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Stand-alone role of Durham mayor faces axe
THE stand-alone role of mayor of Durham, which dates back more than 400 years, could disappear, under a shake-up announced today (Wednesday, March 20).
Durham County Council leader Simon Henig said having one person serve as mayor and council chairman would save hundreds of thousands of pounds in taxpayers’ money.
He told a County Hall meeting Labour would pursue the change if it holds the council after May’s elections, but it represented ‘no threat at all to the mayor of Durham’ and was simply a matter of reducing costs.
Chester, which has had a mayor since 1240, had already made the change and “the walls are still standing”, he said.
However, Liberal Democrats, who control the Charter Trustees which appoint the mayor, said it was an attempt to scrap the mayoralty.
Lib Dem leader Nigel Martin said: “If it’s seen that the county makes a takeover of the historic, hundreds of years old mayor of Durham City, there will be all hell to pay at the ballot box.”
Former mayor Dennis Southwell said city residents would be appalled.
However, Labour Charter Trustee Jim Cordon said the Lib Dems regarded the mayor’s office as their own political powerbase and the role was costing £102,000 a year.
Coun Henig said the mayor had cost half a million pounds since 2009 and its hospitality budget had increased by more than 20 per cent in each of the last two years.
He accused the Lib Dems of “staggering hypocrisy” and Coun Southwell of making “utterly ludicrous” comments.
The title mayor of Durham dates to 1602 and is the fifth most senior in the UK, after London, York, Belfast and Cardiff. The mayor ranks third in the local hierarchy, after the Queen and the Lord Lieutenant.
Durham’s mayor has a ceremonial bodyguard – the oldest of its kind outside London, dating from the 13th century.
The row came as Coun Henig announced a review of civic expenses.
Earlier this month, it was claimed the council paid its chairman and vice-chairman so-called clothing allowances totalling more than £12,000 a year.
Making her first public remarks on the row today, current chairman Linda Marshall said some comments had been personal, downright nasty and untrue and insisted neither she nor any other council member received a clothing allowance.
The money was for “unavoidable” costs including charity events, cards and catering, she said.
“This is not a clothing allowance and it’s time all members respected the position of the chairman and let’s stop deceiving the public,” Coun Marshall said.
A cross-party constitutional working group will begin the expenses review, which will include the costs of the mayor of Durham, next week.