IN a little over six weeks’ time, the country goes to the polls to elect the new Police and Crime Commissioners to replace police authorities in governing police forces across the country.
Hartlepool will have an extra reason to dust off the ballot boxes as we are holding a referendum on how the council should be governed for at least the next 10 years.
The choice will be to either continue with the elected mayor and cabinet system or return to the old committee system.
Only two choices are allowed by law on the referendum so the third option of governance of a leader and cabinet system, the system that is used in every council in the country without an elected mayor, is not even allowed to be put forward as an option.
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Pople will naturally think I have a vested interest in continuing with the mayoral system and if I do decide to stand again, then I would have.
However, I could get hit by a bus next week or preferably win the Euro lottery and I wouldn’t be in the frame for the position.
This referendum is all about selecting the right system of governance for Hartlepool, not about the person who fills the post. That will be decided in May next year.
That said, I absolutely believe that we must continue with the mayoral system in Hartlepool, no matter who holds the position, and to change to the archaic committee system will set us back 30 years or more. I will explain my reasons why.
The main reason for introducing the mayoral system in the first place was to bring more democratic accountability to local government, more transparency to local decisions and a direct opportunity for the public to select the person they want to lead their council.
In fact, the mayoral system is the only system of governance in this country where a member of the public has a direct say as to who the person that spends their taxes should be.
The people who actually are responsible for the decisions, either a council leader or the Prime Minister are selected by the majority party, so the public gets no say whatsoever in who actually holds the purse strings.
The mayoral system brings this accountability and gives people a chance to choose the person they want to make the decisions that affect their day to day life.
When the public elect a councillor or an MP, they become a member of a bigger decision-making body and they often end up in opposition to the actual decision-making party.
People generally elect their councillor for the promises of what they will do in their ward and/or their track record of carrying out these promises.
Hardly ever in a local election do you see potential councillors campaigning on town-wide issues, it is very much either ward specific problems or sometimes the party’s national policies.
Only with a mayoral system do you ever get a true manifesto on the issues that directly affect a town or city.
With the mayoral system, there is no doubt whatsoever who has the mandate to lead a town and make decisions.
With a committee system, it creates confusion over who is responsible for decisions.
Groups of councillors bat things backwards and forwards, often replaced by substitutes and no one takes ownership of the final decision.
The public gets no say whatsoever on which councillor should sit of which committee.
They don’t get a say on who should chair the committee and get a casting vote if needed, in fact the only voice the public would get is who should be their ward councillor to tackle issues such as litter and dog mess.
We could quite conceivably end up in a position where ward elections present us with a situation that no party has over all control and we end up with all sorts of coalitions.
The outcome of such is a situation that no one has voted for, like our current Government for example.
Even worse, we could easily end up in a situation where the balance of power lies with one or two individual councillors with no affiliation to a political party and the control of the council depends on them choosing who their best buddies are and what they’ll get in return.
This happens in many other non-mayoral councils and, to be honest, I’m relieved that in Hartlepool we are way beyond that with our current system.
There is no confusion as to who is in charge and who is responsible for decisions.
People know who makes the decisions, they know where to come if they have a problem and they certainly know who to blame if something goes wrong.
Alongside that, an elected mayor is the public face of the council. There is a huge ambassadorial role to play.
Businesses looking to invest in an area come to a mayor as a first port of call. The written and broadcasting media come to a mayor as a first port of call if there is an interesting story about a place.
Conclusive evidence shows that areas with elected mayors have a considerably higher profile in almost every statistic than those that don’t. All that will be lost with a committee system.
The absolutely crucial point to this argument however goes back to public accountability.
If the public do not like what an elected Mayor is doing, if he or she has not delivered on their promises, if perhaps it is felt there is a better person for the job, they can get rid of them.
The mayoral system is the only system of governance that allows for this.
With a committee system, all you can do as a resident is vote against one of your ward councillors if you don’t agree with committee decisions.
That councillor may not even be on a committee.
Your vote would be wasted.
I’m sure many people would love the opportunity to use their vote to get rid of David Cameron or Nick Clegg, for example, but you can’t.
It will be exactly the same with a committee system in Hartlepool, your vote will make no difference at all to the make up of the committees and who makes any decisions.
The mayoral system is the only one where your vote really means something.
The mayoral system is also the only system of governance that allows for a normal member of the public to stand and have a real chance to make a difference.
With every other system, including the committee system, if a member of the public ever fancied becoming a leader of their council, they would have to join a political party, climb the greasy pole internally to that party and cut all sorts of deals to assume the leadership of that party and then reply on their party winning a majority in an election.
Who says party politicians should be the only ones who are able to run a council?
The mayoral system gives anyone a fair crack at it. Surely that is true democracy?
I will return to this subject again before the referendum but I’ll finish off by exploding a few myths about the mayoral system.
It is said that it puts too much power in the hands of one person. That is complete rubbish.
The powers of an elected mayor are identical to those of a council leader in every other council. The only difference is the way in which someone gets the job.
With the mayoral system, the public decides, with any other system, councillors decide which again proves the mayoral system is infinitely more democratic.
The other rumour that is often circulated is that the mayoral system costs more to run. Again, this is a complete fairy story.
Comparisons of mayoral authorities with council that operate the leader and cabinet system show many similarities in cost.
In fact at the moment, Hartlepool is the least expensive executive office to run in the North-East by quite some distance.
With a committee system, there is the potential for every member of a committee to earn a special responsibility allowance, the chairs of the committees to earn even more and they would need to appoint a council leader and deputy to represent Hartlepool on a regional level so there would be extra allowances there to.
There is talk of councillors wanting to also retain the scrutiny function so there are a number of extra allowances there and the majority party would almost certainly also employ a political assistant as well.
Costs would run into tens of thousands more than it costs us at the moment so please do not be fooled by anyone stating that the mayoral system costs more money. It is simply not true.
I could fill tonight’s paper on this subject and I will definitely return to it in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, I would ask you to start seriously thinking about turning out to vote in this referendum on November 15.
In Hartlepool, your votes really do make a difference and if you want that to continue in the future, I ask you to show your support for the mayoral system, no matter who holds the post, it is the most democratic system we have.