Directly Elected Mayors and Local Councils

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2002 National Delegate Conference
9 May 2002

Conference notes that the new Executive/Scrutiny split in the political structures of most local councils:

1)Reduces the role of back-bench councillors and leads to less accountability;

2)Reduces the ability of community campaigns to raise issues of concern to local people;

3)Can undermine the established industrial relations machinery and the effectiveness of the local union branch.

Conference further notes that campaigns to promote directly elected mayors are still taking place in some areas. However, Conference notes that local people have tended to display little enthusiasm for the idea when they have been consulted about it (by the end of January just 6 out of 18 statutory referendums have produced ‘yes’ votes, with many more rejections in other forms of local consultation). Conference believes that there are strong arguments against the adoption of directly elected mayors, including:

a)Concentrating power and influence into the hands of just one person leads to less accountability and transparency;

b)Directly elected mayors will foster a climate of personality politics rather than dealing with real issues;

c)Fears that the vested interests of the private sector will be the likely winners in more centralised decision-making;

d)The further removal of powers from ordinary councillors will do little to promote active engagement in local democratic processes.

Conference therefore believes that the model of directly elected mayors in local government is fundamentally flawed and supports instead the option of revised committee structures and would encourage branches to participate in a campaign against the adoption of a mayoral system. Therefore, Conference calls upon the National Executive Council to publicise this policy and to provide support to branches and local groups mounting ‘no’ campaigns in local referenda.

In the event that a ballot for a directly elected mayor succeeds, Conference believes that branches must decide at a local level if and how to intervene in a mayoral ballot, subject to the UNISON rules on political activity, to ensure the protection of the branch membership.