THE countdown begins today as Sheffield faces making one of the biggest decisions on the city’s future - whether to have an elected mayor.
Those in favour have warned that the city could be “left behind” if the opportunity is rejected.
Read the case for and against, then tell us what you think.
With just eight weeks to go before the referendum - held alongside council elections on May 3 - the campaign for and against is hotting up.
The new mayor would take on all the city council’s existing powers, plus additional responsibility for transport, planning and development policy.
They would also be given a pot of millions of pounds for infrastructure projects which are currently funded directly by the Government.
Prime Minister David Cameron has revealed elected city mayors will also have direct, regular access to the highest levels of government.
A ‘mayors cabinet’ is being set up that will meet at least twice a year to bring together leaders, the Prime Minister and other senior politicians.
It will give cities the opportunity to lobby the Government as well as swap ideas and initiatives.
Joe Ashton, of Ranmoor, who was Labour MP for Bassetlaw for 32 years and spent eight years on Sheffield Council, today said an elected mayor was ‘a huge opportunity for Sheffield to get better government’.
He said: “I am 100 per cent in favour of a mayor - I have been to many cities in America and the system works.
“They carry the can for everything, like a football manager, and, if things go wrong, they are voted out.”
Millionaire Sheffield businessman Andrew Cook also warned: “If other major cities vote for elected mayors, there is a danger Sheffield could be left behind on the national stage.”
But former Sheffield Central Labour MP Richard Caborn said: “I have some doubts about the idea because I think Sheffield has some very good leadership which includes not just the council but the health service, police and other representatives.
“One person would have difficulty representing everyone’s interests.”
Sheffield trade unionists are also against the plans, and are launching a campaign. Members of union Unison will stage a demonstration outside Sheffield Town Hall at 12noon today.
But leading Labour and Lib Dem politicians in Sheffield urged people to turn out and vote - whatever their views.
Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, Lib Dem group leader on the council, said: “It is very important people vote. In Salford, plans for an elected mayor were approved in a referendum when just 18 per cent of people voted, and the turnout in Sheffield Council elections is usually just over a third.”
AN ELECTED mayor in Sheffield would hold all the city council’s existing powers over housing, planning, transport, social services and education - plus additional ones yet to be determined - and would control millions of pounds of extra Government funding.
The Department for Communities and Local Government says there is ‘flexibility’ in its proposals so councils could decide how the mayor’s role should fit in.
The key role is to provide a figurehead giving strong leadership. It contrasts with Sheffield Council’s ruling Labour group, which decides policy after lengthy debates among members, so all have a say.
The former Lib Dem administration’s leader Paul Scriven was more outspoken.
The council has 84 councillors including a leader and cabinet members who hold the executive powers. Councillors would still serve under an elected mayor who would select for the cabinet.
An elected mayor would be re-elected every four years. The council has elections three out of every four years.
THE CASE FOR:
The Government says elected mayors provide ‘visible leadership experiencing greater recognition among local people’ so it is ‘clear where the buck stops’.
They would also have more clout lobbying as an ‘ambassador and champion’ on their city’s behalf.
Extra powers are set to be ‘decentralised’ from the Government to cities on matters such as transport and planning, as part of an agenda being pushed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Cities will also receive their own pot of cash - money managed by the Government - to fund major infrastructure projects.
“Mayors are uniquely well-placed to provide the accountability that decentralisation requires for a range of services,” the Department for Communities and Local Government states.
Sheffield is one of 11 cities which will each hold a referendum at the same time as the May local election on whether to have elected mayors.
The other cities are Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Wakefield.
The DCLG said new elected mayors would be different from current elected mayors, created under legislation by the old Labour Government and which exist in 16 towns and cities such as Doncaster, who hold only the same executive powers as councils.
Former Bassetlaw MP Joe Ashton said: “The current council system deters talented individuals - the money’s rubbish and it has to be a full-time job if you are in a cabinet or leadership position.
“A mayor would be paid more money and could attract candidates from different worlds such as business or elsewhere. Talented candidates could come from nowhere near the current political scene.”
Millionaire businessman and Conservative donor Andrew Cook, chairman of William Cook steel castings based off Sheffield Parkway, said: “Having an elected mayor would be a thoroughly good idea for Sheffield. It works well in the US, where a mayor is expected to show results when in power.
“The current council system is too political, and places too much power in the hands of elected officials, and having elections three out of four years means power can change too often.
“If other major cities vote for elected mayors, there is a danger Sheffield could be left behind on the national stage.”
Sheffield-based businessman Jonathan Peck, of Dore, chairman of Killgerm Group, a company employing 150 people, said: “Having an elected mayor would make Sheffield a better place to do business. Under the current system, one of the biggest problems for companies is knowing who is making the decisions.”
PM David Cameron said: “I’m really enthusiastic about this because I profoundly believe we should be moving our country to having more directly-elected mayors in our big cities.”
THE CASE AGAINST:
TRADE unionists are campaigning against an elected mayor for Sheffield.
They say the £250,000 cost of the vote in itself is an extra burden when the city council has had to make £55 million of cuts, and that the role could add £400,000 a year to administration costs.
Unison, one of the main unions spearheading the anti-mayor campaign, claims ‘the experience of elected mayors in Doncaster has been a nightmare’.
The union highlighted poor performance at Doncaster, which has had the highest level of job losses and cuts in terms and conditions for staff of any council in the region.
Unison claims the mayoral election is a ‘distraction’ from the ‘real problems facing our communities’ due to Government cuts.
City councillors say there has been little appetite for elected mayors in previous consultation on the issue three years ago. Fewer than 400 responses were received.
Coun John Campbell, a union organiser and Sheffield Council Labour member for Richmond ward, said: “Hard-working taxpayers are picking up the cost of the referendum at an estimated £250,000.
“An elected mayor would not add any value to decision making in Sheffield, all they would add is extra cost.
“It is estimated each year the mayor would cost an extra £400,000 a year.”
The plan was also given the thumbs down by Sheffield Pensioners’ Action Group.
Nick Howard, a senior member from Norfolk Park, said: “It places too much power into the hands of one person.
“I’m not sure if it’s something we really need because power should be devolved down to the people rather than concentrated upwards.”
Lib Dem group leader on Sheffield Council, Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, said: “I believe having an elected mayor is too much power resting with one person. “But unless people turn out and vote, they could find something approved they do not want.”
Star reader Tracy Hudson said: “We don’t need one - period.”