Vanity bridge shows problem with mayors | Letters

An artist’s impression of the proposed garden bridge across the River Thames. Photograph: Heatherwick Studio/PA

Sadiq Khan’s belated realisation that London’s garden bridge was selling the taxpayer down the river (A garden bridge too far, 29 April) brings into sharp relief the role of directly elected mayors. Like the bridge, they are unnecessary and unwanted, and run counter to British municipal traditions, whereby the leader is chosen by his or her peers as the first among equals. American-style mayors and cabinet government were foisted on to the electorate by Tony Blair, seriously harming councils’ accountability to the public and reducing backbench councillors to little more than lobby fodder.

With the Conservatives intent on condemning local government to death by a thousand cuts, it is surely time to conduct a root-and-branch review of local democracy. Rather than top-down government by autocratic mayors and centralised grant-funding from parliament, it would be infinitely preferable to devolve revenue-raising capabilities to the local level, with public participation to decide spending priorities, similar to the process of participatory budgeting practised in Porto Alegre, Brazil. This would invigorate local democracy, prevent money being wasted on vanity projects like the garden bridge and confine clowns such as Boris Johnson to the Westminster circus.
Bert Schouwenburg
International officer, GMB

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