Campaign group against directly elected mayor launches ahead of referendum on how Newham is governed

A referendum on how Newham is governed is to take place on May 6. Picture: PA

A referendum on how Newham is governed is to take place on May 6. Picture: PA - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

A group campaigning against keeping the directly elected mayor model of governing the borough has been launched.

Newham Mayor Rohksana Fiaz. Picture: Ken Mears

Newham Mayor Rohksana Fiaz. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Newham Voting for Change is made up of councillors and residents who want to see the authority run by committees of elected members instead of the current set up.

The choice between keeping the mayor model or switching to committees will be put to Newham voters in a referendum due on May 6.

Cllr John Whitworth, speaking for the group, said: “The mayor promised this referendum as part of her manifesto in 2018 and we’re very pleased the date and ballot question have been confirmed.

“Voters will get a meaningful choice between the current system and a more open, inclusive and democratic system in which all councillors get a say in determining council policy.”

Newham first directly elected mayor. Sir Robin Wales. Picture: Ken Mears

Newham first directly elected mayor. Sir Robin Wales. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Josephine Grahl said the group was set up to make the positive arguments for the committee system.

Ms Grahl characterised it as “a co-operative, democratic system which gives a stronger voice to elected councillors and residents”.

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“This is a real alternative to the mayoral model and we hope residents will support our campaign,” she said.

The group maintains voters have a “genuine” choice between a model where a mayor and cabinet chiefs make decisions and a “real alternative” where committees of elected councillors decide.

Under the current model a mayor is directly elected by voters for four years.

The mayor appoints a cabinet of up to nine councillors to make decisions. The mayor cannot be removed from office by a vote of the full council.

Under the committee model, decision making would rest with Newham’s 60 councillors who appoint a leader and set up committees of members to take decisions.

The borough’s first directly elected mayor, Sir Robin Wales, took office in May 2002 and remained in power until 2018 when the current incumbent, Rokhsana Fiaz, was voted in.

In the postal ballot on whether to adopt the directly elected mayoralty model in January 2002, a total of 27,263 voted for and 12,687 against on a 25.9 per cent turnout.

Elected mayoralties have been abolished in Stoke-on-Trent, Hartlepool and Torbay.

There are currently 15 elected local authority mayors in England and eight metro mayors.

Ms Fiaz’s term in office would continue until the next local elections in May 2022 whatever the outcome of the referendum.

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