05 March 2004
A grassroots campaign to get rid of Doncaster's directly elected mayor, fuelled by popular anger at large pay increases for the authority's top brass, has won the backing of more than 10,000 residents.
Around 300 demonstrators have marched on the town hall to hand in a petition signed by the residents demanding that the South Yorkshire town's Labour mayor, Martin Winter, stand down and his post be scrapped.
The move comes just three weeks after the council voted to boost Winter's salary from £42,000 to £62,000, and to advertise for a new managing director offering up to £145,000. The outgoing chief executive earned £103,000. Salaries for executive directors will also go up from £83,000 to £105,000.
The pay rises have galvanised the campaign to abolish the elected mayor, although the council emphasises that it has merely implemented the recommendations of an independent remuneration panel.
But Edwin Simpson, leader of Doncaster's opposition Liberal Democrat group, told Public Finance that there was mounting public concern over the 'increasingly autocratic' nature of Winter's administration.
'We've started to see council posters and papers with his picture on. It is almost becoming a cult of personality,' he said. 'The problem lies with the office itself. If absolute power is concentrated in the mayor, whether Tory, Labour, or LibDem, scrutiny suffers.'
Simpson, who is not involved in the campaign, said that most councillors, even those in the Labour group, were now excluded from making decisions. He accused the mayor of vilifying cross-party scrutiny panels that published critical reports.
'The blast comes directly from the mayor's office and it's done in a very party political way,' he added.
Winter, one of just 11 elected mayors in England, slammed those trying to unseat him. 'I am mayor because that's what local people wanted. They voted for a referendum on how this local authority should be run,' he said.
'It is many of these politically motivated people that wanted an elected mayor in the first place… and now because the result didn't suit them, they appear to want to get rid of the system.'
But the campaign is unlikely to succeed. A spokeswoman for the Office of the Deputy Prime pointed out that under the Local Government Act 2000, which introduced the new structures, the position can only be scrapped after five years. Winter took up his post in 2002.
The New Local Government Network, an enthusiastic proponent of elected mayors, put a positive gloss on the Doncaster row. A spokesman said: 'Better this than the electorate being unaware of who their local council leader is.'