Just 12 months ago Leicester stood where Birmingham is now standing – on the cusp of the most significant constitutional change the city had seen in generations.
For many people, the prospect of an elected mayor for Leicester was something they rightly questioned.
It was a step in to the unknown. Of course it created fears and raised questions that couldn’t be immediately answered.
Some people raised concerns about the prospect of an unaccountable autocrat being given a green light to push forward their own agenda. Others asked whether this would open the doors to someone without the skills or experience to do the job. And what of the role of Lord
Mayor? Would this new elected mayor spell the end of decades of civic tradition in the city?
It is inevitable that people in Birmingham are feeling some of that uncertainty now.
When Leicester City Council decided it wanted an elected mayor to run the city, it took a brave step.
Only a handful of cities in England have an elected mayor, so there is relatively little experience here of how the role works in practice.
Across the world, though, most big cities have elected mayors and the strong leadership they give is widely seen as indispensable.
But I believe the role of city mayor doesn’t just boost leadership. My experience as city mayor of Leicester tells me that it also increases democracy and accountability.
Elected mayors provide a direct way for people to choose the person they want to provide leadership for their city. People clearly feel a much closer connection to the role of city mayor than they ever did to the leader of the council.
I can say that from experience, having previously been the leader of Leicester city Council for more than 17 years.
The mayoral election campaign in Leicester unquestionably renewed people’s interest in local governance and how the council works.
With my election rivals, I took part in a series of public hustings ahead of the mayoral election last May. The debates were some of the liveliest, impassioned and well informed I had been involved in for years.
They were also well attended. In short, the mayoral election reinvigorated local democracy in Leicester in a way that nothing else has for decades.
In my experience, people care deeply about their city. My view is they should be able to challenge anything they think isn’t in its best interests.
I was elected by a clear majority on a clear manifesto. I fully expect to be held to account for the delivery of what I pledged to do in that manifesto.
And there is no doubt where the buck stops now. As city mayor, I am fully accountable for the decisions Leicester City Council makes.
This is a major step forward and has helped us pave the way for fundamental changes in the way our council makes decisions, how it makes them public and how they are then scrutinised.
We are currently in the process of preparing the first city mayor’s annual report. This level of transparency could never have been possible in the days of council leadership being up for grabs every year.
My initial term of office is for four years. This gives a stability that allows my colleagues and I to take a longer-term view of what we want to achieve for Leicester.
Being city mayor isn’t simply a case of running the city council. An elected mayor has the opportunity to speak with a strong voice on behalf of the city, representing its interests in all manner of areas. Where council services begin and end shouldn’t be an obstacle to moving those aims forward.
I believe that when people voted me into the role of city mayor, they were also voting for a new model of leadership that could take the city forward.
An elected mayor is able to be a figurehead for the shared hopes and ambitions of the people in whatever city they serve. For me, this is a responsibility that I am proud to have been chosen to take on.
* Sir Peter Soulsby is a former Labour MP and first elected mayor of Leicester