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Thursday, 02 October 2014

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Jamie Reed on elected mayors and a town council

AT A public meeting in Hensingham last week, I was asked my view about the proposal for an elected mayor for Copeland. The prevailing public mood regarding these proposals – as far as I can make out – is one of confusion.

Jamie Reed 1004
JAMIE REED: Labour MP for Copeland

I welcome the fact people are interested in how our local government system works, and that they are moved to act. It’s evident there is a broad range of differing views among supporters and opponents of an elected mayor, but among the public at large there is real doubt about what this would mean and over what the referendum is actually about.

Firstly, this is your decision. The last Labour government introduced the right for communities to change the way they are governed locally. It’s a sound policy. We should be governed by the system that best suits us; that’s democracy and whichever system is chosen by the local community should have nothing to do with MPs. So far, so clear.

To be clearer still, I’m in favour of whatever system of local government the people of Copeland want; you’re the boss. But I’m a member of the community too, and, like you, I have a personal opinion on what the best system of local government for Copeland might be.

The more I think of this, the more it becomes clear that there isn’t a single problem facing our community that could be better, more quickly or more effectively solved by an elected mayor. Hospital services? No. Schools? No. Road infrastructure? No. Care for the elderly? No. Child protection? No. Job creation? No. Local government finances? The reality is that an elected mayor would make Copeland Borough Council’s financial position even worse. A big salary, support staff and the costs of holding the referendum in the first place – none of these do anything to replenish the council’s meagre accounts. Nor will having an elected mayor get rid of a single elected councillor.

Whatever the problems facing our community, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to see how an elected mayor would help to solve these problems. The biggest problem facing Copeland Borough Council is financial. The vast majority of the council tax we pay goes to Cumbria County Council, on top of this the government has decimated the budget it gives to Copeland Borough Council and this austerity has led to councillors of all parties producing a budget that means that it can do little more than provide those services it must provide by law. Services on top of this, public toilets, the civic hall, communal gardens... all have been victims of this cash crisis.

But it’s your choice; your decision.

One change that would make a difference, help to raise money and help to solve the problems facing our community is the creation of a Whitehaven town council. But at the referendum, you will not be asked your view on a Whitehaven town council, only whether you would like to see an elected mayor or not. Confused? You should be.

A town council would be able to raise money – somewhere between £200,000 and £300,000 per year. That money could and should (it wouldn’t be down to me) be used to look after the town centre, provide public toilets, flower beds and more. It’s straightforward common sense.

Better than that, for those of you who cry out for a group of people committed to representing the community rather than a political party, town councils are rarely party political; most aren’t even partly political. And best of all, town councillors aren’t paid.

I’ve been asked if I’d like to be mayor... the answer is ‘no, thanks’. Whether we have a mayor or not is up to you, but a Whitehaven town council is a much better proposition in every way. And finally, spare a thought for Coun Geoff Garrity – the “Austerity Mayor” – and his wife Sandra. As I understand it, they’ve received very little support from Copeland Borough Council (certainly far less than previous mayors) whilst raising thousands of pounds for charity in the process over this last year. That’s public service, and they deserve commendation.

Change can be good and also inevitable. So let’s make sure we get the right change, let’s have a town council for Whitehaven.

Have your say

Obviously Jamie Reed wants to "muddy the waters" otherwise why make reference to services provided by other agencies to which the current council has no executive role? The real issue is why he chooses to do so.

Everyone is aware through this newspaper the current council doesn't trust its own electorate to vote in a referendum. The issue being, as to whether Copeland is a volunteer community for a Geological Nuclear Waste Disposal Facility. - This despite the fact the regional geology of Cumbria is fractured, faulted and subject to a high hydraulic gradient. -

Jamie's own position is that not enough is known about the geology to make an informed decision. Given what we do know such a statement is beyond belief. Only this week Germany has gone back to square one and will commence the search for a host community based on the principle of sound geology.

So what has any of the above got to do with if Copeland should elect a Mayor or retain its current failed system of administration?

Suppose the policy of a prospective mayoral candidate was to achieve for Copeland significant compensation for the intolerable risk the Borough currently shoulders from Sellafield.

Suppose another policy was to trust the people of Copeland to vote in a borough referendum to determine if Copeland was a volunteer community and lay to rest this uncertainty to which the current council places no trust in its own electorate. - That's you!

Suppose another policy was to press for much greater investment in Sellafield for future reprocessing post 2018 (Thorpe closure date) securing Sellafield jobs well into the future.

Perhaps such policies might offer the people of Copeland the opportunity to give clear direction to central government on achieving a coherent scientifically and ethically sensible radioactive waste policy going forward and prevent divisions within our County.

Some will argue why should the rest of the County have a say as to if Copeland should volunteer or not. I argue the principle of the three green lights was both sound and robust and should have set the government on a good course to deliver a GDF in a region where there is known good geology. - Every other civilised country is embarked on that course. I argue that because we now have the knowledge of a leak of Plutonium and Americium from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad New Mexico with radiation being detected many miles from the plants public exclusion area. The question those outside of Copeland ask is simple: - Would a leak of radioactivity from a GDF situated in Copeland stay within the boundaries of Copeland and not affect farming and tourism?

The simple truth is Copeland Councillors are too close to both DECC and NDA policies and the offer of "community benefits". The prospect of an elected Mayor frightens them. Why? Because they would loose control over any future MRWS process. If that is not the case then Copeland Council can let your readers know. As I guess Jamie Reed can?

Posted by Colin Wales on 24 April 2014 at 16:54

Well said, Copeland is solid Labour but a directly elected mayor might not be. Undoubtedly the current leader would be replaced. This article is simple self preservation.

Posted by Cree on 16 April 2014 at 20:31

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