Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Mayor’s-eye view

Elected mayors can make a big difference, ensuring local government reaches its full potential for the community, writes Robin Wales

I am a great supporter of elected mayors which, as the mayor of Newham in London’s East End, may not come as a surprise. But I think there is compelling evidence of the benefit that elected mayors can deliver in terms of accountability, impact and localism.

There are many excellent leaders across local government. However, local politicians of all parties share the frustration of the dominance of Westminster. As mayors are elected directly by, and accountable to, voters, they have a clear mandate for decisions. This also boosts visibility. Here in Newham, 60 per cent of residents are aware of me as the mayor and half know about what I am doing locally – far higher than an average council leader.

Elected mayors are better able to make things happen. The London mayoralty has had a major impact in tackling city-wide issues, from the congestion charge to securing investment in Crossrail. Locally, the mayoral system has enabled me to deliver bold policies including universal free school meals, free musical instruments and tuition for kids in years five and six, and an effective employment offer.

Mayors can play a vital role in driving growth. My aim is to make Newham a major business location and we have attracted massive investment to the area including the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre which has delivered 2,500 jobs for local people. I know businesses value having an individual who they can work with. It is no surprise therefore that business leaders in Birmingham and elsewhere support the mayoral system.

Finally, elected mayors can be the drivers of localism. All major parties claim to be localist yet our system remains overwhelmingly centralised. This is a shame as central government has consistently shown it is incapable of delivering efficient services tailored to local needs.

Mayors can help turn the rhetoric of localism into reality. They could work alongside local authorities to co-commission services such as transport, skills and housing. And instead of expensive police and crime commissioners, why not have elected mayors undertaking the role as we now have in London?

Of course I believe that there is a distinct role for local authorities and there should be a clear delineation of responsibilities between city mayors and councils. Take Workplace, our council-led employment service which provides bespoke support for those looking for a job, helping 5,000 into work this last year alone. I do not believe this sort of locally tailored provision could be delivered by City Hall.

But devolution need not be a zero-sum game. Elected mayors have proven their worth in terms of delivering accountability and visibility, in getting things done and in strengthening localism. I sincerely hope our great cities have the confidence and the ambition to seize this opportunity and that this generates further debate about devolution from Whitehall to cities, towns and boroughs across the country.

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Robin Wales is mayor of Newham

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Photo: O.F.E

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Robin Wales

is mayor of Newham

1 comment

  • Sir Robin,

    Hope you and the Newham crowd are well. Unfortunately your piece is limited to basically saying “I think I’m Ok as an elected Mayor, elected Mayors are good and Westminster is naughty”.

    Not very objective and not even remotely even handed in your article as you have not discussed what happens when you have an appalling Leader as elected Mayor.

    You may not remember during the last GLA election Robin when I volunteered to help you guys out that I would often send a member of the public to you with an issue of concern. You may not have loved me for it, but you handled them very well. You treated them with respect and did credit to your Political party. I read about you when I studied law as the first Council to evict a tennant for racially abusing people, setting an all to welcom precedent that if Labour had any smart advocates could have been built upon. In any case I always found you to be an open minded and competant advocate though one I do not always agree with which is fine in a democracy.

    So in your case, the case for an elected mayor may well seem credible, however just imagin Robin what would happen if:

    1) When I sent members of the public to you, you were rude to them.

    2) You refused to answer their questions and informed them you were the Leader and what you said was more important than anyone else including the full Council and that committees were unimportant as you would always get your way.

    3) You refused to answer questions in Council by not turning up when questions were presented to you through the normal process.

    4) You banned people within your own party from writing letters even good ones defending Labour and the Unions because you wanted full control.

    5) Instead of banning and taking a stand against threatening behaviour as you did with the tennants such conduct was used by your lackeys to retain “control”.

    That Sir Robin is what exists in a different borough to your own. It prevents democracy, leaves the public feeling that their local Councillors are useless and redundent and the people without a voice to speak out for them.

    Think about what would happen if you chose to become an evil man (I tend to not use such simplistic terms as we are all imperfect rabbits) a man without the courage you showed to your political opponents, the courage I witnessed in Councillor Unmesh Desai a colleague who enjoyed a part in your Council team that nutured talent and developed and grew the abilities of your feloows. Good leadership Sir Robin Wales is great but power must belimited because of the political destruction we see occuring when it fails. If I had a Leader like you I would still be in the Labour Party today. Remember that the next time you go play football with your fellow Councillors every time they pass the ball to one another and use unclusive teamwork rather than greed and cowardice fuled by cynical hatred to rule well. As in all teams power must be dispersed so we can all play our roles and so that you can score your goals against the opposing team and not each other.

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