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A Mayor for the Valleys

Tom Griffin
6 August 2008

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Boris Johnson's victory in a hard -fought London election against Ken Livingstone earlier this year highlighted the potential of directly-elected mayors to invigorate local democracy.

In a study out this week, the Institute for Welsh Affairs suggests the idea that could be applied to the South Wales valleys.

“One of the problems we face is democratic engagement," IWA director John Osmond told the Western Mail.

“If we had a contest of the kind we saw in London, with Boris and Ken and so on – if something like that could be replicated in the Valleys, it would give a new impetus to the need for change.”

One contributor to the study, Professor Steve Fothergill of Sheffield Hallam University, a former director of the Coalfields Communities Campaign, says the Heads of the Valleys have “the most intractable problems of any older industrial area in he whole of Britain.” While he acknowledges there are no “short cuts to regeneration” he calls for the injection of “something special”.

The study suggests that, like its London counterpart, a Valleys mayoralty should draw powers from central government rather than local authorities. This has prompted questions about its relationship to the Welsh Assembly government.

"It may be argued that the Welsh Government is failing in this role but there is no indication that an elected figurehead would fare any better," argues Lib Dem Assembly Member Peter Black:

The key to this whole debate is the resources and the powers available to the responsible body, not who delivers on the necessary action.

Mr. Osmond argues that the creation of a Mayor could improve democratic engagement. Yet when you look at the raw figures there is little difference in the turnout of voters who elected Boris Johnson in London and those who voted in new local authorities in Wales this May. The turnout in the London Mayor elections was 45.33% whereas 44% of eligible voters came out to elect Wales' 22 Unitary Authorities.

To date there has been only one referendum on a directly-elected mayor in Wales, a proposal which was rejected in Ceredigion in 2004. It remains to be seen whether the idea will gain more traction this time around.

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