With or without an elected mayor the challenges remain the same

So now all the sound and fury of the mayoral referendum is over what next for Salford?

In May we will have an elected mayor and we need to understand what that means.

The yes campaign did not spend much time arguing about the merits of different local government systems. They told people it was possible to half the council tax without damaging services and for families suffering as a result of the activities of central government it was a tempting theory. Indeed some may be wondering why voting yes has not changed immediately the level of council tax.

They did not need to convince many voters, especially as the total yes vote only amounted to some 10% of the electorate. There were others who voted yes for more confused reasons. There were some who were confused by the question and they told us afterwards that they voted yes to retain the ceremonial mayor, while others did not understand the mixed messages coming from the traditional parties.

Finally the valuable lesson for us all is the way local government is organised is really not a subject to drive people to the polling station.

In light of the result, of course, there are many interpretations made, often by people who have not visited Salford. Some have interpreted it as a revolt against high levels of taxation, while others have seen it as a vindication of their theories about mayors revitalising communities.

‘In response we must show what
that money is spent on. The
young, the elderly and the
homeless in particular. We have
to find better ways to consult
with ordinary people.’
I do not believe that a vote where only 18% turned out, 10% below our local election turnout should be treated as an authoritative precedent for anything. Of course we have to accept the result and move on but we now need to move into a phase where we explain what local government achieves and what we would lose should power be placed in the wrong hands.

We do of course already face a government determined to cut the money we have to support the people of Salford. I have noted elsewhere the effects of their policy of shifting resources from the north to the south. Now we will be having a debate on whether a further £66m should be cut from the council’s budget.

In response we must show what that money is spent on. The young, the elderly and the homeless in particular. We have to find better ways to consult with ordinary people. We already have a good system of community committees but there needs to be better management of their role and a clearer process of consultation.

We cannot assume that everybody automatically understands the case for regeneration and why this city depends on it. We will need to connect the short-term inconveniences with the long-term benefits.

Local government faces a critical fight for it’s survival over the next few years. It is perfectly understandable when people are facing job cuts and a decline in living standards that they look at us and demand to know whether we are spending money wisely. Those of us involved in local government must not assume that we can take the assent of people for granted.


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