Proposals to appoint a dozen city mayors without either a referendum or an election are alarming on a number of levels.
The Local Government Minister, Bob Neill, indicated at the recent Conservative Party Conference that it is likely that the current leaders of the 12 largest local authorities will be converted into ‘elected’ mayors more or less overnight, and that voters will be asked at a later date whether or not they wish to continue with this arrangement. This is a change from the undertaking in the Coalitition agreement, which was to hold referendums in these authorities prior to the establishment of city mayors.
CFWD has had concerns for some years about the diversity – or lack of diversity – of elected mayors, and this proposal does nothing to allay them. Of the 12 largest authorities in the UK ( Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, and Wakefield) only 2 (Bristol and Edinburgh) are led by women. None, so far as we are aware, has a leader from a BME community. 7 currently have Labour leaders (Bradford, Coventry, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Wakefield) 4 are led by Liberal Democrats (Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Sheffield), and 1 (Birmingham) by a Conservative.
If these 12 were to be added to the existing 13 elected mayors (in Bedford, Doncaster, Hartlepool, Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Mansfield, Middlesbrough, North Tyneside, Torbay, Watford and London, with Tower Hamlets about to elect from a slate of male candidates) this would mean that just 4 out of 25 mayors (16%) would be women. Although this is slightly higher than the percentage of women local authority leaders (14%) it is much lower than that for women councillors overall (31%) and the incumbents would certainly bear no relation to the make-up of the communities they were appointed to serve.
We await clarification from the Government of how this proposal would work, both in terms of the democratic implications of the appointment rather than election of mayors, and the development of a broader base of representation in leadership roles at local level.
Download our report on the 2009 Mayoral Elections here.