Fringe Box



Opinion: What Kind of Mayor Does Guildford Need? – Let Me Tell You

Published on: 23 Oct, 2013
Updated on: 23 Oct, 2013
The Guildford Mayor's chain of office.

The Guildford Mayor’s chain of office.

By Martin Giles

This evening (October 23), an invited audience of former and present councillors will meet at G Live to discuss what kind of mayor Guildford should have.

Long gone are the days when the mayor was the effective leader of the council. And although some would like to see a powerful elected mayor, a Boris Johnson-type figure perhaps, there seems to be little appetite for this model in Guildford.

We are now used to the mayoral role being almost an entirely ceremonial role, albeit with one important exception, the mayor still chairs the council meetings. This is  a critical role, akin to the Speaker in the House of Commons. To do it well takes skill, especially when the meetings get lively, as some of them have lately.

Opinion Logo 2To be appointed mayor is still rightly, I think, considered an honour but in reality there is little competition for the job. For a start, the post can only be filled by one of the borough’s 48 councillors and, given that there is a new mayor every year, that means each councillor has a one in 12 chance of being the mayor between elections.

But the odds are much further reduced by other factors: availability for a heavy schedule of appointments, family, work or other council commitments (e.g. being a member of the Executive) rule many councillors out, as does having had a turn before, although that has had to be ignored on some occasions recently.

Some on the council feel it is time for a completely new approach, a radical change with a much reduced events programme. An austerity mayoralty for our cash strapped times. It is such ideas that are expected to be suggested at the meeting.

There will be those who consider the whole thing a pointless anachronism which should be consigned to the past together with powdered wigs and snuff. But there is little doubt that many events organisers in our borough truly appreciate the attendance of the mayor or deputy mayor. They can add a real sense of occasion, ceremony and importance. It is also symbolic of the important relationship between the council and the community and it might be a shame and a loss if, as a result of the review, the number of mayor attendances are drastically reduced.

So this is a suggestion I will throw into the mix. Why not remove the requirement for the mayor to be a councillor? By making this simple change they could widen the pool of potential mayors to any suitable resident, perhaps elected by the council from a selected short-list of volunteers.

Candidates would need to be appropriately experienced, but there must be plenty of local worthies who could measure up. Anyway, how hard can it be to be driven to an event, shake hands, have a drink and a nibble and say a few suitable words without putting your foot in it?

Chairing the council meetings, though, is much more of a challenge and this role should cease being a mayor’s responsibility. A quick mind can be required and a good working knowledge of council procedures to deal with situations arising suddenly, without warning, during meetings.

This role does need to be a councillor, ideally one who is experienced and respected. For this reason they should be elected by the other councillors, exactly as the Speaker is elected by MPs.

So there we are, simple. Another bit of priceless Dragon advice, all for free. Now that I have worked it out for them they can all relax at their meeting this evening and have a social instead.

It will give time for some of the former mayors to entertain them all with memories of how it was done properly in the ‘good old’ days.

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