During yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions David Cameron announced that the Queen, acting on the advice of the Deputy PM, had conferred the honour of official City Status on three cities across the country – Chelmsford in England, Perth in Scotland and St Asaph in Wales – as well as Northern Ireland’s Armagh becoming only the second place from that particular home nation to have a Lord Mayor. The congratulations of the WLLG team go out to each and every person who put their hard work and effort into these bids, and our commiserations go to those who bid but were not successful.
24 towns from all over the country competed for this rare honour, including places as diverse as Wrexham, Stockport, Reading and Tower Hamlets. Each put together a comprehensive bid document which hopefully haven’t all already disappeared from the internet, as each of these shows exactly why each of these places see themselves as worthy of the title, and therefore a place to be proud of. Having known some of those involved in putting these bids together we are only too aware of the effort that was put into them on tiny or non-existent budgets, along with the investment and time local communities made to support them. Regardless of the outcome, none of the entrants should be too downheartened at the result, as the process may very well be just as valuable as the prize.
But why exactly is this prize so valued? What is it about the addition of two words to stationary and signs – ‘City of …’ – which makes such a difference to so many people? The title itself carries no additional funding, no additional power, no additional authority and no additional rights. Some may say that the added prestige attracts businesses and investment, but really this can only be anecdotal evidence at best.
And city status is not the only ceremonial aspect of local government which we get so worked up about. All over the country sit ceremonial Mayors (not to be confused with their elected counterparts, which are a different ball game altogether), sheriffs, chaplains, Honorary Aldermen, Lord-Lieutenants and more. Many of these roles go back decades or even centuries, and few are the town halls which aren’t adorned with wooden plaques bearing the names of previous incumbents proudly in golden lettering for all to see. Few of these roles actually contribute actively to the ‘real’ work and business of the council, and act merely as honorary posts during symbolic parts of ceremonies and meetings.
Why is it that we invest so much of our attention into these roles, despite their arguable superfluous nature? Surely we don’t actually need someone to formally open a meeting of full council whilst dressed in full regalia or wearing pounds of gold jewellery? These are the duties of a meeting Chair and could more than adequately be carried out without so much pomp and ceremony. Do we really need to use such archaic titles and honorifics to describe simple duties, some of which in this time of austerity might be worth taking the principles of Occam’s Razor to? If something could be simplified then should it be? (more…)