Elected mayors: here’s what the current system costs in Leeds (and how we could save £500k while we’re at it)

There’s plenty of misinformation (and the odd bit of hysteria)  around about the supposed cost of an elected mayor.

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

Leeds City Council leader Keith Wakefield

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)

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26 Responses to Elected mayors: here’s what the current system costs in Leeds (and how we could save £500k while we’re at it)

  1. Bywater blog says:

    I would favour giving the Civic Mayor the chop, and saving £300,000+ every year. But its not quite that simple. It might well be a reduced role, if the new elected Mayor is frugal and wants to save cash. But that is not the case over in Doncaster. Although the offiacal Government information says that with an elected Mayor, they will not be able to call another Mayor type person a “Civic Mayor”. But they do in Doncaster. I emailed number 10 a few days ago, but as yet, I have had no reply.

  2. Mark Smith says:

    That analysis is completely wrong because the mayor would be able to appoint their own cabinet who would receive salaries similar to the current executive members. Also the system would not automatically lead to the removal of the Lord Mayor so that money would not be saved – it might make sense but it is not in the proposals. Also despite Eric Pickles comments there is nothing in the legislation which requires councils to remove their chief executives. So most, if not all, of your ‘savings’ are none existant.

    For a blog which prides itself on accuracy and cutting through the spin this is very, very shody.

  3. Mark, of course the elected mayor would appoint his/her executive. That’s what I said. How big that executive would be (apart from an obligatory two councillors) would be up to the elected mayor, I’m guessing. My point is that I can’t see any reason why the whole elected mayoral office (including the new executive he/she sets up) should cost more than is currently spent in allowances on the Council’s leader and executive. Not sure what your point is.

    You’re right. The bit about chopping the ceremonial mayor isn’t in the government’s proposals. That’s me drawing a conclusion and suggesting a saving. Do you honestly think that they’re going to keep someone called “the lord mayor” when they’ve just elected “the mayor”? Give it time. The penny will drop.

    On chief executives, I know what the legislation says. That’s why I said “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”. In any event even when the post is retained it won’t be a chief executive as in “chief officer” of the council (because that’ll be the new mayor), but some sort of “head of paid staff”. Any elected mayor who kept on a head of paid staff at £180,000 a year would be bonkers.

  4. Mark Smith says:

    My point is fairly simple. You rightly criticise opponents of claiming the new system will be a lot more expensive – based only on speculation. But then you do exactly the same thing and argue the new system would be a lot less expensive – based only on speculation.

    In each example you give you are making assumptions – and assuming the cheapest option will happen without any evidence.

    Cabinet members – the elected mayor executive could cost less, but it could also cost more.
    Lord Mayor – Doncaster still has a Lord Mayor, Middlesborough still has a ‘Chair of Council’ which performs exactly the same role. So again this is not a definite saving.
    Chief Executive – Whatever your personal view there are councils with mayors that have chief executives. There are also some councils with Leaders who have got rid of Chief Executives – so one is not necessarily linked to another.

    We need an open debate about this important issue, not biased speculation. The truth is the cost of the new system is unknown at the moment – it might be more it might be less.

    You also skim over some important distinctions. There is a clear seperation between political leadership and a civic figurehead. The elected mayor will not have the time to perform the ceremonial role currently performed by the Lord Mayor so this role could continue. I think you’re right to question whether we need these civic roles but you could get rid of the Lord Mayor without adopting an elected mayor.

    Finally on the chief executive issue. Even if you were right that an elected mayor would take on significant amounts of the chief executive’s work (most politicians want to be leaders not managers) then surely they (or the independent panel) will argue they need to be paid more to reflect their new responsibilities. But you do not factor this in. There is also the more important point about the need to seperate political decision-making and administration – or risk having a politicised officer corps like they do in America that changes with each mayor.

    I realise that’s a long reply but you said you did not understand my point – hope it is clear now and that you’ll return to some fact based analysis rather than speculation which is clearly framed by your view of an elected mayor.

    • Cheers Mark, lots of interesting points that i will come back to. But for the moment, all I’m really trying to say is:

      There is NO objective reason to say an elected mayor and team would necessarily cost more than the £330,000 spent on the current system (£515,000 if you include the salary of the chief exec).

