Elected mayors in the United Kingdom

Elected mayors in the United Kingdom

Directly elected mayors are local government leaders elected by the general electorate, rather than by the local council. They were introduced into England in the 1990s and 2000s.


The Greater London Authority Act 1999 first introduced into England the principle of a directly elected Mayor of London under universal suffrage. The first election was in 2000, and former leader of the abolished Greater London Council, Ken Livingstone, won as an independent. However, the position is a strategic regional one, and quite different from that of local authority Mayors.

Mayors of local authorities

Most Mayors in the UK are ceremonial figures whose only real power is to chair sessions of their Councils. In 2000, the Labour government led by Tony Blair passed the Local Government Act 2000, which introduced the option of directly elected mayors for local authorities in England and Wales. The Act ended the previous committee-based system, where functions were exercised by committees of the council, and produced three distinct methods of local authority administration (and the opportunity for the Government to define more by secondary legislation). All three separated the decision-making executive function from backbench councillors and created opportunities for overview and scrutiny processes.

The title Lord Mayor of the City of London refers only to the City of London within the greater city, while within Stoke-on-Trent the title Lord Mayor refers to the chair of Council and is a separate post from that of elected Mayor. It may be, however, that if other cities whose mayor has the right to bear the title Lord Mayor adopted an elected mayoral model of governance, they would grant the title of Lord Mayor to their elected mayor.

In addition to the Mayor of London, twelve districts in England now have directly elected mayors with real powers and an advisory cabinet to assist them. The changes were encouraged by the central government but usually required local request and ratification by referendum. This system had been considered by the previous government, and former Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine had been a proponent of it. [http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/columnist/story/0,9826,1218659,00.html]

Some of the mayoral elections were initially won by independents, notably in Hartlepool, where the election was won by a man in a monkey suit on a campaign of free bananas for schools, Stuart Drummond; and in Middlesbrough, where it was won by former police officer Ray Mallon, who left the local police force to stand for election. Having receded somewhat as an issue after 2002, it has now moved up the political agenda again, following positive reports of mayors' performance under the new system and recent Labour gains in several mayoralties. In February 2006, the Labour-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research published a report calling for elected mayors in Birmingham and Manchester, which was positively received by the government, but not by the two city councils concerned.

In October 2005, Torbay elected its first elected mayor. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/devon/4358616.stm]

In October 2006, the DCLG White Paper "Strong and Prosperous Communities" proposed that in future the requirement for a referendum to approve the establishment of an elected mayor for a council area be dropped in favour of a simple resolution of the council following community consultation. It also proposed the direct election of council cabinets where requested, and that the mayor-and-council manager system in Stoke-on-Trent be reformed into a conventional mayor-and-cabinet system, it having being the only English council to adopt that system. [http://www.citymayors.com/politics/uk_whitepaper06.html]

Opposition to directly elected mayors

There has been some public backlash about perceived excessive power of directly elected mayors. Campaigns are now under way in four of the twelve local authorities with directly elected mayors (Doncaster, Hartlepool, and Lewisham) to hold referendums to abolish the posts, [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,17129-2341604.html] and voters in Stoke-on-Trent will now go to the polls on 23 October 2008.

In Doncaster, in March 2007, "Fair Deal" campaigners presented an 11,000-signature petition to the council calling for a new referendum. The council voted 31–27 in favour of a new referendum. [http://www.yorkshiretoday.co.uk/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleID=2136435&SectionID=55]

In Lewisham the Bring Back Democracy campaign is calling for a new referendum, citing poor turnout and a very close result in the 2001 referendum. [http://www.bringbackdemocracy.org.uk] In April 2007, Lewisham Council voted 28–24 against a motion calling for consultation over the issue. [http://www.bringbackdemocracy.org.uk/bbd_press_release.asp] [http://www.lewisham.labour.co.uk/ViewPage.cfm?Page=21381] In September 2008, Stoke-on-Trent City Council agreed a preferred system of Leader and Cabinet to put to the 185,000 voters in the City in a second mayoral referendum, the first of its kind, on 23 October 2008. This presents the voters with either voting 'Yes' to change to Leader and Cabinet or 'No' to change from Mayor and Manager to Mayor and Cabinet model. This referendum will be the first of its kind, namely a second referendum in the same Local Authority to change its management model in seven years.

