Just before the start of the summer recess, an interesting letter of clarification was put by a government minister into the House of Lords library – a regular way for the government of the day to express its authority. Lord Bourne’s letter set out the government’s view on mayoral scrutiny, initially referring to existing legislation.
He repeated what we know – that the chair of a given mayoral scrutiny panel must not be of the same party as the mayor in question. In the case of Liverpool, the position was held by then Liberal Party councillor, Hazel Williams. No longer a councillor since 2015, she was not an effective chair of the scrutiny panel. In fact, she was so ineffective, that Liverpool’s mayor was able to scrap the scrutiny panel altogether without any problem whatsoever. One wonders what the minister’s view is on that affront to transparency and accountability.
However, Lord Bourne does refer in his letter to the position of incoming metro mayors. He is unequivocal in stating the present government’s intention to tighten up via secondary legislation this autumn. The independent chair of each scrutiny panel will be recruited via “an open, competitive process…..in response to a public advertisement”.
Whilst his intention is clear, I will not hold my breath, having witnessed the cavalier disregard for scrutiny in Liverpool. When the actual legislation is tabled will be the time to judge. The minister also reiterated the government’s commitment to the city-region of £30 million per year of devolved funding, for thirty years. It seems to me that the Combined Authority is hell-bent on committing those monies to their pet schemes before an elected metro mayor takes up the reins of office!!
Effective scrutiny now might help to ensure that an incoming metro mayor is not hogtied even before taking office. It would be unforgivable for Labour leaders to be party to such a mean-minded strategy, particularly as the Labour nominee is the favourite to be the successful candidate next May.