Bid to force election of mayor

PLANS are underway to force Great Yarmouth borough into having an elected mayor and leader of the council, rather than having one chosen by the ruling political party.

PLANS are underway to force Great Yarmouth borough into having an elected mayor and leader of the council, rather than having one chosen by the ruling political party.

The move, which organisers say would be "good for democracy" would mean 3,500 people eligible to vote in the borough need to sign up to call for an elected leader.

The new mayor would effectively be the figurehead of the authority and the "buck would stop with him or her," say the organisers of the plan, former borough and county councillor Trevor Wainwright and current leader of the Labour group on the borough authority, Cllr Mick Castle.

The two told the Mercury they are not putting forward the idea as anything political, but instead hope it would create a "bit of excitement" in the borough where election turnouts have historically been very low in recent years.

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Anyone could put their name forward to stand; indeed Hartlepool, an area similar in size to Yarmouth on the north-east coast, has had an elected mayor and leader since 2002. Stuart Drummond stood as an independent as a joke as H'Angus the Monkey - something which found favour with the electorate and he was swept in under a tide of disillusionment with local politicians.

Mr Drummond, a former football mascot promised free bananas to schoolchildren; since then he has been elected for a third term - and it is a full-time job with a full-time salary. The former call centre worker with little or no council experience seven years ago, now runs an authority overseeing 4,000 staff and a �100m-plus revenue budget.

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Mr Wainwright said: "We think it would invigorate Yarmouth" and Mr Castle added he believed it would prevent Yarmouth from being "pushed about in the county and give us a bigger say."

An elected leader would choose his own cross party cabinet, effectively getting rid of the current Tory or former Labour-controlled groups.

The two men hope to reach their 3,500 signature target by the end of this year which would mean a formal election for a mayor/leader at the same time as the expected General Election in May. The new leader would be in place for four years before coming up for re-election.

Gavin Foster, deputy editor of the Hartlepool mail said: "In our experience, having an elected mayor has had an incredibly positive influence on the town and has certainly put Hartlepool on the map.

"In the first instance, it wasn't necessarily for the right reasons. The people of the town voted in a monkey mascot as mayor - which probably reflected the apathy of the electorate of the time to all things political and the cynicism of what an elected mayor could psossibly do for them.

"But Stuart Drummond certainly showed there was more to the man behind the mask than he was given credit for. He was recently voted in for his third term after winning what was one of the most keenly contested elections for mayor to date. The popularity speaks for itself."

There is no political party control in Hartlepool but the mayor has overall control of local services and leads the council - as would any elected mayor in Great Yarmouth borough, said Mr Wainwright and Mr Castle.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? E-mail or write to her at The Mercury, 169 King Street, Great Yarmouth NR30 2PA


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