Tax-raising powers for elected mayor

Lord Heseltine, Lord Adonis Greg Clark
Lord Heseltine, Lord Adonis Greg Clark
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AN ELECTED mayor in Sheffield could have access to hundreds of millions of pounds currently handed out by Government departments, and could even have tax-raising powers – depending on what city residents want.

The proposals were revealed exclusively to The Star by Cities Minister Greg Clark, who also said a mayor could take on the role - and salary - of the current council chief executive.

Mr Clark said: “There is no end to the amount of powers a mayor could take on from the Government - we are determined to give as many powers as possible to cities.

“What powers are devolved would depend on what the people of a city like Sheffield want.”

He would not rule out allowing the city to take on local tax-raising powers. Councils are already soon going to be allowed to keep the money raised from business rates.

Mr Clark added: “One of the things we are keen to do is to take away the system which means much of the Government budget spent in cities is determined centrally, and devolve the money locally.

“Transport is a big example of an area where this could be done.

“Giving cities the power to say where money could be spent in such an area I think is the best approach.

“The mayor and chief executive’s role could also be combined although that idea would be up to Sheffield to decide upon.”

Mr Clark said an elected mayor would provide a powerful voice, allowing Sheffield to compete more effectively with other cities in Britain and the world for investment and jobs.

He pointed out how a study by think tank the Institute for Government found just eight per cent of people in cities with traditional councils knew who the leader was.

In towns and cities with mayors, more than half knew the mayor.

Mr Clark said devolution of powers and budgets - championed by Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - was not necessarily conditional on the city having an elected mayor.

But if the result of the election on May 3 is against an elected mayor, the Government would have to ‘test the quality of the council’s current leadership model’ before giving the city more control, Mr Clark said.

He added: “It’s for the people of Sheffield to decide. I have been in Sheffield recently and found there was a decent level of interest in the idea of an elected mayor.

“I believe having an elected mayor brings strong leadership and better accountability. Currently, you have an anomaly where who runs the city is decided by a number of councillors rather than the people.

“Around the world, you have elected mayors in big cities who are directly accountable to the public.”

Mr Clark was speaking at a conference also attended by political heavyweights Lord Adonis, of Labour, and Tory grandee Lord Heseltine.

Former Tory Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine added he was in favour of the mayor also acting as chief executive so they could be ‘properly paid’.

In Sheffield, the council leader’s total allowance is less than £40,000 a year whereas chief executive John Mothersole is paid just under £180,000.

“It would address an uncomfortable issue, which is that given the pressure on a council leader you tend to attract a retired person or someone who is prepared to take on a highly pressured job for a quite inappropriate level of pay.”

Lord Adonis added: “Under the current system it’s very difficult to have a strong democratic mandate - few know who the leaders are.”