Spencer Pitfield: Let’s welcome these steps towards power for the people

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THIS Government is doing all it can to bring power back to local people. It is a refreshing change after Labour’s top-down approach and Whitehall knows best philosophy. I hope that South Yorkshire embraces this change and gets out of it all that I can.

Elected mayors for our major towns and cities are a central policy within the Government’s Localism Bill aiming to increase accountability and transparency for our local councils.

The Mayor of London is often used as an example for how such elected posts can function best and there can be no doubt that Boris Johnson is very well-known and, more importantly, transparently and directly accountable to the people he serves.

There is an ever increasing discussion on this issue across Yorkshire and Humber region and I see that both the Labour leaders of Wakefield and Bradford Councils would indeed put their names forward if any such mayoral elections were to take place in their towns and cities.

Whenever considerable change is taking place, it often seems to be those against change that make the most noise. Here in Sheffield, we are regularly told that the best model by far for our local democracy remains the Leader and Cabinet model. But it wasn’t so very long ago in local government terms that many of these then new “modernisations” were hugely questioned.

For example, salaried councillors with the opportunity to pay into part-time council pension schemes were heavily criticised at the time, but are now by and large accepted. We need constant evolution of the way our politics works to ensure continued engagement and avoid complacency.

Within the Conservative Party, just as with all political parties, there is a wide range of opinions – both those in favour and those against an elected mayoral model. Clearly such views on this issue do often boil down to the political “lie of the land” in any given area and as such in all political parties there will often be considerably different views. In Sheffield, more than 50,000 people voted Conservative in the last General Election. But, due to the disparate pockets of Conservative Party support across our metropolitan area, we do not hold a single MP or member of the council. Given this, you may think it is odd that a Conservative is asking for more decisions to be made by local residents. But local democracy is vital and every party has to accept the decision of the electorate and campaign for every vote. We will continue to do that in whatever election there is in the future.

Another opportunity to vote will also be for the role of the new directly elected Police and Crime Commissioner. This will be an important position holding the Chief Constable to account but also supporting the brave men and women in the police force and standing up for them in the media or in the corridors of power.

Both elected mayors, and also elected police and crime commissioners, are about having accountability and clear transparency in our communities. For those of us who have spent any time out about meeting people on the doorstep, we know how difficult it is for any even limited name recognition at the local level. How many people would be able to name the leader of their local council or indeed know the name of their local MP? How many people in a local community might know the colour of the political party leading the decision-making process on their behalf?

Personally, I will be voting ‘yes’ for an elected mayor and will be voting for who I believe is the best candidate for the role of police commissioner.

I have no doubt that a more recognisable person in both such positions will bring greater accountability and transparency to the important decisions that both councils and our police forces take on our behalf.

Over the years, as a professional musician and academic lecturer, I have been fortunate to travel widely. Many such performances and lecture tours have been in North America and have included both small and larger destinations.

As someone who has always been interested in political models, I remain hugely impressed with the way communities in the States know immediately who runs their local administration. Usually an elected mayor, this individual has a recognisable face and a considerable profile in their local area. Mayoral decisions are closely scrutinised and the person leading these decisions is directly and clearly responsible to their local electorate.

I wait to see with keen interest what our larger towns and cities decide regarding elected mayors and look forward to the election of police commissioners. I am sure they will be successful at making more accountable those who make decisions affecting our lives day-in day-out.