Can West Yorkshire find a mayor for the huge task ahead?
Seven candidates to choose from on May 6
It's an area with three cities, more than 30 towns, well over 200 distinct villages and countless suburban districts.
At 40 miles wide and 30 miles north to south, the county covers an area 29% larger than Greater London, where the first of the directly-elected metropolitan mayoralties was created in 2000.
In London, the public were able to initially have a say on there being such admistration through a referendum. Then came the mayoral elections with the post initially held by Ken Livingstone and later Boris Johnson.
In these socially-distanced times, West Yorkshire is the last of England's metropolitan counties to embrace this US-style elected-mayor system, here with one mayor covering five very large metropolitan districts. It was, however, a Government requirement of obtaining an agreed budget for the years ahead. The election was due to have been held last year, but the Coronavirus pandemic has seen the postponement of that election to 2021.
It now means that there will now be two elections on May 6 in West Yorkshire, one for district councillors and one for the West Yorkshire mayor.
Although referred to as devolution, the mayoral responsibilities will include those once dealt with by committees of a West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council and, since its abolition after just 12 years in 1986, by committees of district councillors from each metropolitan district. These have been organised since 2014 as the West Yorkshire Combined Authority. Now the public's choice of elected mayor will be the chairman of that authority rather than one being simply elected from among the district councillors serving on it.
Public transport will be one of the issues on the agenda of the new mayor. One decision to be made will be the correct type of transport for a new transit system for West Yorkshire with its needs for commuting within the county over distances often greater than those in Greater London.
The experience of Greater London shows a mayoral system to be capable of sweeping change based on the preference of one mayor over the next as we recall that bendy-buses introduced under mayor Ken Livingstone in 2001 were cast aside 10 years later by Boris Johnson. The now-Prime Minister became well-known for his competition to design a new bus, also for 'Boris Bike' cycle hire similar to that in Paris, unimplemented designs of a 'Boris Island' Thames Estuary airport and a cable car across the Thames. The start of construction of Crossrail in 2009 was also during his time as London mayor and is eventually planned to be opened in 2022.
As well as police and transport roles, the new West Yorkshire mayor will have housing and planning responsibilities, including a power to set up a Mayoral Development Area, and have finance powers, including a power to set a precept on Council Tax.
The Combined Authority will continue to exist as now with the new mayor added as chairman. It will continue to have responsibility for some decisions while only acting as advisor to and scrutineer of the mayor on others.
The authority will continue to be made up of: an appointed representative of each West Yorkshire metropolitan district council -
There will, of course, be those for whom party allegiance is forever to the fore. But other factors will also also come into play here. One will be choosing someone with the abilty and experience to be able cover such a wide-ranging remit of responsibilities across so many communities in such a wide area. Also, many people in West Yorkshire will want to see someone who can act with fairness and sensibility in the distribution of projects across all five metropolitan districts rather than an uneven bias towards the development of one city or town at the expense of others. Above all, honesty and integrity will need to be key qualities.
The decision having been put to the people of West Yorkshire we hope they will find out who their candidates are and make a wise choice for the future.
Voting in the West Yorkshire mayoral electon will be under the supplementary vote system. An optional second choice vote can be marked on ballot papers and will be counted for that candidate if your first choice is not one of the top two in the count of first choices.
The term for the first West Yorkshire mayor will be three years and future mayors will be elected for four.