Calls for directly elected mayor after row between Southend councillors and staff

A senior member of Southend’s Conservative Group is calling for the introduction of a directly elected Mayor who can be held accountable by residents.

The idea was suggested by Conservative Councillor Dan Nelson who said the way politics is done in the borough needs to change after councillors began publicly criticising council staff over poor communication.

Southend is currently governed by a leader and cabinet made up of members of the ruling party and there is a ceremonial mayor – a position held by former council leader Cllr John Lamb.

As a ceremonial mayor, Mr Lamb is chosen by councillors and represents the borough in civic ceremonies and supports charities.

If the council were to change to a directly elected mayor – which can only happen following a referendum – then residents could vote which councillor would be mayor and they would then become the chair of the authority.

Mr Nelson believes it would help to bridge the gap between the work carried out by council staff and the work of councillors.

He said: “Having a directly elected mayor will give 100 per cent accountability and in my personal view there is a need for more accountability in Southend.

“Currently we have an officer led constitution rather than a councillor led constitution whereby elected councillors come up with ideas and officer then need to look at those ideas and how they can make them work.

“Meanwhile, a directly elected mayor would have a democratic mandate. Right now, as a councillor I can only represent one ward but with a directly elected mayor, they can represent everyone in Southend.”

However, the idea has been rejected by members of rival parties including Independent Councillor Stephen Aylen, who previously criticised council staff.

My Aylen said it was a “definite no” to supporting the idea and stressed the importance of the borough keeping a ceremonial mayor who can be an ambassador for the town.

He said he would rather see the council leader become the person who is in charge of running the council.

Council leader and leader of Southend Labour, Councillor Ian Gilbert also rejected the idea.

He said: “It is sometimes argued that councillors do not have enough power under the cabinet system but this removes power from councillors and hands it to a single figurehead.”

His concerns were backed by the deputy leader of the council, Independent Councillor Ron Woodley, who said: “You would be putting all your eggs into one basket with one person. I think that having 51 councillor who work together for the benefit of the town rather than a single person is much more beneficial.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter