Local elections: What is a directly elected mayor?

Hackney Town Hall

Hackney Town Hall - Credit: Julia Gregory LDR

Local voters get to choose councillors and a directly elected mayor when they go to the polls in May.

The borough is one of only four in London to have a directly elected mayor.

The role comes with an £85,375 salary and overall responsibility for the council’s services, including housing, adult social care and leisure, and a £1.2bn annual budget.

The salary is more than double the £40,679 allowance for the leader of Islington Council, which is also a political appointment.

Two-term Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville is looking for a hat-trick, but a range of candidates will be vying to unseat him.

Glanville was first elected in 2016 with a 18,257 majority, with the Greens in second place. The turnout was 16 per cent of those eligible to vote.

He was re-elected in 2018 with 42,645 votes. This time the Conservatives came second with 7,183 votes, with a 36 per cent turnout.

Hackney Mayor Phil Glanville. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Current mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville - Credit: Emma Bartholomew

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When Hackney first chose a directly elected mayor, just 26 per cent of people cast a ballot, giving then Labour council leader Jules Pipe the job with 13, 619 votes.

Unlike the council elections, which use the first-past-the-post system, Hackney’s mayor is elected using the preferential system, in which voters pick the candidates they favour.

Hackney was one of the first London boroughs to adopt the directly elected mayor model in 2002, along with Newham and Lewisham.

The move had to be endorsed in a referendum and the role “gives a council clarity that the leadership of the council is not going to change” for the next four years.

The mayor is not a councillor and could belong to a different party from the majority of councillors.

So unlike council leaders who have come up through the ranks as a councillor, they could have no experience of local government, like H’Angus the Monkey, aka Stuart Drummond, the mascot for Hartlepool FC who stood on a “free bananas for schoolchildren” ticket in 2002.

Jules Pipe, Mayor of Hackney, defended the freesheet

Jules Pipe, Mayor of Hackney, defended the freesheet - Credit: Archant

Council leaders who are also councillors can fall foul of their group – which can see changes of leadership. The controlling group on the council does not have the same power.

For anyone throwing their hat into the ring for this May’s elections, support is on hand.

The new mayor starts work immediately after the election result is called – with an induction period to help them get to grips with the daunting role.

They can get a leadership mentor from the Local Government Association, along with briefings and extensive support from senior staff at the council.

One of their first roles would be to draw up a new corporate plan for their first year in office – which is crucial as it sets the tone and aims for their term.

It will include targets for spending and has to align with the budget.

They also have to appoint a deputy mayor – who would step in if the mayor was taken ill or resigned, until an election could be held.

Getting the annual budget passed could be a crunch time for any mayor at odds with councillors – if they refuse to pass it, control of the council would be passed to Whitehall and the mayor could expect to be job-hunting.

So what can the new mayor expect after May’s elections?

Hopefully the annual mail will settle down from the 3,000 to 4,000 letters and emails a year during the pandemic to the more usual 1,500 to 2,000 annual postbag.

The mayor does not just represent the borough but can have a wider impact on lobbying national bodies – such as about the Windrush scandal or proposed voter ID rules.

They also have the power to sack the council chief executive and senior officers – but new appointees have to be chosen by a committee.

Critics of the mayoral model say it gives too much power to one person. However, many mayors, like Hackney’s current incumbent, delegate to councillors on the cabinet of top politicians.

Hackney has had a directly elected mayor for 20 years, so the system is now older than some of the 18-year-olds who will get to vote in May for the first time.

The system could be scrapped though – as Hartlepool’s was. Such a move would have to be agreed in a referendum, as would the removal of an unpopular mayor.