      If it ends up costing more, then the people involved are either greedy or stupid, or both.

      • Mark Smith says:

        But if it costs the same there is no saving – as you imply.

        Ive no problem with you making the case a mayor would not be more expensive – but I think you’ve over egged things by implying there will definitely be big savings.

      • I think we’re probably in agreement then. An elected mayor would not be more expensive – and there are big savings that COULD be made.

      • Mark Smith says:

        I also think you might be underestimatingthe potential for a mayor to be both greedy and stupid!

      • If we decide to vote for a greedy and stupid person as elected mayor in November, then we deserve everything coming to us.

  5. Bywater blog says:

    Mark, you say “We need an open debate”, you seem to be knowledgeable, but do not enter into debate. You seem to be sitting on the fence; whilst rubbishing the ‘facts’ without giving your own. I assume that you must be involved in local politics and want to muddy the water in order to confuse us all.

    • Mark Smith says:

      Bywater – I’m not trying to muddy the water. I’m pointing out that an elected mayor could be more expensive or less expensive. My point is nobody will know for sure until a mayor has been introduced.

      We don’t know what the mayoral salary will be, we don’t know what the senior officer structure would be, we don’t know whether there would be a lord mayor or similar figure and we don’t know what the size of the cabinet would be or what they were paid. And ultimately we are talking about something very marginal for a council with a huge budget.

      For me the mayoral vote is simple. Do you believe in the power of individual personalities to force change or do you believe in a model of collective decision making that includes a diversity of views.

      The campaign should be about this fundamental issue rather than speculation on both sides.

  6. Alison Neale says:

    Thanks for the figures, Mr Citizen. They make interesting reading. I can certainly see your point that if we were to elect a mayor – someone sensible and out for the good of the city rather than their pocket – then there are substantial savings that could be made. Unfortunately, at the moment we’re rather in the dark – as Mark is saying, I think. Too few facts have been released. I could happily vote for a mayor, but then what if a bunch of obnoxious, pseudo-celebrity, shopping-obsessed money grabbers (as an example) stand for the position? We’d then be worse off than currently. I’d be happier if someone really good had already put their name forward… any ideas?

    • Hey Alison, it doesn’t seem likely that anyone “really good” will put their name forward before the referendum. All the more reason that the possibility of a decent, non-party, non-business, moral alternative as elected mayor is somehow promoted at this stage.

      As for a shopping-obsessed leadership, we’ve got that already!

  7. Bywater blog says:

    If we did elected the civic Mayor that costs more than £300,000 every year; there would be an alternative candidate that would do it cheaper. I dont see how anyone can say that the proposals dont have a probable savings. The people that put names into the hat are likely to be some of our local or national top politicains, and they will be able to make election policies pledges. Where as individual council candidate cannot.

  8. DavyGravy says:

    In response to some of the partisan comments above re city mayors, interesting article on ‘The World Tonight’ R4 16/4/2012 – principally around Bristol but much of the content was true for Leeds.

  9. hmocc says:

    Great discussion here. I’d just like to pinpoint I wouldn’t mind voting for a more expensive system a long as it was a more rewarding one. Let’s say an elected Mayor is indeed cheaper for Leeds, but less efficient at running the city, what then? Or the reverse, a Mayoral cabinet that is indeed dearer but delivers results for Leeds above what we get now.

    What I mean to say is cost analysis only makes sense when you have the benefit to measure it against.

  10. johng says:

    From what I have seen about the cost, I cannot see how the elected Mayor would save money. It may just be possible that it’s around the same cost but NOBODY KNOWS.

    NOBODY KNOWS, including the minister in charge of the referendum, what the powers of the mayor will be.
    NOBODY KNOWS who will stand for Mayor if there is a yes vote in the referendum.

    The only thing that we do know, is that a yes vote will mean an irreversible change and we have no idea what sort of person would stand.
    Its all well & good for Leeds Citizen to say “it doesn’t seem likely that anyone “really good” will put their name forward before the referendum. All the more reason that the possibility of a decent, non-party, non-business, moral alternative as elected mayor is somehow promoted at this stage” but nobody is being promoted.
    If there is a yes vote NOBODY KNOWS who will stand but someone will get elected and for Leeds Citizen to call for it to be a non-party, non-business person is ludicrous.

