Councillor Dine Romero, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on B&NES Council:
How would you like Bath and North East Somerset Council to be run? That’s the question facing local residents next week. Should we stick with the status quo: a Council run by a Leader and Cabinet chosen by voters at local elections? Or should we have our own George or even Boris, set above Councillors?
On March 10th local residents will be asked to decide between these two systems in a referendum. This is just a local referendum. There are no proposals to change the system in other parts of the country. It has come about because of a petition signed by just 5% of local voters.
Speaking as a community campaigner, I have severe reservations about the principle of directly elected mayors. I don’t think it is wise to give too much power to one person. A mayor could push through his own pet projects and completely ignore the wishes of the community without any way to remove him for 4 years.
In Bristol, George Ferguson has repeatedly come under fire for secretiveness – particularly around the City Council accounts – and for taking decisions without consulting local people. He’s so unpopular that petitions have gone to government asking for legislation to be changed so Bristol can go back to the Leader and Cabinet system that we currently have.
I think that this current Leader and Cabinet system is more democratic. The Cabinet is made up of 8 elected Councillors, normally coming from the party which won the most seats at the local elections. This is the same system as the national government. It gives us a strong group of decision-makers who usually represent all different parts of Bath and North East Somerset. A mayor couldn’t possibly know every part of our area equally or stay on top of all of the 700 Council services.
Cabinets are also usually made up of people of different genders and ages, with different backgrounds and with different life experiences. A mayor would have only his own perspective and would likely be a man. In this article I have deliberately referred to a mayor as ‘him’ and ‘he’ because, across the country, all but four directly elected mayors are men. Oh and by the way, 95% of mayors are former Councillors or former MPs, so if B&NES has a mayor, we are likely to get another party politician, who will toe the party line, but who will be paid significantly more!
The outcome of the referendum is not a foregone conclusion, but turnout will be vital. Those who want an elected Mayor will certainly turn out to vote.
Please make sure you use your vote in the referendum on 10th March to throw out this pointless and costly proposal to change our current system.
Have a look at our list of the top 10 reasons to vote to stick with the current Leader and Cabinet system: http://www.bathlibdems.org.uk/elected_mayor
The Council has published a useful list of FAQs about the referendum, which can be seen here: http://www.bathnes.gov.uk/services/your-council-and-democracy/elections/referendum-future-governance-council
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