There are a number of issues to think about when deciding whether we should have an elected mayor in Nottingham, some of which I wrote about here. I want to look in a bit more detail at how much power the leader of the council has at the moment, compared to how much a mayor might have.
Nottingham City Council currently operates a 'strong leader and cabinet' model for its executive arrangements. This is a modification of the original form of 'cabinet' arrangements introduced in 2007, designed to give councils a stronger and more visible leadership, apparently.
As a result of these changes, as well as NCC's amended constitution, in particular the part dealing with responsibilities and functions from which I quote below, the leader has the following powers -
"The Leader of the Council may determine to exercise any of the ‘executive’ functions of the Council personally, or may arrange for the exercise of any of the Council’s ‘executive’ functions by:
i) the Executive; or
ii) by another Executive Councillor; or
iii) by a committee of the Executive; or
iv) an officer of the Council." (p8)
'Executive functions' means the lion's share of day to day council decision making. Some decision making is reserved for full council or specific committees, the rest comes under executive functions. As you can see, the leader can decide to take any of these on her/himself, or delegate them.
"The term of office of the Leader starts on the day of his/her election as Leader and ends on the day of the next post election annual meeting (under whole elections) unless..." (p26)
Essentially the leader remains in office for the whole term of the council unless a majority of the council pass a resolution to remove him or he resigns. Previously the leader was elected each year.
"The Leader determines the size of the cabinet (Executive Board) and appoints between 2 and 9 members of the Council to be the Executive Board in addition to himself/herself, allocates any areas of responsibility (portfolios) to them, and may remove them from the Executive Board at any time. The Leader determines the responsibility for the discharge of the executive functions of the Council." (p26)
As you can see, should the leader decide not to take on all executive functions, s/he has absolute carte blanche over who does. If you are appointed as a portfolio holder you gotta stay in the good books or you're out.
"(ii) Who can take Key Decisions?
Nottingham City Council has decided (and included within the provisions of this Constitution) that Key Decisions may be taken by the Leader of the Council, Executive Board and the Executive Board Commissioning Sub Committee." (p108)
'Key Decisions' are the big executive decisions which have financial implications greater than £1m or significantly affect two or more wards. Previously they could only be taken by the Executive Board which at least ensured some collective decision making. Now, the leader can simply decide to take them her/himself. There appears to be no rhyme or reason behind which ones s/he can decide to take and JoCo has so far taken five key decisions himself, as you can see here and here.
So, as you can see, if they wanted, the leader of the council could do pretty much everything themselves other than approve the budget (which they would have been responsible for drawing up) and the more controversial planning decisions. All this power for someone who was only elected by 26% of the electorate in St Anns.
As yet, information as to what powers an elected mayor would have is thin on the ground. What little we have seems to be contained in a new Schedule A1 being added to the Local Government Act 2000 (see part 2) -
"Mayor and cabinet executives
(1)This paragraph applies in relation to executive arrangements by a local authority which provide for a mayor and cabinet executive.
(2)Subject to section 9C(5), the executive arrangements must include provision which enables the elected mayor to determine the number of councillors who may be appointed to the executive under section 9C(2)(b).
(3)The executive arrangements must include provision which requires the elected mayor to appoint one of the members of the executive to be the elected mayor’s deputy (referred to in this paragraph as the deputy mayor).
(4)Subject to sub-paragraph (5), the person who is appointed deputy mayor, unless the person resigns as deputy mayor or ceases to be a member of the authority, is to hold office until the end of the term of office of the elected mayor.
(5)The elected mayor may, if the elected mayor thinks fit, remove the deputy mayor from office.
(6)Where a vacancy occurs in the office of deputy mayor, the elected mayor must appoint another person to be deputy mayor.
(7)If for any reason the elected mayor is unable to act or the office of elected mayor is vacant, the deputy mayor must act in the elected mayor’s place.
(8)If for any reason—
(a)the elected mayor is unable to act or the office of elected mayor is vacant, and
(b)the deputy mayor is unable to act or the office of deputy mayor is vacant,
the executive must act in the elected mayor’s place or must arrange for a member of the executive to act in the elected mayor’s place."
That doesn't look like a whole lot more power than the leader has to me but of course, the story isn't finished yet. There will be further regulations and much will be decided locally in councils' constitutions as at present.
What is new is planned regulations for the mayor to be able to appoint an assistant. I'm not sure if that will mean just one or several but it is grist to the mill for 'no' campaigners citing increased cost of a mayoral system. It doesn't appear that there is any requirement that the assistant would have to be a councillor.
The key thing as I see it is that we currently have an individual with powers similar to those planned for a mayor already so any criticisms of a mayor having 'too much power' don't really stand up. And if we must have a single individual with that much power in the City I would very much like the opportunity to vote for them.
One final footnote. As I read the Localism Act provisions relating to all this, if the referendum results in a 'no' vote the council then has the power to change back to a committee system should it want to. The County Council has already decided to do this. They can do so because they are not being required to hold a referendum as to whether to have a mayor which puts such possibilities on hold. Going back to a committee system would result in a lot less power for the leader and councillors who are currently members of the cabinet. Funny that JoCo hasn't made any noises about that as a possibility...