Bedford's mayoral election

Bedford's mayoral candidates Image copyright bbc
Image caption Bedford's mayoral candidates

Bedford is the only town in our region to have a directly elected mayor in charge of the running of the borough.

For the last nine years two very different mayors - first the Independent Frank Branston and then the Liberal Democrat Dave Hodgson - have held the post, and the general consensus is that having an executive mayor has been good for Bedford.

So when the people of Bedford go to the polls this week they will be taking part in four different elections.

They will be choosing new councillors for the borough; deciding on the Alternative Vote referendum; there's also a parish by-election; but perhaps most important of all, they will be deciding who should be their next mayor.

Bedford's mayoral candidates

There are five candidates this time round and they all came together to take part in a hustings organised by the local churches.

Dave Hodgson (Liberal Democrat) is standing for re-election having only been in post for 18 months (he took over after Mr Branston died during his second term as mayor).

"We've been ruthless on cutting out council waste," he told the audience.

"We've been able to keep council tax down and yet no libraries have closed, no leisure centres have shut and children's services have been protected. There have also been more road and pavement repairs than ever before."

Mr Hodgson knows that as a Liberal Democrat he faces a tough fight in Bedford, but told us he was proud to stand on his record as mayor and hoped the public wouldn't punish him over his party's role in the coalition government.

John Guthrie (Conservative) told the meeting that under the Liberal Democrats, Bedford had not been run very professionally.

"Ninety per cent of councils in England have lower council tax than we do," he said. "In Milton Keynes and Luton it's almost £200 a year lower than in Bedford."

He claimed that council borrowing had increased under Mr Hodgson and said education in the borough was "a shambles". The attempt to move from a three tier system to a two tier system came unstuck when the Building Schools for the Future funding was scrapped, and Mr Guthrie reminded the meeting that OFSTED had recently downgraded its assessment of education in Bedford from "performing well" to "adequate".

Conservatives - 'favourites to win'

The Conservatives are seen by many as the favourites to win here. They narrowly missed out 18 months ago mainly because of an internal row over their candidate. Mr Guthrie told us that this time the party is completely united.

Michelle Harris (Labour) was honest enough to tell the meeting: "I'd like the job because I think I'd make quite a good mayor, I'm friendly and I get on with people." She is keen to make this election a referendum on the recent council cuts.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Will council cuts affect how voters choose their mayor?

"They are just emotionally and ethically wrong," she said. "They make no economic sense whatsoever."

"In order to send a message to the government to stop these cuts we need people to vote Labour. If people vote Conservative or Liberal Democrat the government will take that as an endorsement of their extreme cuts."

Tony Hare (Independent) is a former Conservative councillor who has been proud to be free of party control for many years. "I'm not controlled by anybody," he told the meeting, arguing that as mayor he would do far more to promote the town, putting river buses and more water sports on the river.

"Why should people go to Cambridge and Milton Keynes to shop all the time?" he asked. He also felt big savings in bureaucracy could be made by combining the functions of the three different authorities in Bedfordshire.

The Green Party's agenda

Greg Paszynski (Green) is a student with the Open University who wants to end the town's reliance on the car.

"I would scrap the planned western bypass, put more investment into public transport and cycle lanes and introduce a 20 mile an hour residential limit," he told the audience. He also wants to encourage new shops to the town with half price business rates on premises which have been unoccupied for a long time.

The Greens admit to having few resources to fight this election campaign and have done very little leafleting or canvassing.

All the candidates were asked to say in one sentence what their top priority would be for Bedford.

For Mr Hodgson it was jobs, Mr Guthrie said education, Ms Harris said she would protect jobs and front line services, Mr Hare would scrap the plans to sell off the old town hall while Mr Paszynski said he would halt the western bypass.

A range of views for voters in Bedford to consider before they go to the polls.