The Local Government Act 2000 (and followed up later by the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007) aimed to give local people a chance to have a real say in how they are governed. Councils were required to develop a separation of powers – separate executive and scrutiny functions. A group of no more than ten councillors were required to form a cabinet and to be responsible for executive functions, with the remaining councillors scrutinising the performance of the cabinet. Councils were required to consult local stakeholders and propose one of three types of arrangements for future council governance:
- Directly elected mayor and a cabinet appointed by the mayor
- Council leader appointed by the cabinet with a cabinet appointed either by the council or the leader
- Directly elected mayor and council manager (this model was later withdrawn in the 2007 Act, so is no longer an option)
- triggered by the council following consultation with the public,
- following a petition organised by local people and signed by five per cent of the electorate,
- or in certain circumstances by the Secretary of State.
The LGPIH Act 2007 also permitted councils in favour of implementing the mayoral model and that have gone through appropriate consultation processes, to move to the elected mayoral model without holding a referendum.
NLGN believes in allowing local people to have a say in how their local authority is run. Opinion polls have consistently shown that the idea of a directly elected mayor is attractive to between 55 and 75 per cent of the public. By monitoring local campaigns and opinion polls conducted locally and nationally, it has become clear that there are a number of recurring questions and issues frequently asked or debated.
Poll for the New Local Government Network conducted by MORI
15-18 May 2008 on Public Opinion Towards Directly Elected Mayors
The basic facts about directly elected mayors
An executive mayor is the council’s political leader (an elected mayor does not replace the Civic Mayor, whose role is strictly ceremonial and non-political). Although the mayor works with the council and chooses a cabinet from the council (of two to ten members) he or she need not have been a councillor originally. If a councillor chooses to stand for mayor and is elected, the relevant electoral division or ward is declared vacant and a by-election is held to fill it. Anyone over twenty-one years of age, and living in the city, borough or county, can stand as a candidate in the election and will then hold office for four years before being subject to re-election. However a mayor will be immediately removed should they behave in a corrupt manner or use their position, or information obtained from that position, to commit criminal offences. Executive mayors are subject also to the same ethical framework and code of conduct as all other councillors. Once elected the mayor must appoint a deputy mayor to assume the mayor’s duties in the event of the former vacating or being suspended from office, being ill or absent for a period of time. Should the mayor vacate office permanently a by-election is required.
The accountability of a directly elected mayor
Many concerns about the mayoral system have focused on accountability. However it is clear that directly elected mayors are not all-powerful – they are clearly and visibly accountable to all voters and have a direct mandate (and a duty) to carry out the platform on which they were elected. It is clear to all that the buck stops with the mayor – he or she cannot blame anyone else even their cabinet, if things go wrong. And, as with Members of Parliament, people can reject a mayor they are unhappy with at the next election.
There are also certain limits on the powers of a local mayor laid down by the Local Government Act 2000. Only the full council can decide the budget and annual plans of key services. Decisions must be properly recorded and the public has advance notice of when decisions are to be taken, as well as access to background policy papers from officials and policy advisors. These limits also apply to a council leader.
There are also arguably considerable advantages provided by the continuity provided by a four year mayoral office. The ability to remove a leader every year can lead to political instability and short termist attitudes. To help facilitate real change in terms of local democracy and service delivery, a high profile mayor is accountable directly to the people, free from the need to form tactical coalitions to stay in power and able to provide clear and decisive leadership.
The similarity between a mayor and a leader
While an appointed leader and an elected mayor have basically the same functions and powers (and the same limits on those powers), there is one key difference. A mayor provides transparent and accountable leadership which itself has important benefits. Such leadership firstly may provide a mechanism for regenerating interest in local politics. The position of mayor is one with real potential for action, which enables the building of a reputation. The mayoral policy has the potential to attract new candidates to local government. A directly elected mayor also has the capacity to raise the profile of the local authority and local area.
