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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Anger over trade union’s campaign against elected mayor

A row has erupted over a union’s decision to campaign against having an elected mayor in Copeland.

Brian Dixon photo
Brian Dixon

The GMB union has written to its members in the area urging them to oppose the move when the issue goes to a referendum on May 22.

But the email has infuriated some GMB members, prompting at least one to resign and another – a former long-serving official with the organisation – to declare that the union has gone too far.

In the message, Newcastle based senior GMB organiser Chris Jukes says: “This email is just to make you aware that the GMB union, your union, has a policy of opposing elected mayors on the grounds that all the evidence is that they do not add value to local government and if anything are a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“Copeland is a relatively small council whose budget has been decimated by budget cuts brought on by the Coalition Government.

“In Cumbria services are provided by county council, district borough councils, and parish councils.

“In our view an elected mayor in Copeland, which will cover the whole of that council’s area, not just Whitehaven, will be a sheer waste, indeed an abuse, of public money.

“Paying tens of thousands of pounds to a mayor for some services but not all is being driven by a small number of individuals who believe in democracy as long as they are in charge. In short they are fighting over scraps.

“What is much more of public interest, from the feedback to us, is the future of local government across Cumbria, in other words all the councils that make up Cumbria.

“As cuts bite and if they continue until 2020, many of the current councils in Cumbria will be on their knees and a radical review may be needed along the lines that has already happened in the counties of Northumberland and Durham to name but a few.

“Taxpayers’ money, particularly at this time of austerity, should not be wasted on a gold chain around someone’s neck just because some disaffected and undemocratic people want to be a local big fish in a small pond. For these reasons we would ask you to vote, to reject the proposal for an elected mayor and vote no.”

Sellafield worker Sean Duffy, 46, was so disgusted by the email that he has resigned form the union.

The father-of-two said: “The union is there to help employees, and to negotiate pay deals and that kind of thing. I don’t think they should be getting themselves involved in these local issues.

“I’m supporting the yes campaign for an elected mayor because there has been a huge waste of money and there is no transparency or accountability. With an elected mayor, if there is waste, then the buck stops with that person. We’d know who’s to blame.”

Mr Duffy argued that an elected mayor would be chosen by the whole borough, giving him or her a real mandate, unlike the current system which provides a council leader chosen from within just one ward, representing a small percentage of voters.

Retired veteran GMB organiser Brian Dixon – also an independent councillor for Distington – said he agreed with Mr Duffy.

He commented: “I think the GMB has overstepped the mark. The good people of Copeland have the good sense to vote as they wish.

“They don’t need a trade union 100 miles away to tell them how to vote.”

Mr Dixon said the union was “scare-mongering” over the cost of an elected mayor, arguing that it would be cheaper than the current system.

Mr Jukes said those opposed to the union’s strategy have a right to their views, but he insisted the role would not be appropriate for Cumbria.

He said the taxpayer would have to pay the mayor’s salary – saying it would be around £60,000.

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