Does Preston need an elected mayor?

During the recent Lancashire Business Week, one of the main and consistent criticisms articulated by business leaders at the various forums hosted was the poor quality of civic leadership and civic entrepreneurship that exists in Preston.

Downtown in Business, in association with our sponsors, themed the week around our ‘City Thinking’ campaign, asking delegates to leave their cynicism and frustrations about Preston’s past failures at home, and instead concentrate on helping to find solutions that will help the city prosper and progress in the future.

By and large those who attended did just that, and from ideas about how to improve the city’s image through to transport infrastructure, a wealth of initiatives were suggested. Downtown will now use those ideas as the basis for producing a ‘City Thinking’ manifesto that will be released later in the Summer.

However, the one area where negativity reigned supreme was in that of civic leadership - or rather a lack of it. However, at the end of the day, is it the individuals within the various public bodies that govern us who are to blame – or is it the structures in which they have to operate?

In the new government’s Queens Speech, it was announced that England’s big cities will have the opportunity of changing their local government structure. They will be asked if they want to be governed by an elected mayor, as is the case in London, and around another dozen or so cities and towns across the country.

An elected mayor would have significant powers over finance, economic development, planning and police, and would also be highly visible and accountable to the local electorate. Would this option be worth Preston exploring?

At present, the two tier system that sees Lancashire County Council hold most of the cards (and the cash) as the strategic local authority dwarfs Preston City Council.

Without doubt, since the change of administration from Labour to Conservative at County Hall twelve months ago, the working relationship between those two organizations has improved. But, if the comments from the business community during Business Week are anything to go by, not by nearly enough.

An elected mayor for England’s newest city may well be the answer to the two tier conundrum. It is certainly a debate worth having.

Frank McKenna
Downtown Preston in Business