It’s a real mayor for Great Yarmouth voters

It is an issue which has unusually united Great Yarmouth Borough Council's Labour and Tory groups with a large majority of councillors on both sides vehemently opposed to Tony Blair's vision of an elected mayor with executive powers.

In fact, their unlikely alliance even resulted in 28 councillors being reported to the standards committee when they at first refused to endorse a constitution for the proposed new system against the advice of the council's legal officer.

Adding to the political confusion, the borough's Labour leader, Mick Castle, has been defiantly ploughing a lone furrow in leading the campaign for a 'yes' vote in the referendum.

And making matters even more complex for borough residents is that they can't be sure what kind of Pandora's box they might be opening if they vote that way.

In the colourful short history of elected mayors since the first was elected in Greater London in 2000, they have taken the guise of everyone from a man in a monkey suit campaigning for free bananas in schools (Stuart Drummond in Hartlepool) to mainstream politicians campaigning on party grounds.

They have included a small businessman challenging the solid Labour ranks (Tony Egginton in Mansfield) and a former police chief famed for zero tolerance (Ray Mallon in Middlesbrough).

Mr Egginton's victory came as a shock to Ashley Booker, a reporter on the Mansfield and Ashfield Chad, who said it had been thought 'a donkey in a red rosette' would win in the Labour heartland.

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People mentioned already as possible mayoral candidates in Yarmouth – if there is to be a poll a year after the referendum – include flamboyant Hippodrome owner Peter Jay and newsagent Ralf Childs alongside Mr Castle and other mainstream politicians.

What has enraged the current Tory council leader, Barry Coleman, is that it has only taken a 3,500-signature petition to trigger the referendum with all its attendant costs.

Mr Coleman, who takes over the mantle of ceremonial mayor this month said his message was simple: 'It it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

He said: 'At a time when every company, charity, local authority and family is having to make savings, it seems bizarre that anyone should be advocating vast extra expense for no practical advantage.'

The referendum was costing council tax payers �51,000 to administer and if there were to be a mayoral ballot that would cost �100,000.

'Unlike the current leader, an elected mayor would be a paid appointment of about �60,000 plus pension,' he added.

Mr Coleman said while there was some logic in having an elected mayor in a unitary authority, in Yarmouth he or she would only run 10pc of services, the others would still be administered by the county council.

The elected mayor would pick his own cabinet, which could lead to enormous political tensions and poor decision-making, according to Mr Coleman.

He said it would be a shame to lose the centuries-old tradition of the ceremonial mayor along with the role's community work in supporting charities and voluntary work.

Mr Castle and his supporters, on the other hand, believe an elected mayor would reinvigorate local politics when turnouts for some Yarmouth wards at local elections have slumped to 20pc.

He said: 'They have a special mandate from the people that ordinary council leaders chosen by their fellow councillors just don't have. Currently the leader is chosen by as few as 20 councillors.'

He said experience elsewhere suggested there was scope for savings and more focused decision-making; the number of borough councillors could be reduced from 39 to 27 and these could, in future, be elected together every four years.

Mr Castle added that the mayor's salary was likely to be considerably lower than that of the council officer post to be cut as a result of the changes.

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