A mayor with clout – or a recipe for conflict? The debate begins

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THE debate over whether Sheffield have an elected mayor began in earnest this week as both sides of the argument presented their cases.

Supporters of a fundamental change to the local political system came out fighting on Tuesday, pointing to polls suggesting 49% of Sheffielders already support the idea as an opportunity to create “strong, effective leadership for the city”.

But the ‘no’ campaign responded yesterday (Wednesday), on the same day that all parties on the council were expected to formally oppose to the change.

The question will be put to voters at the same as the local elections on May 3.

The Mayor 4 Sheffield campaign was launched by community campaigner Kevin Meagher and parish councillor Matt Dixon with the message that Sheffield voters face one of their biggest decisions since the Second World War.

It was a question of “whether to switch to a powerful new elected mayor for Sheffield, elected by the whole city, or to remain with a status quo: keeping a council leader hand-picked by as few as 30 councillors”.

Mr Meagher said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity to modernise how we run our city. The world has changed but we are still running Sheffield like we did in the 19th century.

“We need a powerful mayor with the clout to bring jobs and investment to Sheffield and help us compete nationally and internationally. If we stay with the status quo we will end up in the slow lane in terms of investment and influence as other cities which do opt for a mayor sail past us. It’s that straightforward.”

Conservative support came from former councillor Anne Smith, who is standing in Dore and Totley at the next elections. She said: “If an elected mayor is good enough for London, Leicester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, it should be good enough for Sheffield.

“If we don’t go down this path and we stick with the existing system, we risk being left out in the cold because cities that have elected mayors will have extra resources, extra powers, real influence and direct access to Government.”

Opponents include the Unison union who say the referendum has been imposed on Sheffield by the coalition government and no extra money was being allocated to meet the estimated cost of £250,000.

An elected mayor would not add any value to decision-making in Sheffield and it would cost £400,000 a year.

Critics say Sheffield already has strong political and civic leadership and point to Doncaster, where they say there has been political “gridlock” between the mayor and the council.

Any any elected mayor could not be removed for four years.

So far no potential mayoral candidates have put forward their names, with the likelihood that candidates will emerge if the referendum supports the change from the model of council leader and cabinet.

Initial speculation has surrounded former Lib Dem council leader Paul Scriven, former Central MP and Sports Minister Richard Caborn and current Labour leader Julie Dore, although there has been no confirmation from any of them. Labour MP and former council leader David Blunkett has ruled himself out.