by Mark Chillingworth

Mayors could lead local transformation

May 02, 20123 mins
IT Leadership

Many parts of the UK go to the polls today to vote on councillors, who will be mayor of London and whether cities across the country will follow London and opt for a mayor. Coventry, Liverpool and Salford are just some of the cities considering their mayoral future. 
I hope the cities considering a mayor opt in favour. I have no real political leaning, I don’t live in London, but do work most of my week in the capital and from what I see it’s been a beneficial development for the capital. It took a mayor to bring in congestion charging and the policy was without a doubt the most significant policy a mayor could have introduced; improving all levels of transport in the capital. 
But less about London, which dominates the news too much. Every region of the UK is mired in multiple levels of bureaucracy that is frustrating for residents, employers, visitors and those working within it. County, borough, district or unitary, the end result is that there is a constant confusion about who in authority is responsible for what. Who do you inform over potholes, litter or share an idea with for your street, town, village or city? This spaghetti junction of authority creates a stasis at the very juncture in our national history when we need decisiveness. The financial downturn following the banking failures and the widespread change going through society led by technology is putting immense pressure on failing high streets, infrastructure, education and communities. 
CIOs and IT leaders at all levels of local authority have shared with me off the record that as a country we cannot continue to support so many tiers of authority, especially when financial resources are so low and the need for results so imperative.  These same IT leaders are desperate to transform the local services their authorities offer through technology driven delivery and organisational efficiencies. But they can only transform so much before the need for full organisational transformation is required and that’s what today’s vote must begin. 
Local government today is closer to Charles Dickens’ Circumlocution Office of Little Dorrit and needs to transform itself into the Richard Hannay of the 39 Steps, bold and decisive. Just with a little less of the public school bravado that Hannay and our PM exhibit. 
A mayor for our cities, and hopefully in the fullness of time our counties, will create a single point of contact, complaint and accountability. Whether it’s those potholes, litter, traffic, planning or an idea, a central leader and office will simplify accountability and reduce the layers of confusion. I don’t doubt there is justified fear that a mayor will be overtly politicised and potentially open to corruption. Recent history has reminded us of this with the MP expenses scandal. But the current system is not immune to corruption as some parts of the country can attest to. 
In my own local authority, a tiny borough on the North Downs, the council has two major office buildings while a civic building of real beauty and pride to the town moulders unused. County council has a fine and large civic building and lord knows how many other sites. Mayors could put some pride back into our civic buildings, streamline operations, transform service delivery and enable technology leaders to drive through the promise IT has for local services.