Secondly, a high profile local leader can potentially help create a more inclusive politics, providing an accessible focus point for businesses, the voluntary sector and interest groups, as well as voters. A mayor is equally responsible to the whole city, borough or council, unlike a council leader who has been directly elected from only one ward amongst many and whose power is derived primarily from an ability to retain the support of other councillors (or, more likely, the dominant political party). Whilst the challenge and role of local politics has changed in the last two decades, there is still the need for a local politics of community governance. Local politicians need to be champions for service improvement, developing shared visions in diverse communities and building partnerships to ensure their achievement. The personal authority of a mayor and the effective political leadership that results can potentially contribute greatly to improving service delivery and performance, with the focus on the users rather than the providers of services.
The ‘Americanisation’ of British politics
Many British people are wary of directly elected mayors, believing that what works in America or even in London is not necessarily right for England and Wales. With the mayoral system of the US well known in Britain, it is easy to overlook the impact mayors are having in Europe. In Italy following the corruption scandal of 1993, a referendum resulted in a majority voting for the chance to have greater direct participation. Directly elected mayors with responsibility for law and order, sanitation, public works and culture revolutionised one of Western Europe’s most centralised states, creating for the first time accountability and transparent governance. Similarly in France and Spain executive mayors have been instrumental in getting high profile programmes off the ground. These programmes have been aimed at increasing cultural facilities, providing a better quality of life for marginalised groups, kick-starting economic development and raising the national and economic development and raising the national and even global status of the city or area.
The London Mayor
The current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was elected on 1 May 2008 for a four-year term of office. Mr Johnson was previously elected in 2001 as the Conservative MP for Henley on Thames and has held shadow government posts as Vice Chairman, Shadow Minister for the Arts and Shadow Minister of Higher Education. In July 2007, Boris Johnson resigned from his position as Shadow Education Secretary so that he would be free to stand as Conservative candidate for Mayor London. Since his election he has announced that he will be standing down from his parliamentary seat.
Boris Johnson succeeded Ken Livingstone, who was elected as the first Mayor of London in 2000, having stood as an independent candidate. Mayor Livingstone was reelected for a second four-year term in 2004 as the Labour candidate, but was defeated in 2008.
Ken Livingstone was the first Mayor following the passing of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. The Act created a mayoral office with jurisdiction across the thirty-two London Boroughs, and is therefore crucially different to local Mayors. The Mayor of London has distinct duties and responsibilities, which include a general power to do anything that will promote economic and social development, and environmental improvement in London. The Mayor is also able to make a number of appointments, including to the Transport for London and the London Development Agency boards, members of a Cultural Strategy Group and a Deputy Mayor (chosen from the London Assembly). Public accountability is ensured by requirements that the Mayor: a/ submit a written report to the Assembly before every meeting and answer any questions from Assembly members, b/ publish an annual report detailing progress towards required strategies (transport, air quality, etc) and c/ hold twice yearly a People’s Question Time open to all members of the public.
Many believe London previously suffered from being the only major capital city in the developed world without a city-wide government. The office of London Mayor is challenging that belief by promoting a new style of leadership and governance, one which is not confined to London. The Mayor offers an open, accessible and inclusive government, with appointments based on what candidates have to offer (rather than their party allegiance), freedom of information and participation for all.
While it is important to remember that the London Mayor has distinct differences to the proposed local mayors, with separate Acts spelling out different remits, powers and limits, we can also be encouraged by the advances made to date by the mayoral office and the Greater London Authority. There is a constant flow of information about the mayoral activities in the press and media (nationally as well as locally) as well as a comprehensive website and regular public forums (over 1,000 people attended the first one held in October 2000). Vital issues such as traffic congestion, overcrowded public transport and under-policing have been put on the agenda and given a high profile. The Mayor of London provides a strong and decisive leadership that could be of immense values in local cities, towns and boroughs.
The following text is taken from the Local Government Act 2000, and features selected regulations which detail the roles and responsibilities of local mayors. The full text can be found here. Numbering refers to the relevant section of the Act.
“The executive [whether a directly elected mayor or a leader] will be responsible for effective implementation of council policy and delivering services in line with the council’s approved budget and policy framework. The executive will take delegated decisions as a group, or individuals may be responsible for delegated portfolios. The public will know who is responsible for decisions, and communities will have a clear focus for leadership. Decisions will be scrutinised in public, and those who take them and implement them will be called publicly to account for their performance.