Powers of local authority mayors

A local authority elected mayor has powers similar to those of the executive committee in a Leader and Cabinet model local authority. These are described as either "exclusive" powers or "co-decision" powers and are defined in the Local Government (Functions and Responsibilities) (England) Regulations 2000. [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2000/20002853.htm]

Co-decision powers are those the mayor shares with the council, notably the power to make the local authority's annual budget and its policy framework documents. These are: Annual Library Plan; Best Value Performance Plan; Children's Services Plan; Community Care Plan; Community Strategy; Crime and Disorder Reduction Strategy; Early Years Development Plan; Education Development Plan; Local Development Framework; and the Youth Justice Plan. In order to amend or reject a mayor's proposals for any of these documents, the council must resolve to do so by a two-thirds majority. This is again based on secondary legislation, in this case the Local Government (Standing Orders) (England) Regulations 2001. [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2001/20013384.htm]

Exclusive powers are less easy to define, because they consist of all the powers that are granted to a local authority by Act of Parliament except those defined either as co-decision powers or as "not to be the responsibility of an authority's executive". This latter is a limited list, including quasi-judicial decisions on planning and licensing, and certain ceremonial, employment and legal decisions.

An elected mayor (in a mayor and cabinet system) also has the power to appoint up to nine councillors as members of a cabinet and to delegate powers, either to them as individuals, or to the Mayor and Cabinet committee, or to subcommittees of the Mayor and Cabinet committee. In practice, the mayor remains personally accountable, so most mayors have chosen to delegate to a very limited extent—if at all.

Protecting the British tradition of independent public service has led to the situation where the apparent introduction of separation of powers has led only to the transfer of powers from one elected branch (the council) to another (the mayor). Local authorities in Britain remain administered by a permanent staff of chief officers led by a chief executive, who are politically neutral bureaucrats. Their powers remain unaffected by the introduction of elected mayor. Senior officers continue to be appointed by a politically representative committee of councillors (and more junior officers by the senior officers), and the mayor may not attempt to influence the decision as to who is appointed (except within the committee as a member of the committee). In order to maintain the professional and political independence of the staff, the mayor (or any other member of the council) may not personally direct any member of staff. Changing the direction of an authority may only be made through a formal decision-making process and then only on the basis of official reports put together by officers.

Accordingly, an elected mayor cannot really be accurately characterised as an executive mayor, as in parts of the US and certain other countries, but more as a semi-executive mayor.

List of directly elected mayors

Currently there are thirteen directly elected Mayors in England (including the Mayor of London).

Ex-mayors are:

* Linda Arkley, North Tyneside (2003–2005)
* Chris Morgan North Tyneside (May 2002 – April 2003)
* Mike Wolfe, Stoke-on-Trent (October 2002 – May 2005)
* Ken Livingstone, London (2000–2008)

Mayoral referendums

To date there have been 37 referendums on whether to establish an elected mayor in English local authorities. Twelve have been passed and 25 rejected by the voters.

To cause a referendum, the normal procedure is for the council to request it, which has happened in 22 cases. In 14, the voters themselves have requested a referendum by petition and in one (Southwark) central Government forced the holding of a referendum.

"Yes" majority shown in green, "No" majority shown in red."

"Source: [http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/referendums/mayoralrefresults.cfm Electoral Commission] ; [http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=1044 Ceredigion County Council] ; [http://www.darlington.gov.uk/Democracy/mayoralreferendum/mayoraware.htm Darlington Borough Council] "

Wales and Scotland

Although Wales is included in the legislation, only one Welsh authority, Ceredigion, has held a referendum on such a proposal, which was rejected.

The Act does not apply in Scotland and the Scottish Parliament has chosen to reform local government instead by introducing the Single Transferable Vote electoral system. The Scottish Conservatives support elected mayors where there is found to be "local demand in our major towns and cities". [ [http://www.scottishconservatives.com/news_press/speeches/annabel_goldie_a_one_nation_party.aspx?page_no=1 Annabel Goldie: A One-Nation party - News and Press - Scottish Conservative Party ] ] A mayor in Scotland is traditionally known as a provost.


External links

* [http://www.nlgn.org.uk/public/elected-mayors/ NLGN mayoral pages (inc. FAQ)]
* [http://www.citymayors.com/politics/uk_electedmayors2.html Arguments for elected mayors]
* [http://www.citymayors.com/politics/uk_mayors_anti.html Arguments against elected mayors]

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