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MAYORS FOR EVERYWHERE?

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The Guardian (Analysis, p17) looks at the prospects of directly-elected mayors becoming the norm in local authoriti...
The Guardian (Analysis, p17) looks at the prospects of directly-elected mayors becoming the norm in local authorities around the country.

It says: 'There is no strong evidence that, without mayors, cities cannot make big decisions. The recent history of Birmingham shows that mayors are not essential for civic reconstruction and imaginative thinking about the urban fabric.

'Birmingham's decisions have been taken under very traditional forms of leadership. Dick Knowles, the former council leader, was every inch the old-style municipal boss whose mastery of the complex politics of an often riven Labour group was as important as his glad-handing among business leaders and trade unionists.'

The idea of getting rid of the old committee system is examined and the article argues that mayors 'surely offer local authorities the chance to lodge themselves in the mind of a public in a way committees cannot.'

Vince Muspratt, leader of Watford BC (which is to poll residents on the issue next May), says: 'Most people do not know the name of the leader of their council. The committee system takes up an enormous amount of time and discourages leadership.'

The opposite view is expressed by George Jones of the London School of Economics and John Stewart of Birmingham University who say committees can be overlong and too formal but that MPs would love to experience the degree of involvement in shaping decisions that the committee system gives to the opposition and backbenchers.

The other point they make is that mayors are unlikely to appeal in more rural parts of the country where councillors unaffiliated to any political party still flourish.

The article says that despite its promises, the Blair government shows no sign of wanting to release councils from the straitjacket of central controls on finance and services. Mayors could be liberating. But perhaps the election of able mayors might start arguing the toss with central government, complaining about grants, even policies.

The articles concludes with the question: 'Would a Blair government tolerate, let alone welcome, a new breed of dissenter?'

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