“The mere election of a mayor … does not mean these new mayoralties are automatically democratic. Mayors work within combined authorities, with cabinets made up of council leaders – all of whom are indirectly elected through a broken First Past the Post voting system.
But there is no directly elected assembly to hold them to account, like that of the London mayoralty. Instead, the Mayor is scrutinised by Overview and Scrutiny Committees made of councillors and within the council chambers themselves. This means who sits on those committees really matters.
At the Electoral Reform Society, we want to see a better democracy. And the metro mayors are the biggest change to the governance of England in decades. They are an exciting opportunity to change the way our cities are governed to be more inclusive, more local and more visible.
But we are concerned that this structure passes up existing legacies of problems in local government to the new mayoralties, as we point out in our new report From City Hall to Citizens’ Hall: Democracy, Diversity and English Devolution.
Due to our electoral system, Britain has a multitude of local ‘one-party states’, with almost no opposition in the council chamber. Many of these abound in the areas electing metro-mayors, with some councils having just one member from outside the controlling party.
Previous work for the ERS has shown that these councils risk an extra £2.6bn on public procurement each year, due to a lack of scrutiny.
Concerns around scrutiny are particularly strong in some of the metro-mayor areas because the council leaders – who will make up the cabinets – lack any diversity whatsoever. Only two of the council leaders of the six areas electing combined authorities are women. Only one is from a BAME community. This carries with it risks within the policymaking process, narrowing the experience and knowledge-base around the cabinet table.
So far the combined authority scrutiny committees have also demonstrated a lack of diversity, both political and demographic. On the West Midlands Overview and Scrutiny Committee, for instance, ten of twelve political members are drawn from one party, and ten are men.”
Owl says: Should Devon and Somerset EVER become a combined authority, our councillors and the Mayor will bend their knees to the nuclear and property vested interests of the majority of businessmen (men) who run our Local Enterprise Partnership – forget scrutiny. It didn’t help when the self-same people gave their CEO a 24% payrise and there was NOTHING councils could do about it.