Separation of the executive will create new roles for those outside the executive. Councillors will be key to the public’s representation on the council. They will scrutinise the decisions of the executive; they will review and develop policy through the overview and scrutiny committees; they will act together as the full council to agree the budget and policy framework; and will take decisions in some matters such as planning and licensing. These roles will enable councillors to represent the interests of their own particular community on the council.”
(1) The executive of a local authority must take one of the forms specified in subsections (2) to (5).
(2) It may consist of-
(a) an elected mayor of the authority, and
(b) two or more councillors of the authority appointed to the executive by the elected mayor.
Such an executive is referred to in this Part as a mayor and cabinet executive.
(3) It may consist of-
(a) a councillor of the authority (referred to in this Part as the executive leader) elected as leader of the executive by the authority, and
(b) two or more councillors of the authority appointed to the executive by one of the following-
(i) the executive leader, or
(ii) the authority.
Such an executive is referred to in this Part as a leader and cabinet executive.
(4) It may consist of-
(a) an elected mayor of the authority, and
(b) an officer of the authority (referred to in this Part as the council manager) appointed to the executive by the authority.
Such an executive is referred to in this Part as a mayor and council manager executive.
(8) The number of members of a mayor and cabinet executive or a leader and cabinet executive may not exceed 10.
(2) Subject to any provision made by this Act or by any enactment which is passed or made after the day on which this Act is passed, any function of a local authority which is not specified in regulations under subsection (3) is to be the responsibility of an executive of the authority under executive arrangements.
(1) Subject to any provision made under section 18, 19 or 20, any functions which, under executive arrangements, are the responsibility of a mayor and cabinet executive are to be discharged in accordance with this section.
(2) The elected mayor-
(a) may discharge any of those functions, or
(b) may arrange for the discharge of any of those functions-
(i) by the executive,
(ii) by another member of the executive,
(iii) by a committee of the executive, or
(iv) by an officer of the authority.
(1) Executive arrangements by a local authority must include provision for the appointment by the authority of one or more committees of the authority (referred to in this Part as overview and scrutiny committees).
(2) Executive arrangements by a local authority must ensure that their overview and scrutiny committee has power (or their overview and scrutiny committees have power between them)-
(a) to review or scrutinise decisions made, or other action taken, in connection with the discharge of any functions which are the responsibility of the executive,
(b) to make reports or recommendations to the authority or the executive with respect to the discharge of any functions which are the responsibility of the executive,
(c) to review or scrutinise decisions made, or other action taken, in connection with the discharge of any functions which are not the responsibility of the executive,
(d) to make reports or recommendations to the authority or the executive with respect to the discharge of any functions which are not the responsibility of the executive,
(e) to make reports or recommendations to the authority or the executive on matters which affect the authority’s area or the inhabitants of that area.
(9) An overview and scrutiny committee of a local authority, or a sub-committee of such a committee, may not include any member of the authority’s executive.
(13) An overview and scrutiny committee of a local authority or a sub-committee of such a committee-
(a) may require members of the executive, and officers of the authority, to attend before it to answer questions, and
(b) may invite other persons to attend meetings of the committee.
(14) It is the duty of any member or officer mentioned in subsection (13)(a) to comply with any requirement so mentioned.
(1) Meetings of a local authority executive, or a committee of such an executive, are to be open to the public or held in private.
(2) Subject to regulations under subsection (9), it is for a local authority executive to decide which of its meetings, and which of the meetings of any committee of the executive, are to be open to the public and which of those meetings are to be held in private.
(3) A written record must be kept of prescribed decisions made at meetings of local authorities executives, or committees of such executives, which are held in private.
(6) Written records under subsections (3) and (4), together with such reports, background papers or other documents as may be prescribed, must be made available to members of the public in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State.
(1) Subject to section 31, every local authority must-
(a) draw up proposals for the operation of executive arrangements, and
(b) send a copy of the proposals to the Secretary of State.
