“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
“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
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.