Thursday, 3 September 2015

Councillor Andrew Cooper – Speech on Elected Mayor proposals – FullCouncil 2/9/15

 Let’s be clear. Conservative Government pressure to foist a Mayor on Leeds City Region are undemocratic. Referenda across the region have rejected the elected Mayor concept. Local people recognised that it put too much power in the hands of one individual. In 2001, in Kirklees, local people voted 73% to 27% against an elected Mayor. This was much more decisive than the recent Scottish referendum and that was supposed to settle that matter for a generation.
So why would a Conservative Government, elected with 37% of the vote wielding 100% of the power that has just stuffed the unelected House of Lords with Tory lackeys, behave in such an undemocratic fashion? Difficult to fathom I know. The truth is that this is nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with centralised control.

So having rejected elected Mayors on each of our Councils the Government want us to have one over even wider areas stretching across many Councils representing millions of people. The incentive for doing this is to have control over funds which are normally managed by Whitehall. Make no mistake this is not new money this is just about shifting control from a remote Government in London to a remote individual, an elected mayor covering the whole of West Yorkshire and beyond. Even despite this there are some attractions to having more control. In 2013 the Conservative /Lib Dem Government reallocated Euromoney that was destined for Yorkshire to Scotland so one of the ‘Asks’ from Leeds City Region Leaders is to have control of European funding.

On the subject of ‘our asks’ to Government. How many people here have actually seen them, know what they are? You certainly haven’t voted or had any say on them whatsoever. So just as the elected Mayor proposals are undemocratic so are our negotiations on whether or not we should have one.
In case you didn’t know here are some of the headline asks:-

  • ·         the ability raise funding through a 10 year infrastructure precept to improve public transport

  • ·         power to levy and retain business rates,    devolved budgets and responsibility for major roads including motorways

  • ·         Control of a new £500 million Housing and Regeneration Investment Fund

  • ·         Powers to incentivise developers to bring forward strategic sites and prevent land banking; and to bring empty listed building back into use

  • ·         Responsibility for local energy generation and efficiency

  • ·         Responsibility for managing European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) in the same way as London.

So say we get an elected Mayor what democratic checks and balances will there be on such a powerful position. Well I believe what is good enough for London should be good enough for Yorkshire. They have the Greater London Assembly elected by proportional representation that can voted down the Elected Mayors plans and budget by a 2/3rds majority. We are being pushed into a less democratic Mayoral model so we need to ensure that we have a new representative body to make sure that an Elected Mayor is more accountable.

If we don’t get these ‘asks’,  (that we have no say about) , will we have the opportunity to vote down any elected mayor proposals in Council? I believe we should have that opportunity. As with all negotiations you have to be prepared to walk away and to recognise when what is on offer from the Government is simply not worth it. We do have to overcome the Conservatives desire to centralise power with a Mayoral model but we also have to democratise our own local electoral arrangements and drag them into the 21st Century.

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