Great Yarmouth mayor campaign “a waste of money”

As the campaign to bring in the first directly elected mayor in East Anglia moves closer to a referendum, the whole exercise has been condemned as a 'criminal waste of money'.

Supporters clamouring for Great Yarmouth to follow 12 other towns and cities across England in electing a mayor with executive powers launched their campaign 14 months ago and handed in their petition with the necessary 3,500 signatures to trigger a referendum in September.

They are now awaiting a decision from Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, on whether a borough-wide referendum to approve or reject the change should go ahead in March or wait until May 5, the date of the local elections.

If a majority votes in favour of a new-style mayor, an election - likely to include independents as well as representatives of the main political parties - looks set to be fixed for the autumn.

While campaign spokesman Mick Castle feels a directly elected mayor would stimulate fresh interest in local politics and find it easier to protect Yarmouth's interests, the present Tory council leader Barry Coleman said to change the political system would amount to 'a criminal waste of money' at a time the authority was having to make huge cuts involving the loss of jobs.

He said merely holding the referendum will cost local taxpayers up to �65,000 unless the expenditure can be shared by staging it on the same day as the local elections.

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And if there was a 'yes' vote, the cost to taxpayers of holding a mayoral election would run into six figures because the council would be obliged to print a booklet on the candidates and deliver it to every home.

He said the costs would escalate as the mayor would command a salary of perhaps �70,000 compared to the �9,000 in expenses he received as leader.

'The post has really been designed for unitary authorities. In Yarmouth there would be all the expense of having a mayor and he would only be in control of one quarter of the services,' said Mr Coleman.

He added that he would also be sorry to see the loss of the ceremonial mayor's position as it enabled numerous individuals - including the current holder Michael Jeal and the late Sue Robinson - to bring their own mark to the office.

Mr Castle said making claims about costs had been a 'scare tactic' used in other mayoral elections around the country. In fact, it often saved money by simplfying the system and in some cases having fewer councillors.

He said his campaign committee, which has support from people across the political spectrum, had already raised enough funds for a colour leaflet urging people to vote yes.

'We are very positive about the referendum. To get the support on the doorstep for the petition that we did is really unprecedented,' he said.

'The mandate for a directly elected mayor would be so much stronger. Mr Coleman was only voted in by the people in Martham and Rollesby.'