Should Sheffield have an elected mayor?
That was the big topic last night as BBC Radio Sheffield hosted major debate with panels from the main political parties and academics in South Yorkshire.
Panelists felt that compared with other cities like Birmingham, which are also having a mayoral referendum, the debate in Sheffield is rather quiet.
Alan McGauley of Sheffield Hallam University, who co-hosted the debate, said as the major parties each have concerns in the council election and don’t have high-profile campaigns for the mayoral referendum, it may be a disappointing turnout.
Kevin Meagher, chairman for Mayor4Sheffield campaign, said having an elected mayor "is mainly about four things：accountability between the government and the governing, Sheffield’s profile nationally, how we lobby the government and how we bring in international investment from overseas."
Dan Fell of Doncaster Chamber of Commerce said an elected mayor means to “get things through more quickly”. “Business likes certainty and liability, and changing that, would be ridiculous for Doncaster,” he added.
Spencer Pitfield, Conservative spokesperson for South Yorkshire, thinks that with an elected mayor at the top table, Sheffield could do much better: “It’s about transparency, accountability and a city knows who their leader is.”
However Jack Scott, a Labour Councillor in Sheffield leading the “No” side of the debate, said an elected mayor will have too much power and will be too costly. He said there is no evidence that a mayor could get things done “any better” than a council leader. He thinks Sheffield should wait and see how many elected mayors can go before the Prime Minister.
“It would be arrogant if the Prime Minister only met with the leaders selected in a way he approved of”, he said.
Shaffaq Mohammed, Lib Dem leader for Sheffield stands for the “No” side too. He argued that "it’s not the case that Sheffield will not succeed with out a mayor". He said Sheffield already has a strong power model and should focus on economic development in the city rather than spending money setting up a mayor's office.
However, for Kevin, having an elected mayor is “a replacement of a model that doesn't work” and if Sheffield doesn’t vote in favour it will have a lower standing than those that do.
In response to this, Jack said "so far, we still don’t know whether other cities would say yes to the referendum". “I don’t think we should do something because other people are doing it. It’s not a good reason to decide how you run a city” he added.
Jill Creasy, leader of the Green Party in Sheffield, said the Yes campaign’s argument is ”based on a fallacy” and that there is no difference between an elected mayor and a council leader in decision-making. The two differences, she added, is that an elected mayor is chosen by the whole electorate and can’t be removed.
She said it’s “a matter of style” whether leaders are visible to the public, not about whether they mayor. She said that, under the existing system, small parties like the Green Party can talk with their colleagues and have a consensus in the council. "But if we have a person who is far more accountable, democracy is actually at stake" she said.
Alan McGauley said "it’s interesting that 40% of the elected mayors we have in the country now are not from the main political parties". A survey on site showed that nearly everyone agreed they may not vote for someone from the main parties.