Hands-off the Lord Mayor… it’s too important a role for us to cast aside

Even when needs must and belts have to be tightened, I would suggest there are certain things that ought to be sacrosanct.
In our house it’s Heinz Baked Beans and my monthly copy of The Wisden Cricketer magazine. Everything else is up for discussion as far as I’m concerned.
This, admittedly simplistic approach to thrift, is how I believe Stoke-on-Trent City Council should approach its cost-cutting measures.
Make no bones about it, the situation is grim. Council tax will rise and 358 jobs will be made redundant as the local authority attempts to find savings of £24 million.
The public consultation is already underway on a sweeping cuts package which could see the axe fall on care homes, lead to fewer bin collections and result in reduced opening hours for the city’s libraries and museums.
Amid this financial carnage, I was heartened to read that the council’s business services scrutiny committee had refused to endorse another money-saving suggestion: Getting shot of the Lord Mayor.
Apparently, doing away with the ceremonial role – complete with car, chauffeur, hospitality, allowances and a secretary – would save around a £130,000 a year.
However, by my reckoning, dumping 83 years of heritage simply isn’t worth the cost saving.
Frankly, I’d rather see the back of another highly-paid senior manager than have Stoke-on-Trent lose its first citizen.
Better still, we could save tens of thousands of pounds by doing away with the six-week British Ceramics Biennial funded by local taxpayers who haven’t a clue what it actually is.
My friend and fellow Sentinel columnist Fred Hughes said recently: “I’m in favour of the mayoralty but there are question marks over the value it holds in times like these.”
Unusually, I have to disagree with Fred this time.
In my book, if we want to be a city worth the name then we have to draw a line somewhere when it comes to cutbacks and, for me, that line starts with the Lord Mayor.
During my 20-odd years as a hack I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing and working with many of the city’s first citizens during that period.
In my opinion you simply cannot put a price on having a figurehead travelling around the Potteries bringing gravitas to so many occasions.
I think of the numerous picture requests The Sentinel’s photographic department receives from people eager to tell us ‘We’ve got the Lord Mayor coming to open it (whatever it happens to be).
People care about this role. It means something. Having the Lord Mayor attend your do – whether it be a charity gig or a more formal occasion – is hugely significant.
Simply having the Lord Mayor there in his/her civic regalia adds a touch of class and raises the profile of thousands of events and makes people feel they, and their do, are a bit special.
In my role at The Sentinel I work closely with colleagues from the city council and help to organise major public ceremonies such as The City Of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality of the Year Awards.
As well as a host of sporting personalities from our neck of the woods such as Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor and Gordon Banks OBE, in recent years this event has attracted the likes of Lord Coe and Stuart Pearce OBE.
I simply can’t envisage organising such events without planning for having our first citizen on the red carpet to greet the VIPs – and the hundreds of local people for whom such nights are a treasured memory.
It was certainly no surprise to me that when the 10 contenders for Stoke-on-Trent’s Citizen of the Century Awards were chosen last year they included Doug Brown.
Doug, perhaps best known as the founder of Ladsandads, is the only person to have been Lord Mayor of our city twice.
As well as being a thoroughly nice and genuine bloke, he was also an outstanding ambassador for our city – something which was only made possible by his role as first citizen.
For me, the Lord Mayor is a position to which we should aspire and a role to be cherished.
It is one piece of the family silver which should not be tinkered with.

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