Mayor role: yes or no?

VOTERS will choose whether or not Wakefield gets a directly-elected mayor in next month’s referendum.

The costs and powers of the new system have not been made clear by the government.

But a ‘yes’ result on May 3 would lead to big changes in the way Wakefield Council is run.

And while some campaigners believe a mayor would give more power to the people, others have claimed it is unnecessary and a waste of money.

A directly-elected mayor would be elected by the public and would lead the council instead of a council leader, who is chosen by councillors of the ruling party.

The mayor’s role would be similar to that of current leader Coun Peter Box, and there would still be 63 councillors influencing decisions.

Like a council leader, the mayor would appoint a cabinet of between two and nine elected councillors, one of which would be their deputy.

And he or she would decide which decisions are to be made alone, by their cabinet, by councillors or by council officers.

The mayor could not be removed during their four-year term, and if they stood for re-election it would be up to voters to decide if they got another term.

This is different to the current leader and cabinet system, where a leader can be removed mid-term by a majority vote of councillors.

A mayor of Wakefield could not expect to have the same power over transport and policing that Boris Johnson has in London.

But prime minister David Cameron announced last month that city mayors would sit on a mayoral cabinet at Downing Street, providing a regular link to central government.

The government has said the role would bring “visible leadership” and attract investment.

UK Independence Party (UKIP) spokesman Arnie Craven said links with central government were important for Wakefield.

He said: “A mayor would finally give Wakefield the strong voice it needs, to go down to London with 50,000 votes behind him and say ‘this is not good enough, our district deserves better’.”

Chairman of the local Conservative Association Tony Homewood said having a directly-elected mayor would be more democratic.

But former Wakefield MP David Hinchliffe said changing the system would not improve democracy.

He said: “It is undemocratic to put power in the hands of one person.

“If the argument is that a mayor will get the local authority closer to central government, then all that suggests is that MPs’ roles are not as strong as they should be.”

Yvette Cooper MP said Wakefield was the wrong place for a directly-elected mayor.

She said: “I fear it will mean less say for the Five Towns. It would mean a single Wakefield mayor to cover Pontefract, Castleford, Normanton and Knottingley, and the local councillors elected by each town will have much less power over council decisions.”

The city’s long-held civic mayoral role, currently held by Coun Ros Lund, would be reduced under the new system to a chairman of the council.