(2) Before drawing up proposals under this section, a local authority must take reasonable steps to consult the local government electors for, and other interested persons in, the authority’s area.
(3) In drawing up proposals under this section, a local authority must decide-
(a) which form the executive is to take, and
(b) the extent to which the functions specified in regulations under section 13(3)(b) are to be the responsibility of the executive.
(4) In drawing up proposals under this section, a local authority must consider the extent to which the proposals, if implemented, are likely to assist in securing continuous improvement in the way in which the authority’s functions are exercised, having regard to a combination of economy, efficiency and effectiveness.
(1) Where a local authority’s proposals under section 25 involve a form of executive for which a referendum is required, the authority-
(a) must hold a referendum on their proposals before taking any steps to implement them, and
(b) must draw up and send to the Secretary of State an outline of the fall-back proposals (referred to in this section as outline fall-back proposals) that they intend to implement if the proposals under section 25 are rejected in a referendum.
(5) An elected mayor of a local authority is to be treated as a member or councillor of the authority for the purposes of such enactments (whenever passed or made) as may be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State under this subsection.
(6) Subject to regulations under section 41, the term of office of an elected mayor or elected executive member is to be four years.
(1) If the person who is returned at an election as the elected mayor of a local authority is also returned at an election held at the same time as a councillor of the authority, a vacancy shall arise in the office of councillor.
(2) If the person who is returned at an election (“the mayoral election”) as the elected mayor of a local authority-
(a) is a councillor of the authority, and
(b) was returned as such a councillor at an election held at an earlier time than the mayoral election, a vacancy shall arise in the office of councillor.
(3) Subject to subsection (4), a person who is the elected mayor of a local authority may not be a candidate in an election for the return of a councillor or councillors of the authority.
(1) Each person entitled to vote as an elector at an election for the return of an elected mayor is to have the following vote or votes-
(a) one vote (referred to in this Part as a first preference vote) which may be given for the voter’s first preference from among the candidates to be the elected mayor, and
(b) if there are three or more candidates to be the elected mayor, one vote (referred to in this Part as a second preference vote) which may be given for the voter’s second preference from among those candidates.
(2) The elected mayor is to be returned under the simple majority system, unless there are three or more candidates.
(3) If there are three or more candidates to be the elected mayor, the elected mayor is to be returned under the supplementary vote system in accordance with Schedule 2.
Strong and Prosperous Communities: The Local Government White Paper 2006 and The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007
The Local Government White Paper can be downloaded here:
The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act can be downloaded here:
The White Paper and the Act made some small but significant changes to the Mayoral Model of Governance which are summarised below:
1. The requirement for a referendum to be held before a new model of governance is introduced has been removed. (Act, “Executive Arrangements for England” 33E – 33O, Page 37)
If a council is in favour of implementing the mayoral model and has gone through appropriate public consultation processes, then the council is able to move to a new model without the need for a referendum, adhering to an appropriate timetable.
2. The minimum time-period between referenda has been increased from 5 years to 10 years. (Act, “Executive Arrangements for England” 69, Page 46)
In order to stabilise the mayoral model no more than one referendum to implement or remove this system of governance can be held within a 10 year time period. In practice this will mean that new systems will have time to settle without the constant threat of reverse referenda and negative media campaigns to remove the model.
If a model has been introduced without a referendum, the consultation process must be repeated before a model is replaced, and the written consent of the mayor/leader must be gained.
3. The mayoral model has been simplified through the removal of the council-manager option. (Act, “Executive: Further Amendments”, 3 (2), Page 189)
Under the new Bill, the largely unpopular council-manager system, implemented in only one council (Stoke-on-Trent) has been removed as an option for leadership. The two mayoral choices made referenda overly complex and may have adversely affected pro-mayoral campaigns.
Furthermore, a lack of involvement of elected members in the decision-making process in the council-manager model fuelled the argument that the mayoral model places too much power in the hands of one individual. A move away from this model, combined with an increase in executive powers in the alternative four-year term leader model, should help invalidate this objection.