Counting cost of a limo for mayor

Former Mayor Lily Menderson and a previous (much bigger) mayoral car
Former Mayor Lily Menderson and a previous (much bigger) mayoral car

They are the civic figureheads of towns and cities, attending hundreds of community events and representing their areas on high-profile occasions.

But even the historic position of mayor is being scaled back in some places, as council budgets are squeezed in the wake of massive public sector spending cuts.

Screenshot of Peter Callow on the BBC programme Top Gear

Screenshot of Peter Callow on the BBC programme Top Gear

Some say spending should be cut to protect other more vital services, but others say the historic position is integral to the community and insist it should not be diluted.

One area in the spotlight is how the first citizens get from A to B.

In the last full mayoral year of 2015 to 2016, just less than £5,000 was spent on the two cars used by Blackpool Council, with thousands more spent across the county.

The Blackpool authority, which owns a Jaguar for the mayor and a Rover 75 for the deputy mayor, spent £4,929.33 on the vehicles which covered about 280 events between them.

I think there might be people who object to removing the role of mayor because it’s ingrained in local government and it is part of civic tradition

The mayor’s chauffeur is paid £13,435 per year, working 25 hours per week.

In Fylde, just less than £7,500 was spent, while Wyre Council spent a total of £21,635 on the chauffeur and attendant service, with the mayoral car owned by an external provider.

Bur community representatives and former civic leaders say the role of mayor provides value for money, and should be preserved as it is.

Coun Peter Callow, who was Mayor of Blackpool in 2015-2016, said: “I think the role is very important indeed.

Former Mayor of Blackpool Councillor Peter Callow

Former Mayor of Blackpool Councillor Peter Callow

“People seem extremely pleased to see the mayor at community events in mayoral robes, there’s no doubt about that.

“We’ve had mayors from different political persuasions.

“As mayor, you don’t always know what’s going to happen when you go somewhere.”
Coun Callow starred in the trailer for the rebooted Top Gear last year, alongside Chris Evans and Friends actor Matt Le Blanc on Blackpool’s Prom.

He said: “They were dressed for the part - I was getting soaked to the skin.

Peter Callow during his time as mayor

Peter Callow during his time as mayor

“But when I had done my piece and was going back to the car Matt Le Blanc ran after me, put his hand on my shoulder and said ‘fantastic, you should have been an actor’.

“These are experiences for the person who’s the mayor that particular year, I was born and raised in this town so obviously it’s with great pride that I took the job on and I think should continue.

“It’s not all that expensive, and I think the role should continue as it is undoubtedly - I was so proud to be the mayor of this town because I was born here.”
Coun Callow, whose wife and fellow councillor Maxine was also mayor in 2004-5, said the money spent was justified.

He said: “It’s part of the history of the town. You might think people aren’t interested in it nowadays but they are.

“It’s worthwhile, and it’s certainly worth the money.”

Coun Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council, said: “In 2011, we returned the Mayoral limousine, which was costing approximately £9,000 a year, to the lease company, and bought a second-hand, much more fuel efficient car for £10,625. We bought a personalised number plate for £250, we maintain the vehicle carefully, and it continues to look the part six years on.

The Mayoral role is relatively low cost when you consider what is involved.

“Not only does the mayor attend almost 300 events, promoting local businesses and raising thousands of pounds for local charities but in the last 12 months has also helped promote the resort to millions of people on both Top Gear and Radio 1, which is great publicity for the town.”

Dr David Stewart, senior lecturer and course leader in BA history, BA modern world history and BA history, museums and heritage at the University of Central Lancashire, described the spending on mayoral cars as “tiny” in the context of cuts to local authority budgets.

He said: “If you compared them to figures in the past, you would see there’s a big reduction in spending.

“It’s part of local tradition, it’s part of the council structure and some would say it’s part of the perks of being a mayor.

“I think local mayors will continue, but there may be an emphasis on removing the ceremonial perks.”

He said potentially removing the use of mayoral cars would be a “gesture”, and said: “I don’t think anybody is seriously abusing the funds.

“If the councils can save a little bit of money, I would imagine a lot of local people would say why can’t they use their own car or a taxi.

“I would see it as a bit of a storm in a teacup in the wider context of cuts.”

Dr Stewart described the role of mayor as a “focal point”, and said: “As long as that person doesn’t get excessive perks, I think most people like the idea of having a local figurehead.

“I think there might be people who object to removing the role of mayor because it’s ingrained in local government and it is part of civic tradition.

“Whether they retain it with the financial perks is another matter.”

Facts and figures surrounding the first citizen

Figures gathered through Freedom of Information requests show spending across the county on mayoral cars and chauffeurs, in the last full mayoral year from 2015-16.

At Fylde Council, almost £7,000 was spent on the Volvo S80 between April and October 2015 while it was on contract hire, followed by a further £422 once the car was owed.

There were 239 engagements for which the mayoral car was used, taking Coun Peter Hardy to various events. A spokesman said: “The decision on contract hire against purchase was subject to a full cost appraisal and the car was tendered via a purchase framework agreement. The car was picked as a medium size car by a working group who looked at if the car would be fit for purpose, cost, residual value, running costs etc.”

The council said the chauffeur’s salary was within the scale of £17,891 to £19,939.

In Wyre the mayoral car, a Chrysler 300, is owned by an external provider. The total cost for the chauffeur/attendant service over the 12 months was £21,635.

A spokesman said the service was procured following a tendering exercise, and said: “The Mayor plays an important civic role within the borough.

“They are responsible for chairing full council meetings and carry out ceremonial duties including hosting a number of functions throughout the year, many of which raise funds for charity.”

History of the ceremonial post

The mayor acts as the town or city’s first citizen, meaning they speak on behalf of the area and are part of its identity, and represent local people at civic and ceremonial events.

The first citizen has to be a councillor, and must be selected to serve in office by their colleagues.

The role of the mayor is to chair council meetings, and to act as a ceremonial head representing their area at engagements throughout their year in office.

The ceremonial role is to be a civic figurehead at annual events, as well as other one-off high profile engagements.

A charity is chosen each year for mayors to support during their year in office, with the current Mayor of Blackpool Coun Kath Rowson choosing Trinity Hospice.