Currently the council has a traditional Mayor who chairs the council meetings and acts as a civic representative. The Mayor makes no political decisions. Political decisions are taken by the leader of the council and the Portfolio Holders for specialist areas.
Some councils, for instance Lewisham, have gone over to a system where the decision making is concentrated in one person, an elected Mayor. This is the same system used in the Greater London Council, where Boris Johnson and previously Ken Livingstone have been the all powerful Mayors. Under the Mayoral system, the council still hold the Mayor to account and have to approve the budget. Councillors focus more on policy development and scrutiny and representing the interests of their wards.
There are some advantages to having a political Mayor. Decision making is said to be more efficient and streamlined. The public also have a greater awareness of who their political leaders actually are. The Mayor doesn’t have to come from the existing councillors. In one borough, the local football team’s mascot was elected as Mayor.
In favour of the current system is that decision making is less centralised and involves a wider range of views. Whether that works out in practice is debatable.
All councils have the power to hold a public referendum on whether or not they want to move over to an elected Mayor. Bromley council have carried out some initial consultation. There was a very poor response, though with a small majority in favour of changing to a Mayor. However, the majority group are recommending that there should be no referendum this year.