    If all the unknowns were cleared and we knew what we would be getting if we said yes then that would be different but we don’t know.

    The only sensible vote in the referendum is a NO vote.

    • I live in hope that a decent person will come forward. And if one doesn’t, your political parties and their pals in business will hang on to power for as long as they like. So what are you worrying about?

    • hmocc says:

      Again I ask: Which kind of creep will the people of Leeds elect in your opinion? The token big party candidate? The small party personality? The random independent? A maniacal psychopath?
      I for one prefer to have an accountable face that I can support or vote against every 4 years than a revolving door group of people who to me (and probably to themselves) just feel like they’re in a job and at some point or other will move on to some other job and so on.
      With an elected mayor you will have more chance to elect someone who (1) actually cares about the city and/or (2) actually cares about doing a good job so he/she can be re-elected and keep up the good work. Note the operative word is “Cares”.

      • johng says:

        I have absolutely no idea who will stand but there could well be some from each category you mention.
        You do currently have the opportunity to vote for a Councillor 3 years out 4, a councillor that knows and cares about your area – do you think an elected Mayor would care more about your area than a councillor does? I don’t think they would as they’d be to busy running the city.
        I’m not sure where your revolving door analogy comes from , its not something I’ve seen.
        I think your implication that councillors don’t care about the ward they represent and don’t work hard to get re-elected every 4 years is wrong. I know a lot of councillors from across the parties and they do care and work hard.
        With the current system there can be a change of ruling group every year if that is what the electorate want but with an elected Mayor you are stuck with them for 4 years and there’s nothing that can be done about it irrespective of how good or bad they are.

        As I said we don’t know what powers the mayor will have and have no idea who will stand and on what platform so do we take an irreversible leap into the dark.

      • Bywater blog says:

        Surely the main point is that when you are voting for a councillor, that is all they are. They do not, and cannot, promise what they will do for the Leeds district. Only a Mayor or a leader that knows he will be leader for a set amount of years can do that. Keith Wakefield cannot promise anything, because he might not be the leader in 18 months. My local councillors are Morley Borough Independents, they don’t care what happenings in North, East and West Leeds. Not sure they even care about Morley.

      • johng says:

        That’s like saying that we need a directly elected Prime Minister as an MP can’t say what they’d do for the country.

        The people of Morley didn’t like how they they were being represented and voted MBI. With an elected Mayor they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it if they didn’t like what they were doing as other areas of Leeds may be quite happy.

  11. hmocc says:

    Johng, I am under the impression that electing a Mayor will not cancel the election for the Leeds Assembly (i.e. local wards’ representatives). Please advise if I am wrong here.
    I’m in East Leeds and I find my Local Councillor (Labour) to be approachable and interventive. However I know next to nothing about the actual ‘cabinet’ that runs the city, the Chief Officer, the people that are actually making the hard decisions. And if they’re invisible to me then it sounds they actually do not want the public interest over what it is they are doing. Hence the need for the direct mandate. Hence why I am most likely to vote in favour of an Elected Mayor.

    • John says:

      hmocc, there will still be local Councillors but they will have no power to change anything in the way the City is run e.g. if Councillors representing constituents want a change in the Mayor’s policy then there is nothing they can do about it.
      You say you know nothing about the Cabinet – its not that difficult to find out and all Council committee meeetings including the Exec board are open to the public and the minutes are published.
      As for the Chief Officer, I’m not sure any of us need to know about him. We know nothing about the Government Cabinet Secretary and that’s an analogous position.

  12. Stuart Bruce says:

    Interesting analysis and comments, but I think most of them rather miss the point. No matter how much the media like to get the public riled up about the cost of democracy – because that’s what politicians actually represent – it isn’t actually a great deal of money. It is a tiny, tiny percentage of the council’s overall spend. What is far more important to focus on is the potential savings that a more effective and democratic form of leadership could bring to the council’s overall budget. The Warwick Report has pointed to significant potential savings and that is what we should be focusing on.

    My personal opinion – because that’s all anybody has, despite the no campaign consistently distorting the truth to try and claim it will cost more – is that it will be broadly similar to now.

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