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Friday, 14 May 2010

Elected Mayor for Waverley?

An obscure act passed by the previous government, the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, obliges all councils to reconsider their leadership arrangements and adopt one of two models.

Councils can choose between a "Strong Leader" and Cabinet or a Directly Elected Mayor and Cabinet. Waverley Borough Council will open a consultation this summer for people living in the borough (Farnham, Haslemere, Godalming and surrounding villages) and I thought I'd jump the gun with this, my first post on my new blog.

I'd love Waverley to choose an elected mayor for three reasons:
  1. The mayoral race and the mayorship could energise residents and encourage participation in local politics
  2. An elected mayor will not necessarily come from the same party as that which controls the council, leading to - dare I say it - consensus politics (this year's must-have political accessory)!
  3. The "chain of responsibility" is shortened. The council leader is responsible to the residents, so getting the residents to elect directly is surely preferable to the current model whereby the local councillors chose the leader
Someone once told me, and I can't vouch for the veracity of this statement, that people are more likely to write to the Prime Minister with their dissatisfaction of their local bin collection arrangements than they are to approach the council or local councillor.

Whether the previous statement is true or not, it highlights the shadow that central government casts over local government in many people's minds. Aside from a directly elected mayor, I'd like to see Waverley embrace social media and other internet tools to reinvigorate public participation in local politics.

As a first step, all council meetings and other public events should be webcast live. With services such as Ustream providing readily accessible and scalable infrastructure to deliver live content, this if done sensibly should cost the council no more than the price of a laptop and half-decent webcam.

This summer Waverley are also due to open a public consultation on their website.  My advice would be to view the Waverely website as only one of a range of tools the council can use to engage with residents.  Without mentioning the F-word (okay then, Facebook), there's Twitter and the rest of the blogosphere.

Any public consultation could start with Google (if you don't have Google, any good search engine will do).  A suitable web search will often return residents' feelings as embodied in their blog posts.  Of course for some subjects it won't be possible to search for local views without catching the national noise.  This is where social networks come into play.  Bloggers should be able to simply "@Waverely" and get their blog posts read and considered in any consultation.

Social media can be used to break-down the barriers to public participation whilst simultaneously increasing awareness of local issues.  Maybe one day people in the borough will care as much who the next mayor will be as the next Prime Minister!


  1. Nice start James. As we chatted earlier, I'm keen to get an intimate understanding of public opinion on this, and will likely blog about it regularly this year as you can imagine: as a local borough councillor I'll be part of the decision making process.

    The public consultation that Waverley have to carry out for this will, I'm sure, demonstrate the strength of feeling on the matter. I hope that this blog and many others in the borough will carry the information broadly and thus, social media will be constructive from the beginning in determining which way to go.

  2. Excellent James. But we could get a pseudo 'Independent' as Mayor (closet Tory or member of Hunt's campaign team)

  3. We have three layers of local govt. with Farnham Town Council, Waverley Borough Council and Surrey County Council and the average man in the street hasn't a clue which one is responsible for what. Which may account for the lack of interest in local elections so I don't really see that there will be much enthusiasm for an elected mayor of Waverley. And if you go down that line what about the mayors of Farnham, Godalming etc - do we start electing them too? As for blogging etc don't forget the majority of people in Waverley are still living in the dark ages - television is still new let alone computers!


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