Croydon Communities Consortium has decided to share information about DEMOC, the campaign for an elected Mayor on its blog site. It has not added the links to my blog postings, or to the campaign group Croydon Says No or Cllr Jamie Audsley’s Labour for Mayor campaign.
CCC says that DEMOC is non-party political because it has supporters from both the Tories and Labour. Unfortunately given the way it was set up by Chris Philp, Tory MP, high jacking and misleading some Residents Associations’ leaders over the role of a Mayor on planning, DEMOC is seen as a very party politically driven organisation.
Since CCC is about debate and sharing information, there is no reason which it cannot also post information on the campaign against, an elected Mayor, on the basis that it is providing information on which readers can then make their mind up on the issue.
Croydon Says No
Some Key Questions
Nuala O’Neill of the anti-DM campaign has reflected on some questions I put to her and Councillor Stuart Collins. Here is my edit of her replies.
What powers does a DEM have?
The DEM of a single authority has the same powers as the current strong leader.
What is the role of Councillors under a DEM?
Councillors will perform a scrutiny function. This function takes the form of pre-decision consultation and post decision review. The system of DEMS shows that Councillors are little more than community champions rather than voting representatives of the electorate. This, taken to its natural conclusion will see Government pressure to reduce the number of elected Councillors. Such a reduction will have dire consequences for the principle of subsidiarity as decisions are taken further and further away from the electorate.
How does the DEM appoint Cabinet members?
Clarity is needed as to whether a DEM may choose up to 9 cabinet members from elected Councillors on-elected people. (Comment: a check of several DMs of local Councils as opposed to the regionalMayors shows it is clearthat the DM appoints Councillors to the Cabinet/Executive.)
How democratic is DEM?
There are differing arguments on this issue with some saying that a highly visible Mayor gives accountability to the electorate as they know who is responsible for all the decisions at the local Council. However, this individual with total executive control can be elected on a minority of votes, especially as the Government are looking to impose First Past The Post in mayoral elections, thereby creating a sizeable democratic deficit. The issue of legitimacy is relevant when the size of turnout in mayoral referenda is examined. Turnout has been as low as 9.8%. The mayoral referendum of 2001 in Lewisham had a turnout of 18% and a result of 16,822 to 15,914 majority in favour of an elected mayor, i.e. 10% of the voting population of Lewisham voted in favour of the wholesale transfer of executive powers to one individual.
Can Councillors stop action by DEM?
It is difficult to find exact guidelines in the legislation. The figure of 66% of the Council voting against a mayoral action is one that is often heard, however, a DEM has complete executive power without recourse to the full Council. Councillors only have the power of scrutiny.
How can the Leader/Cabinet system be made more open and responsive?
On a local level Croydon has come some way on this in the past few months. The former Strong Leader and appointed Cabinet has been replaced with an annually elected Leader with an annually elected Cabinet. The Leader and Cabinet are elected by the majority group on the Council and confirmed by the full Council at the AGM. The leader and cabinet model with its emphasis on fast decision making and scrutiny after decision is not as transparent in its dealings as the committee structure which takes all decisions in public with each Councillor on the committee both from majority and other groups holding a vote.
Will the election of a DEM damage Croydon’s recovery plan?
There is always the chance that our Tory government might be kinder to a directly elected Tory mayor than they are being to our Labour council though past experience shows that this will not be the case. What has been the experience with DEMs in other Councils? Very mixed, the experience of corruption in Tower Hamlets and Liverpool. There are also very few DEMs in single borough authorities.
Points Against a Directly Elected Mayor
Stuart Collins has outlined several points against a DEM, which I have edited to:
The election and setting up of a Mayor’s Office with staff will cost money that could be better spent on local services in your community.
- gives all power to one individual.
- is not obliged to listen to your locally elected Councillors.
- is in power for 4 years, currently the majority group of Councillors elect their Leader and Cabinet every year which is far more accountable.
- chooses their own Cabinet on their own.
- can choose anyone they want to be on the Cabinet, if a majority of Councillors are from one party and the a minority from another party it would throw Croydon’s governance into chaos.
Creating a presidential style governance of Croydon, would create a governance of personality over policies. Shared collective governance is better.
Having a Directly Elected Mayor would end the role of our Civic Mayor.’ Currently we have a popular non- political Civic Mayor that acts as our 1st citizen promoting voluntary and charitable organisations, raising money for charity and impartially chairing Full Council meetings. That good work would be lost if we have a Directly elected Mayor.’
3 Myths being promoted by DEMOC
Stuart Collins also explains DEMOC’s myths.
People are being told that a DEM can and will intervene in planning decisions supporting opposition to planning applications. Planning permission is subject to strict laws, no one individual can decide and the Council would lose millions in developer appeal costs, if applications are not fairly treated.
DEM is now claiming one such Mayor would have avoided the financial issues Croydon have, that is false one person couldn’t stop the 76% cut in Croydon’s grant funding, one person couldn’t win a campaign for fair funding, one person making every decision is not accountable.
It is a myth to claim to claim a DEM is more accountable, how can one person be more accountable than the 70 locally elected Councillors you elect to scrutinise and take collective responsibility in the day to day running of Croydon Council and its services?
‘Authorities using the leader and cabinet model must elect their leader for a four-year term.’ (Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007
‘Authorities of any population size may reintroduce the committee system if they so choose. Previously, the option of retaining a slimmed-down committee system was restricted to authorities with a population of under 85,000. Authorities may also hold a referendum on moving to a committee system, or simply choose to reintroduce it. Several authorities have since moved from an executive system to the committee system.’ (Localism Act 2011)
‘Where a directly-elected mayor is introduced, an existing ‘lord mayor’ or ceremonial mayor will continue to exist separately. This type of mayor carries out a ceremonial role and is normally the chair of the local authority, not its leader or part of its executive. The legislation described in this briefing has no effect on this type of office.’
Local Councils: 55 (10 have had more than one referendum
DEM rejected: 39
DEM agreed: 16
DEM retained: 5
DEM not retained: 2
Return to Committee system: 3
Total Councils with DEMs: 15
Source: Mark Sandford. BRIEFING PAPER Number 05000, 21 May 2021 Directly-elected mayors. House of Commons Library. May 2021.
Chair of Council. In Tower Hamlets and Bedford the Chair is called The Speaker of the Council, in Doncaster and Newham the Chair, in Salford the Ceremonial Mayor.
Source: Council websites
Chris Philp, Elected Mayor and Planning
His website states:
‘The Labour council routinely ignore us, especially on planning. This is because they can win the town hall based on a few marginal seats in the centre of the Borough. So they ignore everyone else.’ In an election for a Mayor ‘all our votes would count equally, and whoever runs the town hall will have to listen to everyone if they want to win.’ ‘I am sure we are all sick of being ignored by the council, and seeing them ram through planning applications against residents’ wishes virtually every week.’ A elected Mayor ‘is now the only way to stop the council doing this.’ (September 2019)