Some people have accused me of hypocrisy for standing for the position of elected mayor when I clearly do not believe that such a position should exist. It should be noted, however that all 4 candidates for the mayoralty who are councillors are in a similar position. Two say they don’t like it but voted for it because they felt it would give more powers whilst two of us knew that was not true and voted for the powers but not the mayoralty.
Why don’t I like it? For many reasons but here are just two:
- It is an American style of mayor which brings with it an American style of politics. The way that mayoralties work in say Paris and New York and the checks and balances on them are fundamentally different. We can already see the Americanisation of our politics at work. A leaflet was delivered giving a false impression of my views about the UNESCO World Heritage Status even before I was chosen. A debate was held in the council last week about an issue 10 years old which served no useful purpose other than to try and embarrass me.
- It hasn’t worked. There are currently 14 mayors. Where it works it works no better than councils where there is a council leader. At one time all 3 failing councils in England came from amongst the 14 with Mayors. Where it fails it fails spectacularly. In places like Stoke, Doncaster, Torbay and Tower hamlets it has been a disaster for local services and local tax payers. There is no evidence that having a mayor leads to enhanced public and private sector investment.
Part of my work for the past 10 years has been to work in councils with severe difficulties. That has given me a very clear idea of how to avoid the problems outlined above. So if elected as mayor on May 3 this is how I would do my best to ensure that the mayoralty does not get out of control:
- We need an all Party Cabinet to deal with the problems and opportunities that the city faces.
- I would develop a ‘shadow cabinet’ with leading people from outside the council but with strong knowledge, experience and leadership in sectors like commerce, health, housing and education to challenge cabinet decisions before they are made and ensure strong partnerships across the city for delivering council decisions.
- I would hold two hourly monthly public sessions to answer questions from both the public and councillors about any aspect of the council’s work.
- I would spend an hour a week inside communities with ward councillors on advertised visits which would give people the chance to tell me about their challenges and opportunities.
- I would encourage the youth parliaments and attend their session regularly.
- In addition to the statutory forward plan of the council I would set out in a ‘State of the City’ report every July the targets and aspirations for the forthcoming year against which I could be judged by all comers.
- I would try and meet regularly with national and international leaders to talk to them about the opportunities of Liverpool and to listen to their feedback about their view of our placing in the world.
As can be seen from the above suggestions I think that the key thing to avoid is an internal mayor listening to a small coterie of councillors, advisers and officers. They often tell Mayors what they want to hear and not what they need to know.
By bringing in strong external advice and challenge and spending a lot of time outside the Municipal Buildings I believe that I can avoid Liverpool becoming a Doncaster or a Stoke whilst we work together on the wider governance issues needed to enable the Liverpool City Region to become a democratically accountable and outward challenging body.