Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Doncaster mayor election: Who will really hold power?

Doncaster Civic Offices
Image caption The mayor may be elected by the people of Doncaster, but with whom will he or she share the corridors of power?

An elected mayor normally has the power to make all the decisions in their town or city. But this might not be true for whoever wins in Doncaster on 2 May.

They will have the title, the salary and their seat in Doncaster's new £20m council building, but the government will be looking over the new mayor's shoulder.

Worse still, after years of failings at the council the first job for the successful candidate may be to hand over the running of one of its most important departments to an outside body.

Government commissioners have been in the town since 2010 and a report being compiled as the voters go to the polls may recommend that Doncaster's children's services department is taken away.

It is not being run well enough according the the government.

In March 2009, the government ordered a takeover of Doncaster's children's services after the deaths of seven children in the district through abuse or neglect over five years.

"Chaotic, dangerous and weak" was how the department was described before the government took it over.

'Terrible incident'

Then in April 2009 two boys were attacked and tortured by two other boys in Edlington.

The subsequent serious case review said nine agencies involved with the family of the guilty boys missed 31 opportunities to intervene.

The council issued an unqualified apology for "failings which led to this terrible incident".

If things do not improve Doncaster faces being the first council to have a department taken away.

A neighbouring council or a private company might be drafted in to keep the town's children safe.

However, the rot has not been restricted to how the local authority looked after children - councillors acting like children have also led to intervention by central government.

Politics was getting in the way and the council chamber had been described as a classroom.

In June 2010 a team of three commissioners was sent in to sort out what Communities Secretary Eric Pickles called "15 years of poor governance and dysfunctional politics".

The intervention is due to end in July 2013 and the council says it has improved both how it is run and how children's services is managed but the lead commissioner Rob Sykes is not convinced.

In February he said: "Some form of intervention will be required for at least another year and possibly longer."

Slashed budget

Doncaster was one of the first places in the country to take up the offer of having an elected mayor in 2001.

The town decided to keep the system in 2012 after a referendum. While Sheffield rejected the idea, 62% of voters up the M18 wanted it to stay.

The idea of elected mayors pushing projects through quickly has been realised in things like Doncaster's airport, football stadium and college.

But there was a feeling Doncaster had forgotten the bread and butter of looking after its residents.

The money spent during Doncaster's Labour years is not there any more and, whatever the arguments about government spending and austerity, the fact is the town's next mayor will be looking at a budget that is £90m lighter than it was in 2010.

With the possibility of losing a major department, and with the government controlling the council, will Doncaster's mayor on 3 May really be able to claim they hold the power in the town?

This year will be the fourth time people in Doncaster have voted for a mayor, the job seems to get tougher every time.

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