Elected Mayors, Democracy And The Regional Agenda

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Mayoral 'shield' (small) 06.9.5 001.jpg The campaign for a debate about elected Mayors promotes ideas of democratic involvement and public accountability. It is for these reasons, not as a short-hand way to achieve city-regions, that this campaign should be encouraged. Even if elected Mayors become the norm, towns and cities will still need major regional input if they are to be effective players within Britain.

It's not reallly news that some major cities have problems pulling things together to achieve progress; and nor, to be frank, is it news that Liverpool often seems to be amongst that number.

This is why I believe people should support the campaign for a referendum on a Mayor for Liverpool. For the referendum to happen would require 5% of those elegible to vote in the city to support it... not many one may think, but actually quite a proportion to raise in Liverpool, the city with the lowest election turn-out in the country. In my view, almost anything which encourages people in places like Liverpool to think positively about voting is a good thing.

Elected Mayors as housekeepers
It doesn't however follow that, because moves to consider elected mayors are supported, that wide-ranging powers for such persons should necessarily be the order of the day. Cities like Liverpool need a named 'responsible person', who can bang heads together to get things done, and who must be prepared to take the flack if things don't work. This person could be seen as taking the role of housekeeper, ensuring that things happen as they should, and that, for instance, streets and parks are clean and safe, events occur to schedule and budget, bids and proposals are submitted on time and well prepared etc.

It would be important for an elected Mayor to have defined, and achieved a consensus on, for instance, what is his / her role, and what is that of the City Chief Executive / Directorates, and of elected Councillors.

Not city-regions
Bioscience Liverpool 06.7.30 001.jpg Nor should it be assumed that an elected Mayor would take the lead role in the mooted city-regions. There may well be a role for city-regions as sub-regions, but that debate is still emerging and it is not for me convincing. In the end an excessive emphasis on city-regions not only loses the 'hinterland' of any metropoils, but also ignores the reality of regional infrastructure.

No toen or city in the UK outside London is on its own large enough to plan major transport, business development, or scientific investment. The things can only properly be addressed at regional level; as indeed they are in most parts of Europe.

Accountability
City regions and their merits or otherwise are a different debate from the current discussion about elected Mayors. If there's now a decent debate about elected Mayors, that will be a good start. Maybe it will strengthen interest in the democratic process. And if it also encourages the idea that those who claim to give the lead require support, but must also be prepared to account very openly for their performance, that will be an excellent bonus.

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The imaginary London-designated "North West" region does not exist. Hillary, did you not understand any of Tony Siebenthaler's excellent article on the absurdities of "regionalism" and it proven dangers for Liverpool's success (http://www.hilaryburrage.com/2005/12/english_regions_or_cityregions_1.php)?

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