Peterborough councillor proposes switch to elected mayor system to make council more democratic

A Peterborough councillor has proposed switching to an elected mayor as one of a number of changes to make the city council more democratic.
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Councillor Ed Murphy, representative for Ravensthorpe ward, has put forward a motion to full council next week (January 26) that sets out his desire to see the council consider a number of alternative models as part of an ongoing review; most notably an elected mayor.

In an elected mayor system, typically the mayor holds a wide-range of decision making powers and appoints a cabinet of councillors, with at least one overview and scrutiny committee.

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The power for local authorities to adopt an elected mayor system is set out in the Local Government Act 2000. It states that the system can either be enacted by a referendum, which can be triggered by a petition signed by five percent of the electoral roll (7,275 people in Peterborough’s case), or by council resolution if passed with a two-thirds majority. The standard term would be four years.

Ravensthorpe ward councillor Ed Murphy.Ravensthorpe ward councillor Ed Murphy.
Ravensthorpe ward councillor Ed Murphy.

Cllr Murphy has also called for the council to consider a committee or hybrid model as an alternative to the current leader and cabinet model.

A committee models usually sees the council divided into balanced committees, made up from representatives of all groups, that make decisions.

Cllr Murphy has put forward the proposals believing that the council “has suffered because of a short-term focus in its decision making.”

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Cllr Murphy has also expressed his anger that the extraordinary meeting into the council’s finances held last month (December 15) was limited to only 15 members. The meeting approved a temporary Capital Moratorium Programme that could save up to £9.435m with significant cuts. Cllr Murphy has described the meeting as “probably the most significant meeting held since the Unitary Authority was set up.”

In response to this, Cllr Murphy suspended his membership from the Labour Group and has hit out at the party politics involved.

He said: “I suspended myself from group membership following the decision by the Mayor, in consultation with council group leaders, to have an extraordinary council meeting limited to only 15 members in December. This was probably the most significant meeting held since the Unitary Authority was set up as the meeting was agreeing to review the council’s very existence in response to external reports and government investigations.

“The key duty of councillors is to represent residents. I spoke to the group leader the evening before the meeting who actually thought that all councillors would have a vote. I had written to request that the meeting was postponed until such time as all members would be able to vote on the matter. I didn’t receive an agreement by reply.

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“Only I mentioned the notice of closure of the Key and Sports Centre published shortly before the meeting commenced. I was, however, denied a vote in what is “Party Politics” at its worst.

“As councillors we are supposed to represent residents and scrutinise policy. Due process is rare these days and is getting worse and worse.

“Councillor’s first priority and purpose is to be a representative of the electors and vote on council matters. Through collusion and the worst of “party politics” the mainstream parties have run roughshod over this principle that councillors should represent the residents of their ward.

“Political parties should not see themselves above the law and constitutions (where they exist) and should respect civil society. When they ignore this and due process things can very quickly turn from bad to worse. In Peterborough’s case, with the arbitrary closure of services and staff losing their jobs with no discussion nor vote on the matter whatsoever.

“It is time to push back and sort the council out.”