Woodhouse Community Centre Grand Opening

A new look for the old Woodhouse Community Centre – to be unveiled tomorrow! Photo copyright Betty Longbottom and licenced for reuse under creative commons

Woodhouse Communty Centre is open again after a major half a million pound refurbishment! There’s a grand opening tomorrow (Saturday April 21st) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with music and all kinds of things happening. It’s billed as a fun day, so hopefully it will live up to its name.

Local organisation Oblong took over the Centre on a Community Transfer from Leeds City Council. I’ve been involved for the last year and it’s great to have regular contact with local people, especially in Woodhouse, which can sometimes feel like a transitory place with its big student population. Terry.

What I like and don’t like about Leeds

I like the fact that Leeds has some lovely greenbelt areas which make for great ecotherapy, walks along the river side and canal towpath are particular favourites of mine I like to see the industrail past being taken over by nature. What I don’t like is the heavy traffic that is often present and on some roads seems to be always there.

Mike Bush

Elected Mayors For West Yorkshire?

Elected Mayors Are Unlikely To Provide A New Voice for Leeds

On May 3rd of this year a number of English metropolitan areas including Leeds and Bradford, will be asked to decide whether they want to follow the capital and a few other cities in having a directly elected mayor. Perhaps the humble provinces will be able to experience the Boris & Ken type spectacle of mayoral politics, grabbing exciting headlines and leader comments. Better that than the depressing headlines generated by the mayor of Doncaster.

Will elected mayors be as much use?
Image courtesy of Steve W and the Science Museum

The debate over elected mayors has been a rather rushed affair with much discussion on the democratic merits whilst much less on the practical aspects. Is the mayor replacing council leaders or is this a wholly new political entity? Pinning down an answer to this is no easy task.

Elected mayors certainly have wide support across the political spectrum, the idea first being introduced by Labour and then picked up by the coalition’s new localism mantra through the Localism Act (2011). If media and political noise alone were indicators of enthusiasm, the result of the votes on May 3rd would be a foregone conclusion.

But as is so often the case, the public are a little more sanguine about the whole affair. NatCen published the results of a recent survey that showed a distinct cooling of enthusiasm towards the idea of elected mayors; though this seems to be less a matter of hostility than it is of indifference.

Some unions are openly hostile towards the idea with Unison urging their members for a no vote on May 3rd and even Labour and Lib Dems are a little more cautious than they were, though one suspects this would not be the case had the general election swung a different way or if the Lib Dems did not have most of their power base in local councils (Rival campaigns fight over directly-elected mayors in England).

One can understand the motivations of power brokers who operate largely out of self-interest. For the most part, the public has learned to pay only scant attention to such posturings. But why should the public be losing interest in mayoral politics before it has even really begun?

Given that politics, whether local or national, is often quite an obscure affair that seems to operate wholly independent of the electorate, it should come as no surprise to the pundits that this new layer of democracy is viewed with caution. In fact it should be commended as an indication of an intelligent electorate. But there has been very little attempt to explain exactly what an elected mayor does, what powers they have, who they are accountable to and why they are better than the current system.

The key question is about power; what will they be able to do and who are they accountable to? And this is where it becomes a little murky. The Warwick Commission report provides the clearest overview of what the new system may mean, but even here we are confronted with ambiguities “government has indicated that new mayors will be able to ask for powers they include in their manifestos”. Who are they asking; Whitehall. What then will be the unfolding and developing relationship between central government and elected mayors? It does not take a Machiavellian mind to foresee how a savvy mayor could extend their power considerably by aligning their policies with those of central government.

Backroom deals, obscure political wrangling, power grabs and duplicitous behaviour; it all sounds very familiar at both the local and national level of politics. There seems to be nothing in the new model that challenges the current trend towards a kakistocracy, and people are not so gullible to think that it would. Politicians appear to believe that we have forgotten the expenses scandal, the News Of the World scandal, cash for questions and so on. We have not.

We may be able to avert our eyes from the inevitable political quagmire that the mayoral system will undoubtedly become, if it did indeed reinvigorate local democracy. This has been the rallying cry from proponents of the system. Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, has run with this idea; “elected mayors are a magnet that will draw attention and accountability back to local people”. Though he does not go quite so far as to explain how this miracle of democratic healing will occur.

What special democratic qualities will an elected mayor have that an MP or councillor will not? What new vision will they be able to realise using the same limited funds that local authorities draw from? Are they somehow special in a way that councillors are not? The reality of the UK elected mayoral system may well be that local authorities will be weakened by the tensions and conflicts between competing bureaucracies. Far from such figures devolving power from Westminster, they are as likely to concentrate power within metropolitan areas under the direction of a single personality.

Party politics and local government is always going to be quite dull and largely self-serving, adding another layer will not change that. If the government wish to encourage political participations they need not look far. UK Uncut and Occupy have done more to generate real debate in the last eighteen months than Westminster and the London media cabal have achieved in the last ten years. Democracy is not about leaders and personalities, it is about empowerment and autonomy. Finding ones own voice is one of the most important elements of a free society, abdicating ones feelings, expressions and views to another, one of the most disempowering.

