Small turnout for Keynsham debate ahead of referendum on elected mayor for B&NES

Published on: 04 Mar 2016

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March 2016

Change or consistency and continuity – those were the options residents were asked to choose between at a debate on whether B&NES should vote to have an elected mayor or stick with the current system on March 10.

Chaired by Rev Stephen M’Caw, Philip Raby of the Mayor for Banes campaign and leader of B&NES Council Tim Warren put their very differing views to a small audience of around 40 at Keynsham Community Space on February 22.

Mr Raby called on residents to vote for a directly elected mayor in the referendum, which he believed would give B&NES a “stronger champion” as power and money was devolved to the West of England and prevent the lion’s share going to a Greater Bristol.

Mr Warren, however, said he felt a mayor would be “costly, unnecessary and another layer of bureaucracy”, while the success of the Somer Valley Enterprise Zone bid over Bristol and the £2 million of government funding awarded to B&NES to ease the impact of funding cuts, while Bristol missed out, showed “no evidence” a mayor would be more powerful.

One of the first questions reflected the small turnout at the meeting, when one audience member asked how many people both panellists thought would come out to vote in the referendum.

Mr Warren said, from speaking to residents, he believed there was a low level of interest while Mr Raby said he hoped there would be a big turnout – “But you can’t make people vote,” he added. “The responsibility is on all of us campaigning to let people know about it.”

A question sent in via Twitter asked whether an elected mayor would be a stronger voice for Keynsham.

Mr Warren said: “No, your local members for Keynsham give the strongest voice. Local members can go to the leader and put a gun to his or her head and say, ‘This is what we need in Keynsham’. The leader has to listen to members. I can have access to ministers fairly freely and I can’t see a mayor would get any more.”

Mr Raby said he felt there would be no problem for towns and communities to “have the ear of the mayor”.

Justifying any extra cost in creating a mayor in a time of pressure on frontline services was another issue raised by an audience member.

Mr Raby said councillors would set a mayor’s salary and added “National Insurance contributions pale into insignificance” against council money lost in the past through “a lack of leadership”, citing projects such as the mothballed James Dyson college in Bath and the Dorchester Street bus gate scheme.

Tim Warren said: “There has been waste in the past, and we are looking at every bit of waste as we can’t afford not to.”

Bringing the debate to a close, Mr Raby’s final message was: “I think we can do better in terms of the way the council is run, I hope you vote for change.”

Mr Warren concluded: “We need continuity, we need to save money. If it’s not broke, why risk it?”

The referendum on how Bath and North East Somerset Council should be run is taking place on Thursday, March 10, between 7am and 10pm.

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