LETTER: Elected mayors: visible leaders or puppets on a string?

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The Independent Online
From Professor R. Hambleton

Sir: Tony Blair is right to seek a full-scale "revival of local government" and he is also right to suggest that directly elected mayors could do much to strengthen local authority leadership ("Blair plan for elected city bosses", 12 December). The elected mayor can offer a platform for strong local leadership, for visible leadership, and for clear accountability - the buck stops here, not in some nameless committee.

Opponents argue that a "strong mayor" results in too much centralisation. However, this is not an argument against an elected mayor; rather, it suggests that there needs to be appropriate checks and balances.

Experience abroad can be helpful to UK local authorities as they rethink their approaches to city leadership and community representation. But we should not be looking to import ready-made solutions; rather, we should be learning from local democracy around the world and adapting successful approaches to the UK situation.

To those councillors who fear the elected mayor will take over and they will have no role, I say go to New Zealand, where the last Labour government pushed through massive local government reforms in 1989. You will find elected mayors working closely and effectively with the locally elected councillors.

The challenge is to think through and develop new roles for local councillors which can be introduced alongside bold leadership. This is where the many innovations in decentralised decision-making and management taking place in local authorities across the country can make such an important contribution. UK councils have pioneered decentralised models which are envied abroad.

UK councillors and officers are now asking themselves whether current models of decision-making are right for the 21st century. We need a period of bold innovation and experiment with local democracy.Strong local leadership must form a part of any programme for reversing the centralisation of recent years. This is why Tony Blair's ideas deserve an inventive response.

Yours faithfully,

Robin Hambleton

Associate Dean

(Research & Development)

Faculty of the Built


University of the

West of England


13 December