If democracy is about reclaiming power, then we need to first find our own voice. We find that voice within our friends and communities not within the partisan politics of local or national government. The truth about the mayoral system is that whether we vote for or against on May 3rd we can be sure of one thing; there will be someone else trying to take control of out lives.

Peter Reffell

Elected mayor for Leeds – an enormous choice?

Leeds at a political junction.
This photo 'Choices' is by Bill Dickinson, 'Sky Noir' on Flickr, and used under creative commons.

“It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” J. K. Rowling

The Thursday 3 May referendum (to be held alongside the local elections) will ask how we would like Leeds City Council to be run. Do we want an elected leader chosen by other councillors – the way the council is run now? Or do we prefer a mayor directly elected by voters?

This question has been set by central government, and according to the Culture Vulture website ‘The most critical point of this debate is that we, the citizens of Leeds should have an understanding of the enormity of the choice we are being given on May 3rd.’

It’s interesting that in England we don’t directly choose the Prime Minister. Political parties choose who they think will best lead them, then at general elections we choose the best local candidate, and according to which party gets most seats, their leader becomes PM. So directly electing a major for Leeds would mean something more like the American presidential style election.

Alison Neale has written a reasonably balanced look at the pros and cons of the issue. A directly elected mayor might be freer of party influence, and more likely to act in the interests of the city as a whole. On the other hand the concentration of power could mean our elected councillors are undermined, and if the wrong person gets elected there will be less checks.

It’s complicated! But one thing for sure, it will affect us all a lot, so we ought to get up to speed! Terry

Does Leeds need an Elected Mayor?

Does leeds need another Boris Johnson. photo by adamproctor2006

Does Leeds need an elected Mayor?

Do people actually know what an elected Mayor’s role is or if Leeds really needs one.

A question time event on April 30th may give people the opportunity to find out more and consider whether they wish to have a vote on May 3rd for an elected mayor in Leeds.

What would this mean for Leeds as a city?

It would mean Leeds city council would be run by a mayor who is elected by voters.

A mayor with decision making powers.

Would this change and/or benefit the way leeds city council is run at the moment.

What improvements could be made for the good of the citizens of Leeds.

We can have a say and a choice…………..

Magic fairy and tinkerbell**

Directly elected for Mayor for Leeds?


Elected mayor the way you go must be your decision.
Photo by Rob Farrow under creative commons license

Directly elected Mayors for Leeds is this a good idea or bad for local democracy?

Leeds is going to the polls on May 3 to decide on a referendum for locally a elected Mayor what will you be voting for?

 The UK Parliament website describes:

The Conservatives in opposition pledged to hold mayoral referendums inEngland’s twelve largest cities outside London. Following the passage of the Localism Act 2011, ministerial orders providing for mayoral referendums in each of the cities on 3 May 2012 have now been approved by Parliament and made by ministers. These relate to ten cities since the city councils of both Leicester andLiverpoolhave resolved to adopt mayoral systems. The Government has announced that elections will take place on 15 November 2012 in those cities which vote for a mayoral system.

As regards mayoral powers, the Localism Act allows for the delegation of “local public functions” to “permitted authorities”. The Government is taking a “bespoke” city-by-city approach to the decentralisation of powers. However, it has said that cities with an elected mayor will automatically meet the requirement for strong and accountable leadership necessary for taking on new powers and funding streams.

Would a directly elected Mayor be good for Leeds?

The worry for me is how much power is invested in one individual and their ability to steamroller through their plans for a city without any reference to locally elected councilors I know that their has been real concern regarding the actions of the Mayor of Doncaster by the local councilors who have felt that their voice as local elected representatives has not been heard and effectively ignored this can’t be good for local democracy the system of which has evolved and developed to provide for consultation and governance with checks and balances to protect the public good this may not be perfect but at least it is accountable and honestly representative. So I for one will be opposing this concept.

Busy times and elected mayors for our community reporters!

Hello again!

We’ve had a short break for easter, so apologies if we haven’t filed much in the past few weeks. We’ve also been incredibly busy with our writing workshops and today we’ll be looking at the issue of what an elected mayor means for Leeds.

It was something we happened to be talkign about as part of our community reporters sessions the other week. We all feel quite strongly about it, but most of us aren’t exactly sure what it will mean!

Hope you enjoy the posts.

Free concerts at the Howard Rooms

I saw a brilliant concert one recent Friday evening, when the Palestinian singer Reem Kelani sang at the Howard Assembly Rooms. She kept an audience of a couple of hundred people entertained for over an hour with songs from all over the middle east, with quite a bit of musical and other history thrown in for good measure. The most amazing thing was it was completely free. The Assembly Rooms are part of the newly refurbished Leeds Grand Theatre, and the regular concerts there range from fairly cheap to moderately pricey. But every so often for reasons I can’t quite fathom, you get the chance to see brilliant musicians for free. It’s really worth checking out if, like me, music is crucial to your well-being, but you can’t afford to see a lot of live music. The next free stuff at the Howard Rooms is on May 12th, when there’s a session on Opera’s Greatest Duets, and a Sacred Harp Singing Workshop. You just have to go to the box office at the Grand and ask for a ticket.