Monday, 5 December 2011

Why I'll be saying "yes" to an elected mayor for Bradford

Today, Greg Clark, the “Cities Minister”, confirmed the date for Bradford’s referendum on a directly elected executive mayor:

Our greatest cities can benefit from strong, visible leadership and international standing that a mayor, elected with a clear mandate, can bring.

"Around the world, including in London, a mayor has become a vital part in ensuring that a great city has a strong voice and can attract investment from home and aboard.

"Britain's success depends on the success of our great cities and I am convinced that an elected mayor, taking powers previously confined to ministers, can help realise their potential."

Now, leaving aside the slightly gushing nature of this announcement, I can say that I shall be campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote – Bradford has had long enough with behind closed doors, unaccountable, party whip controlled government. The result of this has been to create a jaundiced electorate – something noted (to the distaste of local leaders) by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation:

In part defined by outsiders as a ‘problem city’, individuals, businesses and groups who took part in the research often argued that Bradford’s leaders had not done enough to counter these negative images. They felt this had discouraged investment in the area and damaged the confidence and perceptions of people within the city and district.

However much we may – as those local leaders – chunter and complain about this analysis, we cannot deny that a fair old chunk of the City’s populace simply don’t think much of their leaders. Maybe they’re wrong – I certainly think many Councillors have tried hard to break through the begging bowl mentality, present a positive image of the City and provide high quality services to Bradford’s residents.

A mayor would – as we have seen elsewhere – be able to rise above the party machines through having a direct relationship with all the Bradford electorate. A mayor would set a different tone to politics in the city. Instead of an endless round of conflicted negotiations between party leaders, we would have one individual able to set a clear agenda – an agenda for which that individual would be accountable to the whole electorate.

Right now the agenda is set in the different party groups on the council; these groups choose the leaders giving the voters no say in that process. Elections are conducted on the basis of national political positions – if parties have a position on Bradford’s priorities it isn’t one that is presented to the electorate, debated and discussed, it is contained in a document read by only a few.

A mayor would break the stranglehold of professional administrators and the dominance of officer “expertise” is defining what the council does. My colleagues on council complain all the time about it being “officer-led” or “officer-controlled”. One former councillor once described the chief executive, with some merit, as the “unelected mayor”. If we have a directly elected executive mayor, we will see political direction and leadership (and I don’t mean party political here) replacing the deadening hand of bureaucratic stasis that dominates what we do today.

Above all, a mayor would provide the city with a clear, recognisable and accountable face to the wider world. Right now, I’m prepared to bet that more Bradfordians know the name of the directly elected mayor of London than know the name of the indirectly elected, unaccountable leader of Bradford Council.

So next May, I’ll be asking Bradfordians to vote for change. To vote for a system that will give the City a strong public voice, a man or woman who can step outside the now smoke-free rooms of City Hall and provide the leadership the people of Bradford say they want.


1 comment:

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Of course there should be an elected mayor of Bradford.

And it should, naturally, be Alderman Foodbotham. Who else?

If they are elect anyone else, the city will probably be destroyed by an earthquake, or something.