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The public should know all we can about the business of the decision makers that affect our lives, our wallets and our democracy. This is a record of my efforts to try and improve the levels of transparency and accountability within Sheffield City Council and others. To shine a light on how decisions are made and where the money goes. If I can also help others to find their own voice and influence along the way, then that is a bonus.

Monday, 21 May 2018

SCR Mayor Election – A Unique Experience?

Friday the 4th May 2018 was the day the first Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, and possibly the only Mayor of the SCR was elected.

Polls closed Thursday at 10pm but the count did not start until 9am the next morning. The result was expected around noon but, as ever, things did not go quite to plan. I was given accreditation to attend the count as part of the Sheffield Live TV contingent, with a view to securing some interviews with candidates during the count or after the result.

One candidate was missing from the off, Ian Walker (Conservative) was apparently in Japan for a business engagement, perhaps a sign they did not expect to make much impact. The rest of the line up of candidates were all present each with various degrees of confidence being displayed, I ran into Dan Jarvis MP as we both arrived at about the same time and, consummate politician that he is, he demurred my suggestion he was a likely winner, expressing hope rather than certainty.

Connecting with Sheffield City Council Chief Executive, John Mothersole I asked for an update on the count and the likely declaration time. He seemed confident that this would be before 1pm. However, 1pm came and went and despite a calm atmosphere overall there was clearly something not quite going to plan.

It transpired when SCR staff updated the candidates and then the press that there was an issue in Barnsley over an imbalance between verified votes and the actual count. In other words when the ballot boxes were first opened and invalid papers removed the remaining valid ballot papers came to one number but, after the individual votes for candidates were counted and totalled, those numbers did not match. This is not allowed.

Consequently we had not one but two recounts before the two numbers from Barnsley matched and still it was not over. To a certain amount of surprise amongst many, although in the lead after the first preference votes were counted, Dan Jarvis MP received only 47% of the required 50% to win. There were looks of trepidation in the Labour camp. We were now into a period of counting second preference votes. This would add at least another hour or so to the expected declaration time.

Probably one of the more interesting aspects during all this hanging about was catching some of the gossip and spotting the local politicos who were or were not there. Mayor Ros Jones from Doncaster was there but declined to say anything in front of camera, as an observer only. Sir Steve Houghton, Leader of Barnsley Council was not there. Whether this is indicative of the relative interest from the two dissenting Councils is still to be seen. Meanwhile, there were also appearances from Julie Dore (Leader of Sheffield Council), Paul Blomfield MP & Alan Billings (South Yorkshire PCC)

Of the gossip, hearing someone call Steve Houghton as having seemingly gone rogue was surprising and may not bode well for an early resolution of the current impasse.

I decided at this time to try and grab some of the first round losing candidates for interviews. Hannah Kitching (Lib Dems) was first up as she was also standing in the local election in Barnsley, where she later won the Penistone Ward. The English Democrat, David Allen left immediately so no interview there but the rest of the candidates were happily forthcoming. and I also managed to line up interviews with a senior officer from the City Region and the Vice Chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

Of the interviews, Dan Jarvis MP, the winner was the last as following the declaration he suddenly became the property of the SCR and the press handlers stepped in to control his exposure. The full results can be seen here. The compilation video of the interviews is below, along with the new Mayor's speech.

Labour's Dan Jarvis elected as South Yorkshire region mayor from Sheffield Live on Vimeo.

The Mayor's first formal SCRCA (or will it now be SCRMA?) meeting is 11th June and this will mark 3 months with no apparent political or public oversight of the City Region's activities. It will be interesting to see whether the Mayor has a view on when will be his last formal meeting, 2020 or the legislated 2022?

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