Of the 13 executive mayors in the United Kingdom only two are Conservatives. Boris Johnson in London and Nick Bye in Torbay. Here Mayor Bye explains what he does and why we should have more directly elected Mayors.
Three years into this job as Elected Mayor of Torbay it is clear to me that I have much less power than most people believe, although it is a role of great influence.
The Council’s Constitution is clear. It is my responsibility to set the political direction of the Council, appoint Cabinet colleagues and propose policies and the budget to the Council. It is my job, with advice from my Cabinet colleagues, to make decisions within the policy framework of the Council. Often these are difficult/unpopular decisions that no sensible person would relish.
However, with policy proposals and the budget, if two thirds of Councillors can agree on alternative proposals, then they get their way. This is exactly what happened last year with the 2007/08 Budget – I was outvoted.
Additionally, Councillors, not the Mayor, determine planning and licensing decisions, make appointments, including appointment to outside bodies such as the Police Authority, Care Trust and Regional Assembly.
So why have an Elected Mayor?
First and foremost, it changes relationships in the Town Hall and
beyond. If you put somebody in a position of leadership as a result of
an election when everybody can take part, then they hold a very
different position to somebody who becomes the Leader of a Council as a
result of an election amongst Councillors.
You end up with somebody in the Town Hall who is accountable to the
wider community and not just the Councillors. All the research shows
that Elected Mayors are better known and much more visible in their
communities than conventional Council Leaders. That accountability
extends to newspaper columns, regular radio interviews, public meetings
and, in Torbay, my monthly town centre ‘Caravan Consultations.’ There
is really nowhere to hide.
Secondly, that person becomes the Mayor of the place and not just the
Mayor of the Council. I Chair the Torbay Strategic Partnership, which
includes the Police, Health, Housing and the Voluntary and Business
Communities also representatives from the Community Partnerships,
Cultural Partnership and the South West Regional Development Agency.
This Partnership becomes more important as we consider shared
commissioning of services, shared budgets and closer working together
to deliver the Community Plan for Torbay’s future. The Community
Safety Partnership and Torbay Care Trust are good examples of
successful partnership working: many of our crime figures are falling
and the Care Trust is providing much improved social care, especially
for older people.
Thirdly, the Mayor becomes the advocate for the place. Economic
regeneration is the top priority for Torbay and it has been very useful
to have a point of contact for entrepreneurs and inward investment.
The Mayoral Vision Project has created huge interest in sites across
the Bay. I have also been able to build relationships for Torbay that
have unlocked public money: the money for Brixham regeneration that
followed the Phil Woolas visit, also the Growth Points money,
Competitiveness Funds, the Seachange Projects for Cockington and Berry
Head and the next phase of the Business Incubator Units.
All these have come about due to the strong relationship with the South
West Regional Development Agency, who have also been crucial in
supporting our Kingskerswell By-Pass plans.
Three years ago, Torbay had little support from the outside world, now
we have it in spades – although it would be helpful, to put it mildly,
to have more support and funding from Government to meet our day to day
The role of Mayor is certainly very different to how I envisaged it
three years ago. It is sometimes frustrating in the Town Hall and the
pace of change can be quite slow, especially when there are ‘little
local (political) difficulties’ to get through.
But outside the Town Hall it is an extraordinary position of
leadership. I can help projects take shape that will reverse twenty
years of decline. You would be lucky to get better job satisfaction