Voters in Croydon chose to elect a directly elected mayor by a landslide in a referendum held yesterday.
A massive 80% of voters elected to switch to the new governance model on a turnout of 21%.
The change will see the leader of Croydon Council be directly elected by voters, rather than selected by fellow councillors, as is currently the case.
The referendum was triggered after 21,000 residents signed a petition organised by the group Democratically Elected Mayor of Croydon.
Campaign Chair of the group, Gerry Meredith-Smith said: “This was an uprising by the residents saying we want to be heard, we want to be listened to, and we want our council to be accountable to the people.
“I think the people of Croydon decided very positively that they want more democracy and accountability.”
Croydon residents will be able to vote for their first directly elected mayor in next year’s local elections held in May alongside voting for their local councillors.
Council leader Hamida Ali will remain in post until then.
The decision comes after a tough period for the Labour-led Croydon Council when council leader Tony Newman stepped down last year just before the council declared bankruptcy in November.
The change to a directly elected mayor was supported by Croydon’s Conservatives, who argued that it would create more accountability and more efficient services for residents.
The result is a blow for the Labour Party who had opposed the change, arguing that it would be an extra cost and would weaken the voices of residents in some areas.
Croydon North MP Steve Reed claimed that £1m would be spent on a mayor, as well as voicing concerns around the ability to remove the mayor, which cannot be done by councillors or residents.
Sean Fitzsimons, Labour and Co-operative Councillor for Addiscombe West said: “It’s a worry that working-class community voices, such as New Addington, could be weakened under a mayoral model as candidates chase voters from middle-class, high-propensity-to-vote areas.
“The Labour Party needs to embrace the change and work to improve the mayoral model and ensure all community voices are heard.
“We need to make the elected mayoral system in Croydon the most effective, open, and most inclusive model in the country.”
Fellow Labour Councillor Andrew Pelling, who supported a directly elected mayor, expressed regrets over the way the campaign was run but said that it now represented an opportunity for Labour.
He said: “Unfortunately, the way that the campaign was run by Labour, they turned it into a vote of confidence in the council.
“However, it is a great opportunity for the Labour Party because every vote will count across the whole borough.
It’s an opportunity for a fresh start.
“We’ve got seven months to go to the mayoral election so I’m hopeful that we can turn this around.”
Just 21% of residents turned out to vote in the referendum, with many being unaware that a vote was even taking place.
Fitzsimons added: “The low level of votes in the referendum shows the low regard many residents have for the council.
“It’s a wake-up call for both senior officers and councillors.”
The election of Croydon’s first directly elected mayor will take place on 5 May 2022.
Featured image credit: Robin Webster, Geograph under Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 License