called Wakefield!) has said a Mayor would be “utter madness” – I wonder if he will conveniently change his mind if Leeds people vote yes in the referendum??!

    I think I will be voting yes!

    • Hey Steve,
      it’s interesting that – about how many councillors we need and how many we have compared to MPs. I’ve no idea, but it feels like at the moment we don’t seem to be able collectively as a city to do a lot of the most important, basic stuff for our fellow citizens.

      And yes, if we get a ‘yes’ vote in May, you can bet your boots (15/8 on at Ladbroke’s in Merrion Centre) that the reluctant Labour Party mayoral candidate will be Cllr Wakefield.

      • Steve Hunt says:

        I know only two Councillors, so can’t comment about the other 97!

        Am sure their current leader will want to go for it (and 15/8 might we worth a few quid!) – but as your average voter I would just see it as total self interest – how can you say its “utter madness” one day and then decide that you’d like the (well paid, high profile!) job the next – no wonder they are all so unpopular!

    • David Fairbairn says:

      The people of Leeds vote for councillors, who form a ‘cabinet’ to run the council. Team decisions based on the most popular collection of views.
      Electing a mayor would negate this whole process, unless that mayor held the same views as the decision making councillors, in which case the role would be duplicating the council leader role, surely?

      • Listen guys, you’ve had your go with your team decisions, driven by Whitehall and constrained by your parties’ ideologies and adversarial boo-ya politics. And one in four of our children are still living in poverty. Let someone else have a go.

  6. Andy says:

    I can see why Leeds council doesn’t want it, it means there might be a voice of sanity showing. London has a Mayor with actual powers and actual things get done. Leeds council seems to spend a lot of time talking, but not much actual doing and there is too much political squabbling. Maybe somebody in overall charge could knock some heads together.

    • John says:

      London has a Mayor with powers over London-wide issues such as transport & police while the London Boroughs provide all the other services expected.
      A Leeds Mayor would only be in charge of the same services as the current Leader & Cabinet (a team effort as David says above being replaced by a single decision-maker) currently run.
      Now if the Mayor was for the City Region or West Yorkshire and had a remit for region-wide services that would be a different argument.

  7. This idea of a mayor for the city region may coincide with the vested interests of certain political parties and big business, but feels too much like regional government by the back door to have any chance of being accepted by the rest of us. Sorry guys, we don’t want more government – and more remote government at that.

    There seems to be a weird assumption from the ‘no’ camp that an elected mayor and councillors will automatically be endlessly at each others’ throats. The fact that cooperation is considered impossible speaks volumes about the way our political parties are used to operating. Go to the council chamber in Leeds next wednesday (or parliament on any day) and watch the parties “debate” to see why some of us think a change may be a good thing.

    • John says:

      You want a mayor like London but not a regional mayor. If that’s not contradictory what is. The London mayor is a regional mayor and there are 3 regional bodies that are currently run by what you would no doubt consider to be undemocratic committees of councillors.
      Mind you I can see that having a regional mayor may took some powers away from Leeds and may even favour say Bradford or Wakefielded Leeds and we can’t have that.

  8. No. I’ve never said I want a mayor like London. I want a change in Leeds away from what we’ve got and this is a good opportunity to see what it would be like to have a decent and independent person speaking up for us all who’s not tied to some silly, outdated political party.

    And I’m in favour of anything that favours Bradford, but quite why a regional mayor would be the best thing for it is totally beyond me.

    • John says:

      So you want an “independent person speaking up for us all who’s not tied to some silly, outdated political party” – which by implication means somebody with no experience of running a City like Leeds.
      And why are political parties “silly” & “outdated” ?

  9. I just want the facts about what this change will cost. I do not want anymore civil servants there is far too many of them already and all over paid. The London mayor costs Londoners a fortune they have to pay for their local Councillors in their boroughs. The mayor and the mayors office which is enormous,although smaller under Boris. National Government and the EU. Just how many overpaid civil servants does it take? I want smaller government bodies

  10. paddle daddle says:

    you want an “independent person speaking up for us all who’s not tied to some silly, outdated political party” Then you might just get a member of the EDL they are the new kids on the block. What about UKIP? Didn’t they elect a monkey in Hartlepool?

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