Localism & You
The Localism Bill
The Localism Bill published in December 2010 (and currently going through Parliament) sets out a series of proposals with the potential to achieve a substantial and lasting shift in power away from central government and towards local people. The proposals include two that are relevant to the matter of a directly elected mayor, aside from those that give the citizens of Birmingham the opportunity to decide if they want a directly elected mayor in the first place:
New freedoms and flexibilities for local government
New rights and powers for communities and individuals.
There is a degree of scepticism as to what benefit a directly elected mayor would confer upon Birmingham as opposed to the benefits that result from the current system. A directly elected mayor, apart from being Mr or Ms Birmingham and thereby a spokesperson for the city would be well placed to explore and exploit the general power of competence set out in the Localism Bill. This power is designed to allow local government the legal capacity to do anything that an individual can do that is not specifically prohibited by law. In short, Mr or Ms Birmingham will be able to work with local people, local groups and other interested parties to shape local solutions to Birmingham’s problems and seek local ways of exploiting the opportunities peculiar to Birmingham as long as what they propose does not break any law. An end to one size fits all approaches that rarely meet the needs of our unique city.
The general power of competence is partnered with a new, general power that gives local authorities more freedom to work together with others in new ways to improve the quality of public services available to local citizens; joined up service delivery at local level. This approach should result in creative, innovative, local approaches being developed to meet local needs. It is hoped that improvements in quality of service delivery will be matched with reductions in the cost of that delivery. The bringing together of partners to drive up quality and reduce costs would be a key role for Mr or Ms Birmingham.
Whilst some fear a directly elected mayor will be practically powerless, no more than a figurehead others seem to fear the city being dominated by a directly elected dictator. The Localism Bill includes a measure to increase the ability of local communities to trigger a local referendum on local issues of concern to them. This new power will allow Birmingham citizens to hold referenda should they be unhappy with the performance of a directly elected mayor at any time during that person’s term of office. A directly elected mayor will have to consider seriously any referendum receiving sizeable support from the citizens of Birmingham, if he or she wishes to be re-elected. The current leader of the council, elected by a proportion of the 120 Councillors who make up Birmingham City Council only has to fear possibly losing that support and, may be the support of a small part of the electorate in the ward which they represent on the Council, if people disagree with their policies. One has to ponder which of the two, a directly elected mayor or a council leader chosen by a proportion of their peers is the most democratic and effective form of leader for a great city like Birmingham.
We have a volunteer team continually working to scrutinise the bill and it’s amendments and we will update you on this page of any significant news. The Bill is currently in the House of Lords and should be gaining royal assent in January. You can keep up to date on proceedings by signing up to daily email updates from Parliament.