Guildford mayor referendum rejection would mean decade of no council change

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Guildford Borough Council is validating signatures on the petition, submitted by former councillor Monika Juneja, which asks for a referendum on the way it is run

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Former councillor Monika Juneja created the petition

The current leadership system at Guildford Borough Council could remain unchallenged for 10 years if a referendum calling for an elected mayor is rejected, it has been claimed.

A petition calling for a referendum on whether the council should change the way it is run, with an elected mayor instead of an executive committee, was submitted this week by a former councillor who is awaiting sentencing for forgery offences.

A directly-elected mayor would differ from the current ceremonial mayor of Guildford and would ‘concentrate power in the hands of an individual’.

It could mean that a rival petition seeking to take power away from one individual would not force a referendum.

Monika Juneja, who last month pleaded guilty to three counts of forgery, one of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception and one of pretending to be a barrister, created the ‘elected mayor’ petition, which was signed by supporters outside polling stations on election day.

Ms Juneja is the business partner of council leader Stephen Mansbridge, who has declined to comment on the petition, which asks for a referendum on ‘whether the council should be run in a different way by a mayor who is elected by voters for the area the council serves’.

A petition in Guildford must attract at least 5,012 signatures if a referendum is to be held and Ms Juneja’s has collected 5,116.

Susan Parker, borough councillor and leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), said she had a conversation this week with Satish Mistry, executive head of governance, and John Armstrong, democratic services manager at the council.

Cllr Parker claims she was informed that if a referendum is passed, a mayor could be elected in May 2016.

However, she said she was told that if the referendum was rejected, the council would be committed to the current system for 10 years, and the constitution could not be reconsidered during that time.

Guildford Borough Council is understood to be reviewing this advice.

Earlier this year, the borough council completed a review into whether it should change the way it is run from the current executive format to a committee system.

That change was not recommended, although it was suggested that the local authority moved to a hybrid system. This would involve additional advisory boards and introduce a unified scrutiny committee.

The review was sparked after GGG launched another petition, which has attracted more than 3,500 signatures, calling for a referendum to be held on changing to a committee system.

Cllr Parker said that a mayoral system was a step in the opposite direction to what the group wanted.

“I think the mayoral system concentrates power in the hands of an individual, and a committee system, what we are in favour of, spreads that power across the council so that all councillors, no matter which party they are from or for whom they stand, will have the ability to influence and help to determine policy,” Cllr Parker said. “That is not really the case as it stands.”

Cllr Parker said a mayoral system would limit the ability to discuss or raise questions about any decisions made.

The council is currently validating signatures on the ‘elected mayor’ petition.

If there are insufficient valid signatures to force a referendum, the petitioner has 12 months to find more.

Ms Juneja, of Doverfield Road, Guildford, is due to be sentenced at the Old Bailey on Monday June 15.

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