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Would Southampton have been better off with a 'Boris'?
London already has one in Boris Johnson.
And on May 3, eleven other cities will vote to join the capital in having an elected mayor.
The Government has been busy selling the benefits of having a single powerful figure in charge of communities up and down the country.
Indeed, it has set up referendums in the UK’s largest cities, including Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford and Bristol.
The Government wants to grow the number of elected mayors that have been created since Labour brought in the innovation in 2002.
Thirteen are currently in office.
But Southampton will not be adding to the list because eighteen months ago councillors passed up the opportunity to hold a vote next month.
Just two Southampton councillors – Labour’s Simon Letts and former Lib Dem mayor John Slade – voted in favour of putting a high-profile strongman in charge of running the city.
Cllr Letts argued a mayor with a direct mandate from voters would be more accountable and would help “drive the city forward” in an age of personality and presidential-style politics. He said it could also boost interest in local politics and civic affairs.
Mr Slade, who stood down last year, also backed the move.
He believes it was a missed opportunity.
“I was horrified that everyone just followed their leaders. I work a lot in Romania and China which have city mayors.
“He has four years to move the city forward and get things done above the day to day party politics you have now.
“A mayor can go ahead and do what’s good for the city. I’ve seen it work.
“A lot of councillors fear who you will get. You may get someone in with no involvement in politics but he will probably have a good business track record.”
Tory council leader Royston Smith admitted it would have stripped councillors of power and influence but said with a working majority and strong leadership, an elected mayor was not needed.
Liverpool is to become the biggest city outside London to be run by an elected mayor with bullish council leader Joe Anderson the front runner for the four-year post.
Mr Anderson has already stoked a bitter row with Southampton over the right for Liverpool to host lucrative turnaround cruises while using its publicly funded terminal.
Mr Anderson said the mayoral move clinched a £130m package of funding from Whitehall.
The council says the so-called “city deal” was not dependent on Liverpool having an elected mayor, but said the Government gave a clear signal that moving to a mayoral model would provide the accountability it needs before the funds and new powers are handed over.
The Government has also offered greater control over housing, skills and economic development to the eight “core cities” of England as long as they provide “strong and accountable leadership”.
Fewer powers Yet critics point out that the mayors being elected for the UK’s top cities are not the all-powerful characters who run city halls in America.
And they have fewer powers than the Mayor of London.
He has responsibility for the Metropolitan Police’s priorities and performance and the capital’s transport system, for example.
City mayors in the rest of the country also have to rely on support of councillors.
Under rules put in place by Labour to keep a check on their powers, they must get the support of at least a third of the council chamber to push through a budget.
Despite being elected twice since 2002, Hartlepool’s mayor Stuart Hammond, formerly football mascot H’Angus the Monkey, has already seen his budget proposals overturned.
The prospect of an elected mayor in Southampton looks remote unless the Government forces a vote.
Business leaders in Southampton have largely backed the idea and former London mayor Ken Livingstone, now campaigning to regain his old job, told an audience at a Daily Echo-backed business event that the city should “proceed” to electing one.
But a poor response to an eight-week public consultation paved the way for councillors to kill off the idea. Just 29 responded, with 15 in favour.
Members of the public however can still force a referendum if over 8,600 city electors sign up to a petition.
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