As part of our coverage of Election 2012, we are asking for opinions on the referendum regarding a directly elected mayor for Birmingham.
Labour’s Roger Godsiff, MP for Birmingham Hall Green, sets out the basis of the No argument against an Elected Mayor:
Birmingham is a great city and it has become a great city because it has had political leaders, from all the parties, who have had the vision and political strength to realise that vision. Centenary Square; the National Indoor Area and the National Exhibition Centre are good examples.
Those who are campaigning for an elected Mayor want to concentrate the vast majority of local political power into the hands of one individual. The ‘no campaign’ believes that this is dangerous and will not bring better governance to Birmingham. It is argued that London has a Mayor – so why shouldn’t Birmingham. But the situation in the two cities is totally different. London has a population of 10 million. Birmingham has one million. London used to have a citywide authority – the GLC – but this abolished by Mrs. Thatcher in 1986. Birmingham has a City Council of 120 Councillors with three elected from each ward. The City Council in Birmingham deals with all personal services such as education, social services, housing, recreation and leisure and planning to name but a few whereas in London all of these responsibilities are run by the 32 London boroughs.
The four key responsibilities which the Mayor of London has are:
The London Mayor controls the bus service in London whereas in Birmingham it is controlled by a consortium of local authorities through Centro.
The Mayor of London controls London underground but there is no underground system in Birmingham and, indeed, if the City Council wanted an underground system then there is nothing to stop them building one now.
The Mayor of London controls congestion charging but Birmingham does not have congestion charging and, once again, if the City Council wanted to introduce congestion charging then there is absolutely nothing to stop them.
The Mayor of London has considerable responsibility for the Metropolitan Police whereas in Birmingham an elected Mayor will have no say whatsoever because elections for directly elected Police Commissioners are taking place in November.
There are other obvious dangers attached to concentrating political power in the hands of one individual. The role of a Councillor would be rendered worthless because they would have hardly any input into political decision making as happens in the London Assembly. An elected Mayor would not be accountable to anybody for four years – even if the Mayor was incompetent the people of Birmingham would not be able to throw the Mayor out. An elected Mayor will be able to appoint unelected deputies and pay them large salaries but the people of Birmingham will not have any say over this and, finally, if there is a ‘yes vote’ on the 3rd May and people subsequently decide that they want to change and get rid of the Mayor they will not be able to do it. The Government has made it absolutely clear that, in future, if a Council opts for an elected Mayor then there is no way that they can change to another system. This is hardly democratic!
There is nothing that an elected Mayor can achieve that cannot be achieved by a Birmingham City Council under the current system. It is all a question of willpower and vision and the idea, as is put about by the ‘yes campaign’, that concentrating political power in the hands of one individual will somehow bring unspecified benefits to Birmingham is nothing more than hot air.
We live in difficult and trouble times and ordinary people, as well as many businesses, are paying the price for the reckless behaviour of sections of the financial sector who were allowed to plunder vast wealth for themselves because politicians scrapped most of the ‘checks and balances’ which have been in operation for many years. People in Birmingham, as elsewhere, are going to have to pay the price for this financial recklessness for years to come but what Brummies want is good and effective local government which provides an essential services for them which are good value for money. Birmingham does not need nearly all political power to be put into the hands of one individual because, as the saying goes, ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. You have been warned!
Roger Godsiff is the Labour Party MP for Birmingham Hall Green.