A Mayor for Nottingham? Big-city ambition or small-town mentality?

This is a longish post. Apologies for that. I wrote elsewhere about how the political geography of Nottingham excludes more than half the people who call the city home from taking part in the mayor referendum.

Back in the 90s a process of local government reform gave an opportunity for boundaries to be re-drawn with the intention of simplifying things, particularly where two different local government bodies – in Nottingham the old versions of the City and the County Councils – provided services on the same patch. A second thrust of the change was to create local government bodies that serve recognisable and identifiable places and communities.

Those in political power in the City of Nottingham (capitalisation is important here) at the time (not so different a group from those running things now) jumped at the idea of being in charge of all the services provided in the part of the city conurbation already under their control but balked at the idea of extending that geographic area to, or even towards, the edge of the countryside around the city.

Their counterparts at the County Council adopted an ‘it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach in an attempt to hang one to all they then had but shire Tories were pretty happy to move to this new arrangement, that’s what happened, and as a result West Bridgford, just two miles from Old Market Square, is still not in Nottingham and if you live there you don’t get to choose the new mayor, or even help to decide if their should be one.

Cynics amongst you may note how well this arrangement served both Labour and Conservative parties, entrenching and strengthening their positions in the City and County respectively.

A single-tier conurbation wide authority that includes more Conservative (capitalisation important again) voters from ‘leafier’ suburbs with a higher tendency to turn out to vote would not be a safe playground for Labour; it could easily turn the city blue.

Keeping those suburbs in the County makes life easier for the Tories there; they need votes in the south to counter Labour leaning Mansfield and Worksop (though it’s not always enough for them to stop the reds getting in).

Did any of that matter until now?

I think it did because for the last decade or so Nottingham has found itself fighting at every turn some or other reputation slight that is based on statistics for the under-bounded (that’s the term unfortunately) City of Nottingham rather than for the whole place that we call Nottingham.

All of these issues are real and need addressing, particularly in the City of Nottingham, but the whole of Nottingham was never the gun-crime capital of Britain, or any other crime capital (except, let’s be honest, for domestic burglary at a time) nor is it the binge-drinking capital of the country, nor has it ever been, as C4’s dumb Relocation, Relocation claimed, amongst the worst places to live. Quite the opposite, a lot of it is a great place to live – as evidenced by Not-Nottingham-West-Bridgford (Rushcliffe) coming out toppish in their list of best places to live at the same time.

Perhaps worst of all Nottingham’s kids have been told (if they were listening of course) over and over that that they go to some of the worst schools in the country and that they get some of the worst exam results (even if both are improving fast) of all kids in the country simply because like is not compared with like.

Include the results from schools in West Bridgford, Beeston, Carlton, Arnold etc and kids from the whole of Nottingham out-perform kids in Leeds and other big cities.

While all this has been going on – in boom times and as we moved into and hopefully towards moving out of crisis and austerity – Nottingham has been competing for resources and inward investment (meaning jobs, it’s all about jobs) with places without these reputation issues to tackle, without these issues distracting them from selling themselves to potential investors. Those running Nottingham and all those they employ and their partners in the private sector have achieved a lot, but could more have been achieved, and how much more quickly, if the city were not so often on the back foot?

Could many more jobs have been attracted to the city if those doing the attraction had not had to start their sales pitch by trying to explain out of the investor-decision-equation those dismal, unrepresentative stats? Did Nottingham sometimes not even make an investment shortlist simply because of those stats?

Back in the 90s I think it was the self interest of local politicians and their parties when considering local government reorganisation options that, in good part, though they were not to know it at the time, got us into this under-bounded reputation pickle.

Now can that self-same self-interest be trusted to do the right thing anytime soon about Nottingham’s political geography? Who might move to create the single Metropolitan authority that properly represents and truly reflects the views and ambitions of all, or at least a good majority of all, the people who call Nottingham home, regardless of what internal (under)-boundaries there may be?

I think an independently elected mayor (even a Labour or Tory one, which is probably what we would get … unless …..) would have a freedom from party-politics and a desire to push for this absolutely necessary change.

Any mayor for the just the hole in the middle of the Nottingham donut will soon feel the squeeze of not being able to influence planning, transport and a wide range of other issues that affect the whole city, will want to fight the corner of the Nottingham we all call Nottingham and will tire of explaining to residents of Rushcliffe or Beeston that s/he is not their man or woman when common-sensibly s/he should be.

Maybe you too think that a Metropolitan Nottingham with big-city ambition to take us forward is a better set-up than the small town mentality that maybe holds us back today?

I’m not saying that we elect a new mayor and then a Metropolitan Nottingham is bound to happen, but I am saying stick with what we’ve got and it’s bound not to.

The political ‘colour’ of any successful mayoral candidate is less important than the nature of the place he or she is elected to serve and less important than the way in which he or she is chosen.

Again, for me, it’s an issue of democratic principle. The established political parties are not going to see it that way.

Choosing at the referendum on May 3rd to move to electing an independent mayor and then making moving towards creating a Metropolitan Nottingham a key election issue in November is the best chance we have to change the way Nottingham is defined, is run and is seen by others.

It’s the chance we have now. So it matters now. And it’s your choice.

(Just so long you live in the under-bounded hole-in the-donut bit of Nottingham).

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