The presumption in the “no to an elected mayor” camp – and in much of our local media – is that the new model is going to be much more expensive than what we’ve got at the moment.
“I just do not see how spending £1m on an elected mayor helps anything,” Sir Rodney Walker told the Yorkshire Post last week. (The Yorkshire Post didn’t feel it was necessary to spell out how he arrived at the £1m figure)
And the local government regional head of the trade union Unison, Chris Jenkinson, told the paper that an elected mayor could cost up to £400,000 a year.
“If an elected mayor is approved, we could end up with a very expensive office having to be paid from existing council funds at the expense of services,” he said.
Heady stuff, but complete nonsense.
Special responsibility allowances
What Mr Jenkinson failed to mention is how much we’re spending now on the bits of local government that are going to be replaced when we get an elected mayor.
First off, here’s the obvious bit. The elected mayor and his/her executive is going to replace the current Council Leader and his executive.
So, here are all the posts and the costs of the special responsibility allowances relating to the Leader and the Executive team currently in operation in Leeds. Figures taken from Leeds City Council’s “members’ allowances schedule” (I’ve presumed that the Leader and his deputy don’t claim allowances as Board members):
We’re not far off Mr Jenkinson’s £400,000 and we’ve barely started!
Now it seems pretty likely (but not certain) that in councils that choose to have an elected mayor, the current post of chief executive will either be scrapped or drastically cut back. As Mr Pickles said: “Where you have Chief Executives and elected leaders responsible for the same thing, it’s both expensive and pointless.”
So we could well add the current chief executive’s not inconsiderable salary (13 times that of the lowest paid council worker in Leeds) to the pot of savings if we have an elected mayor. Here are the figures again, but with that eventuality taken into account:
And then there’s our ceremonial mayor*. What would the role be for this “civic figurehead” under an elected mayor? Ambassador for the city? Don’t think so – we’ll already have one. The chain will have to be handed over to the elected mayor and the entries on the ceremonial mayor’s diary will have to be farmed out elsewhere or dropped, erm, unceremoniously from the Council’s list of “services”.
Now it just so happens that the BBC has recently been looking into the whole question of the cost of ceremonial mayors. And what have they found? Well, in Leeds the ceremonial mayor is costing us £308,000 a year. So let’s put that into the pot too.
So now we’ve suddenly got £823,184 “saved” for the post of elected mayor. And that’s before we take a realistic look at what an elected mayor might cost. The amount the elected mayor gets paid, by the way, will be recommended by an independent panel – and councillors will have to approve the figure.
Personally, I can’t for the life of me see the need for a mayoral salary (or that of any other local authority worker, come to that) greater than £50,000. That would set a proper example to the fat cats still earning three-figure sums among the council’s paid staff. And £50,000 a year, as all of us who don’t earn that much know, is a fantastic salary.
But no way should the whole elected mayoral office (including the new executive he/she sets up) cost more than is currently spent in allowances on the Council’s executive – £333,000. That would leave the best part of £500,000 to be ploughed back into the Council’s cash-strapped services.
Job’s a good’un.
(* it’s an interesting one, the post of ceremonial mayor. I’m baffled as to what or who the ceremonial mayor represents. I see the charm in a Peter and Jane kind of way – a mythical Santa Claus type authority figure decked out in bizarre kit that children can look up to bemused. But beyond that? Values? Civic virtue? Answers below, please)