Scrutinising a mayor – John Coyne reports

For my sins, I am one of the three opposition party members on the new mayoral select committee which met for the first time today (4 July) –  Mayoral Select Committee.

This is a committee which doesn’t yet know what it’s supposed to be doing.  Most of the time we spent going round in circles and talking about procedure with just the fag end of the meeting opening up for a time to put questions directly to the Mayor.

The only two questions came from the Green Party.  The first one, from me, was about the use of the mayoral powers.

Back in February, the city council was rushed into making a decision to go straight to a mayoral election without giving people their say in a referendum.  The argument was that we would get a better “city deal” by getting ahead of all the other cities and our mayor would have the benefit of new powers not available to a mere council leader.

Our mayor has been in office since the 8th of May (although this evening he appeared to think he only took office at the council AGM on 23 May.)  The question I put to him was what powers has he been able to exercise so far which a mere council leader would not have been able to do.  He was asked to give three examples.

Mayor Joe referred to three decisions that had been taken before May when he was actually merely a council leader, although with higher aspirations: “city deal”, mayoral development corporation and enterprise zones.

Joe also pointed to deals he had been able to make with government because the Coalition ministers were better disposed towards a mayor than they would be to a mere council leader.

Now, maybe it is a bit early to expect to see the exercise of real freedoms and powers wrested from central government and I’ll ask the question again when he has been in office a bit longer.  But two things trouble me.

  1. Were we really told the truth about the desperate rush to get ahead of the pack and seize an unrepeatable offer from government?  Clearly 9 out of 10 cities voting in their May referendums were unconvinced about the magical qualities of a mayorality.  Only Bristol said “yes” to a mayor and they are electing him or her in November.  Will Liverpool be able to show lasting gains when compared to Bristol given our head start?
  2. Will the cities like Manchester, Leeds etc who voted not to have a mayor allow their “mere” council leaders to be given inferior treatment by government?  For now, Mayor Joe appears to enjoy a bit of patronage from Coalition ministers because he has jumped through the hoop at their request.  But will it be in the Coalition’s interests to continue that patronage now that city mayors in England have been given the decisive thumbs down by the voters?

The other question tonight came from Peter Cranie.  He wanted to know why “City Magazine” isn’t being printed in Liverpool but instead it’s printed by a firm in Colchester.

The mayor explained that the council was bound by tendering procedures to favour the lowest price and that, in any case, it was the previous administration that had done the deal.  He surprised us all by announcing the end of “City Magazine” and offering to sign any remaining copies as collectors’ items.  Fair enough: that’s a good decision and a good joke.

I’m afraid I spoiled the consensus by testing the mayor’s desire to support local printing firms.  Why, I asked, was the current Labour Party election leaflet for Riverside printed by a Manchester print firm?