Calls for Swansea elected mayor

As the campaign for an elected mayor for Cardiff has officially been lauched, could Swansea soon be the centre of similar discussions? If one campaigner has their way then Wales' second largest city could be that little bit closer quite soon.


Craig Lawton has kicked off the debate by suggesting that Swansea Bay's City Region could go one step further and have an elected mayor at its head.


Although the UK's most iconic and memorable directly elected mayor may currently be London's Boris Johnson, there are in fact 18 cities and regions that have to date adopted directly elected mayors, with others soon to follow. These include cities like Manchester, LIverpool, and Bristol.


Mr Lawton said: "With the Swansea Bay City Region now in place and taking shape this seems like the perfect time to look at whether the current system of Council Leader and Cabinet is the right one for the region going forward.


"If Swansea is to remain the important force it is withn Wales, while also increasing UK and internantional influence, then a city mayor could be the way to go."


Mr Lawton, who is the Welsh Conservative candidate for Swansea West at next year's Assembly elections, went on to say "We are already seeing how the influence of Sir Terry Matthews is benefitting Swansea Bay as the current Chair of the City Region.


"Sir Terry has already convinced BT to bring a new, extra super-fast broadband system to Swansea in what will be a first in the UK.


"Just think what other benefits we could see coming to Swansea Bay if we had a City Mayor fighting our corner." 


Bristol recently had a local referendum to allow local residents to decide whether a City Mayor was the right option for them, while Cardiff have followed suit in the last week. The question that follows is, should Swansea take the plunge as well?


Mr Lawton said "Locally it is often said that Cardiff gets everything and Swansea is forgotten.


"Cardiff is currently working towards its City Deal which could be worth £1 billion over the next ten years.


"It is important that Swansea is not left behind and a City Mayor could be the first step along that road to even further sucess.


"It would also mean that we could do away with leaders of each of the local authorities who, in some cases, could be seen as competing against each other for local investment in their areas.


"Instead all councillors would then be able to scrutinise the mayor and hold them to account. An elected mayor would also have the benefit of being able to bring together councillors from across the political spectrum to form a cabinet."


At present 10% of a city, or region's, voting population must sign a petition within six months for their to be a referendum on whether an elected mayor is the right option or not. Cardiff has just started that process and needs to collect just over 20,000 signatures for there to be a vote.


It is not just Mr Lawton who is looking at the possibility of a City Mayor for Swansea Bay either. Daran Hill, who is orgaising the "Mayor 4 Cardiff" campaign is interested in the plans.


Mr Hill said: “Every local authority area in Wales should at least consider if a directly elected mayor works better than the current structure. Ultimately it’s about trusting and empowering the people of Swansea to choose the system that works best for them.”


Mr Hill has previously spearheaded organised the "Yes for Wales" campaign in the 1997 and 2011 referenda to establish and extend the powers of the Assembly.


In case you thought it was only some of the UK's largest cities that have chosen an elected mayor, some smaller ones have as well, while a number of regions, very similar in size to Swansea Bay's City Region hasve as well. These include the Sheffield City Region, Watford, the West Midlands, an even Torbay in Devon.


Mr Lawton added "One potential option could be to make a referendum part of the requirement of the Swansea Bay City Region.


"That way we would see local people have a say in how Swansea Bay moves forward."


Craig's comments appeared in the South Wales Evening Post on Monday 22nd February 2016