“I thought maybe I can do something better” – Cllr James Jamieson

Cllr James Jamieson is the Leader of Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC), and represents the Westoning, Flitton and Greenfield Ward.

He decided to stand in 2009 as he was irritated about things he saw. Such as ignored potholes and traffic lights at roadworks when no one was working.

Councillor James Jamieson was first elected to Central Bedfordshire Council in 2009. He was elected as Leader following the 2011 elections. Image: Central Bedfordshire Council

“I thought maybe I can do something better – do you moan about it or do you try to do something about it?

“So, I chose to do something about it.”

This meant spending two months knocking on doors and explaining why he was standing for election.

“I think the best way to persuade people to vote for you is to go out and talk to them.”

Apart from a few pointers given to him by an existing councillor, Cllr Jamieson went into his campaign cold. This lack of training is something CBC is working on to encourage more people to stand at the next election.

It will be releasing an information pack on becoming a councillor and it may repeat its ‘Be a Councillor’ training day.

Are councils deliberately slow and complicated to deal with?

Many people have preconceptions on the workings of their local councils. Such as they are slow, inflexible, overstaffed and wasteful. When asked about the biggest surprise when he started as a councillor, Cllr Jamieson said:

“There are a lot of passionate people working for the council. A lot people who work very hard and very capable.

“They just operate in completely different environment to the private sector.

“The surprise was just how good these people are.”

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Click on the play button to hear the full interview with Cllr Jamieson, where he also talks about the Local Plan

Devolution from central government would give councils a greater share of planning profits

He does admit that the council can be slow due to the processes and regulations involved. He does feel that some of these delays could be minimised if there was more devolution to the council from central government. Especially when it comes to planning.

He said that planning devolution could allow council to extract more from the uplift in the value of the land:

“There is a huge profit gain for the landowner when it [the land] goes from being agricultural fields to building permission.

“Most of this goes to the landowner. Why shouldn’t a bigger proportion of that go to local residents in the form of new facilities or improved services?”

However, he concedes that government doesn’t seem very keen on any greater devolution to local authorities.

Mayors have too much power

One change to local authorities that government did make was to introduce the option of an elected, executive mayor.

CBC doesn’t have an executive mayor. Instead it splits the role between the leader of the council and the council chairman. The chair is a ceremonial role and the leader is about policy. Whereas an elected mayor does both.

A referendum is no longer required to introduce this role to a local authority. When asked if he could see himself as Central Bedfordshire’s Mayor, Cllr Jamieson said:

“Personally, I don’t like the mayoral model. I think that it is too much power invested in one person.”

Being part of a team is important to the councillor. When asked what he had achieved as Leader of the Council he said that the improvements to services and infrastructure were down to the council and not to him as leader.

“There are a lot of good things that we [the council] have delivered. That’s 59 councillors and some 2,500 officers.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve done [in my time as leader].”