Scottish Labour calls for introduction of regional mayors to 'empower' local communities

Scotland needs more “Andy Burnhams” and “less SNP puppets”, according to Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.

The party has proposed a system where a mayor could be elected by communities for a Scottish council area, with the individual able to have a different political affiliation to the local authority’s governing party.

Mr Sarwar said the “mayor's model” could allow for better transport and economic infrastructure and is a concept Scottish Labour “fully support”.

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However, he said such a model would have to be “underpinned" by a "fairer and more secure” funding settlement for local councils based on the services it delivers and determined independently.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, as Scottish Labour has also set out plans for a "Barnett-style" funding formula for councils, saying local authorities should receive funding based on services they deliver (Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire).
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Speaking before a joint appearance with Greater Manchester mayor, Mr Burnham, the Scottish Labour leader said Scotland should learn the lessons of local and metro mayors elsewhere in the UK.

Mr Sarwar said the impact and platform Mr Burnham had to battle homelessness, champion transport integration and challenge ministers’ biases at the height of the pandemic highlighted the benefits of a system that champions strong local voices.

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Under the proposal, Mr Sarwar said: "Communities can elect local champions and take the fight for their local community to governments in the form of a regional mayor so we get more Andy Burnhams and less puppets from the SNP councillors."

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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham (Photo: John Devlin).

The mayor plan is part of Scottish Labour’s calls for a Local Democracy Bill.

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This Bill would allow local authorities themselves to change the way they work, which would create more regional governance such as joint boards or establishing regional mayors.

Scottish Labour said the mayoral system would be voluntary and a mayor could represent several councils in one region.

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Asked by The Scotsman about the impact the introduction of mayors would have in Scotland, Mr Sarwar said: “What this is, is an antidote to this push to crush localism that we’ve seen across the country.

"I’m not suggesting that we have a system of mayors and that is the solution or a silver bullet that answers all the challenges we face in terms of empowering communities and reforming democracy. But what I’m not willing to accept is this pretence that everything in Scotland is great and everything that happens in Westminster is bad.

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"Every layer of our government needs to change.”

During the event, both Mr Sarwar and Mr Burnham called for a change to the unelected House of Lords by introducing an elected “senate of the nation and regions”, giving more power, responsibility and voice to every part of the country.

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Mr Sarwar also said the Scottish Parliament needed to change both in terms of its own “accountability and transparency” by “pushing power out” to empower those local communities.

Scottish Labour’s Bill also calls for Milly’s Law, based on the Hillsborough Law model, to deliver transparency and justice by resetting the balance in favour of the victims in cases where they have been failed by public bodies, as well as creating a centre of excellence for public service and a new body tasked with sharing best practice across the country.

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Mr Sarwar said: “Under the SNP, Scotland’s councils have been cut to the bone and callously sidelined.

“Just as Andy Burnham has stood up for Greater Manchester in the midst of the pandemic, so too could mayors in Scotland deliver meaningful and transformative change.”

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