A new report says that by giving elected mayors both greater powers and an increased mandate, local democracy and governance can be reinvigorated.
If the Left wants to restate its localist agenda, then looking again at elected mayors is a good place to start. After years of letting the mayoral agenda drift, despite repeated promises in general election manifestos, the Government should now look to reinvigorate local democracy through introducing a new mayoral governance model, pulling down powers from the corridors of Whitehall, closer to the people as a first step in further decentralisation.
The future holds a stark reduction in public sector funding no matter which party wins in May. In spite of increased efficiencies and the innovations in service delivery, this decrease in funding will inevitably mean difficult choices about local service provision.
In this climate it is more important than ever that local people feel engaged in the tough decisions that will have to be made, and know who is accountable for making them.
The New Local Government Network (NLGN) believes that by giving elected mayors both greater powers and an increased mandate, local democracy can be reinvigorated and governance brought down to a closer and more appropriate level.
The UK has one of the most centralised governance structures in the western world. Mayors could hold the key to shifting power from Whitehall to localities. By giving elected mayors the tools and powers they need, mayors would be able to further transform the way communities and citizens are served.
These powers should be centred on greater financial flexibility and increased control over public service delivery in a local area.
In itself, however, this does not hold the answers to greater involvement in local democracy. With public trust in politicians at an all time low, politics must be opened up. Too often the selection process for candidates at all levels is seen as a secretive, shadowy process, with very few members of the public actually involved to any degree.
It is high time these political processes are opened up, with the introduction of open primaries. This should be the domain of the progressive left – the parties of the people – who have the most to gain from this agenda, instead of trailing behind the right.
Government must urgently take another look at the mayoral model. With the strengthened mandate given by open primaries and the direct accountability of elected mayors, this new model could provide a prime opportunity for Labour’s rhetoric on localism and opportunity for all to be turned into action and reinvigorate local democracy.
Our guest writers are Nirmalee Wanduragala and Nick Hope, co-authors of the NLGN’s “New Model Mayors: Democracy, Devolution and Direction” report
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