THE question I’ve been asked most over recent weeks is “Do we need a mayor?” The honest answer I always give is “no!”
Hartlepool does not need an elected mayor, in fact nowhere actually needs one.
Most places function without one and so would we if it is decided to change our system of governance.
The question people should ask themselves ahead of the referendum though is if a committee system is better than the Mayoral system and, if so, why?
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I have asked myself this and tried to be as objective as possible and I can truthfully say that I cannot find one conceivable reason why a committee system is a better form of governance for Hartlepool.
The push for a change has come from the party political councillors who will of course assume power and control of the council should the mayoral system be removed.
There has been a concerted effort for over a year from many councillors to undermine the mayoral system ahead of this referendum.
It was well documented that the Labour group forced their six cabinet members not to support their own budget last year which resulted in me having to remove them from the Cabinet.
Following the local elections in May, they then refused to allow any of their councillors to join my cabinet. Is this really the actions of Councillors who are supposedly working in the best interests of the town?
All of this would be fine if the intentions of these councillors were to try and improve things in Hartlepool but sadly, I have seen not one policy or even idea that would help solve our current financial predicament.
Instead I see dozens of meetings about the council’s constitution and how they can change it to make the mayoral system less effective. All they are actually doing is making the council less effective and this very point was hammered home in our recent peer review. A team of experts came in and had a look at how things are running and warned us we could fall over the cliff edge if some people don’t get their act together.
The cost of a mayoral system is always heralded as a major disadvantage. This is a complete red herring. Hartlepool’s mayor and cabinet system is the cheapest to run in the North-East and probably one of the cheapest in the country.
The mayoral allowance was actually agreed and set by the rest of the councillors so a mayor has no say in this. The political parties are actually pushing the remuneration panel to recommend an increase in councillors’ allowances so don’t be surprised when a committee system comes in at costing much more than the current arrangements.
I had to laugh when I saw some of the councillors quoted in the Mail about the reasons to change to a committee system. Every one of them mentions decisions that had been taken by me, the cabinet and even themselves.
It was a very poor effort to pull the wool over people’s eyes once again. Whether people agree or disagree with decisions that have been taken over the last ten and a half years is irrelevant when it comes to this referendum.
This is about deciding on the person who is in a position to make those decisions. It is about whether you, the public, get a say on the person who is responsible for spending your council tax or you leave it up to a bunch of Councillors to carve it up amongst themselves.
The mayoral system is all about accountability. There is nowhere to hide and if people don’t like what the mayor is doing, they can get rid.
If we change to the committee system, the Labour Group will automatically assume power, difficult decisions will be passed from committee to committee until no one really knows who is responsible and the public will become more and more disenfranchised from the decision making process. It’s happening already. Six months ago, I referred a decision to the full council about the transfer of the football ground to Hartlepool United as part of the Mill House masterplan.
What has happened since?
It’s been kicked into the long grass. Who can we hold accountable for this? Exactly. Nobody knows!
People will obviously think I have a self interest the mayoral system. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t an element of self interest but that is because I know how well it works and how bad the alternative will be.
The fact is that even if I decided to stand in the next mayoral election, people could make a judgement based on my performance over the last term of office.
If you didn’t like it, you would elect someone else. You may even decide to throw your own hat in the ring. With a committee system, all this would be lost. An inner sanctum of councillors would make all the decisions and democracy in Hartlepool would take a huge backward step.
The United States presidential elections have just taken place and every US citizen got a say in the individual they want to see running the country.
In the UK, we only get a say on a miniscule cog in the wheels of Government and the people running the country are put there by their respective political parties. The result is a Government that no one has voted for.
Don’t let the same thing happen in Hartlepool because, with a committee system, we will end up with a council that no one has voted for.