Lord Adonis & Jules Pipe on Elected Mayors

Date and Time:  Tuesday 22 May 2012, 6.00pm

Venue:  Council Room, The Constitution Unit

Jules Pipe

The London borough of Hackney has had an elected Mayor since 2002, when Jules Pipe was elected into office.  Mr Pipe argued that Hackney faced series issues at the time; crime rates were high, the council’s finances were in a poor state, and educational attainment was low.

Mr Pipe recognised that before changes could be made in the borough, changes would have to be made to the council itself.  His first priorities were to reintroduce good governance and financial competence.  In practice this meant improving the lines of communication within the council, developing a shared vision, and pursuing the best value for money for the borough.

The new Mayor set high standards for his team, bringing in experienced people and fostering a performance management culture.  Their aim was to improve the services that would benefit the whole community, focussing on projects such as building new schools, resurfacing roads and improving public amenities.

In his view, it remains vitally important to work with other bodies, such as the Police and the London Mayor, to achieve the best results for Hackney.  Mr Pipe’s long-term goal is to improve the reputation of Hackney, so as to encourage commercial investment.

Lord Adonis

Lord Adonis explained how he first became involved in the campaign for elected Mayors after being invited to speak at the Lunar Society in Birmingham last year.  In his view, the city lacked a coherent vision for the future; what it needed was a Mayor to fight for Birmingham’s interests.

According to Lord Adonis, a recent study has shown that only 16% of people think they know who the leader of their local council is – and half of those get it wrong.  In his view, having directly elected Mayors would raise the profile of local politics, and improve local council accountability.

Despite the largely negative response to elected Mayors in the recent referendums, Lord Adonis believes that all major cities could have elected Mayors within 15 to 20 years.  He argues that the introduction of elected Police Commissioners in November will help the case for elected Mayors, as they will have some of the powers of elected Mayors.

Note prepared by Jeremy Swan, intern on the Unit’s Special Advisers project.

No Surprises: more spads for No. 10?

David Cameron has come under fire from some Tories who, believing the Government to be lacking direction, have called for the appointment of more Conservative special advisers (spads) to the No. 10 Policy Unit (see Neil O’Brien’s article for the Financial Times). They argue that the Government has placed too much emphasis on peripheral issues – such as reforming the House of Lords and introducing same-sex marriage – to the detriment of the Coalition’s primary objective: the economic recovery. How has it come to this?

In May 2010, Cameron and Clegg had been determined to reverse the trend begun under New Labour of employing large numbers of special advisers (spads).  The No. 10 Policy Unit was consequently stripped-back, leaving it unable to operate effectively.  The Government soon realised this, and in early 2011 a more generously staffed Policy and Implementation Unit was created.

The question was: how should it be staffed?  It was decided that, because the Policy Unit was intended to serve both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, the group should be staffed by civil servants.  The reasoning was that Conservatives would be unlikely to follow advice given to them by Liberal Democrats, and vice versa.  The non-partisan civil servants, however, could offer advice free from political ideology—in theory, anyway.

Under the Coalition, the Civil Service has started to exert more influence.  Firstly, by its commitment to Cabinet government as a means of reaching consensus, the Coalition has bolstered the position of the Civil Service.  Secondly, the Civil Service has been encouraged to become more involved in matters of policy.  This latter point is a source of frustration to some Conservatives, who feel that departmental policies are being undermined by technocratic measures proposed by civil servants.  This, they argue, has led to a lack of coherence across government (James Forsyth, writing in the Spectator, examines this issue).  It taps into the long-held suspicion of civil servants as impractical and/or lacking in political nous.  And so some Conservatives believe that Cameron needs to regain political control over the Policy Unit by appointing more Tory spads.  As Charles Moore writes, ‘Conflict is usually better institutionalised than suppressed.’

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