Salford is largely overlooked with the bright lights of neighbouring Manchester attracting the majority of headlines but by Friday, the city will become one of the first in the North West to adopt an elected Mayor.
Once home to Emmeline Pankhurst, 18.1% of the Salford’s voters elected for change in a January referendum and they will now return to the polling stations to decide who they want to run their city, with Mancunians also holding a similar referendum on Thusday.
The successful candidate will either elect a cabinet to aid them in running the city or choose to go it alone.
On Thursday night, nine of the ten Mayoral hopefuls attended Salford’s MediaCityUK for a live debate on BBC Radio Manchester.
Liberal Democrat Norman Owen originally criticised Labour candidate Ian Stewart’s non-attendance saying: “It’s either Labour arrogance or political cowardice.”
Cllr Stewart then clarified that he did not wish share the stage with British National Party’s Eddy O’Sullivan, saying in a statement: “I’ve never been prepared to share a platform or give the oxygen of publicity to any racist or xenophobic organisation.”
Chaired by Allan Beswick, a presenter at Radio Manchester, the panel faced questions from resident Salfordians about how they plan to tackle the issues burning in the public’s minds.
The audience were given a taste of each candidate in ‘minute manifestos’ with UKIP’s Bernard Gill saying: “I’m not a career or professional politician. I’m a pensioner who is concerned about the decline of our city.”
All attending candidates were then asked what salary they would seek as elected Mayor and whether the council’s Chief Executive role would be reduced from £200,000 a year.
Community Action Party’s Michael Moulding opened the bidding at £35,000 a year but independent candidate Paul Massey received the largest applause when he said: “I’ll do it for free. I want to do it as the voice of the people.”
English Democrats’ Michael Felse raised eyebrows, stating he would ‘take it all’ before clarifying that 26% would be given to Salfordian charities.
Many of the candidates said they would review the Chief Executive role with Mr Moulding saying he believes the present occupier of the post to be ‘incompetent’. Current Chief Executive, Barbara Spicer, declined to comment.
The nine were then asked whether immigrants received favouritism in housing allocation, causing heated outbursts from some audience members and rebuttal from most panel members.
Mr O’Sullivan called for a change to the current housing allocation system and said he believes unfair practices are occurring.
Green Party’s Joe O’Neill, a former councillor, disputed this saying: “I had some cases that were depressing. When I went home at night I was almost in tears.”
“At no time did I find someone saying to me in housing ‘Because he’s black he’ll get something quicker than you’,” added Mr O’Neill.
Conservative hopeful Karen Garrido alleged that Labour council has created a housing crisis by demolishing what she perceived as ‘perfectly good houses’.
Mr Felse enforced this point and said there are 12,000 vacant Salford properties which would go some way to easing the 14,000 strong housing waiting list.
An audience member’s loud protestations at the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties led host Allan Beswick to wrestle order back as the debate turned heated.
The panel all called for a tough stance on crime with Independent Pat Ward saying: “We need zero tolerance on gun crime, knife crime and any other serious crime.”
Next on the agenda was how the hopefuls would boost local economies as well as the effect parking charges have on private transport for the elderly.
Cllr Owen was among the panel members calling for free parking around small businesses and added that private hire vehicles carrying vulnerable groups would enjoy the same access rights of hackney cabs.
The panelists were then asked for practical initiatives to reduce unemployment with Pat Ward saying that businesses moving to Salford should pledge jobs for Salfordians.
The former council worker said: “I’d say ‘This is what we want. If you create 1,000 jobs, we want 100. If you create 1,500 jobs we want 200.’ Make a stipulation don’t say ‘We want jobs’ and they say ‘Well here’s six.’”
Mr Felse outlined his plans to halve council tax in Salford, having previously stated to Mancunian Matters that Salfordians pay on average £200 more than residents in neighbouring Manchester.
Green Party’s Mr O’Neill, a former budget spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, described the pledge as ‘pie in the sky’.
Councillor Owen added: “Everybody would love to reduce the council tax but if we’re going to do it, we’ll do it prudently.”
Speaking on Salford’s education standards, Mr Massey said: “It needs addressing about respect and what morals are. It’s not taught in schools today.”
Cllr Garrido said a ‘light touch’ would be adopted by the council for performing schools and said: “I don’t want a child coming out with just a piece of paper.”
The Conservative candidate added: “Give them the life skills that they’re actually going to use.”
When asked to open the debate on protection of services for the elderly, Mr Gill joked: “Why always me first? I feel like Mario.”
The UKIP candidate went on to add: “I don’t think the elderly that have paid their dues for over 50 years should have to be charged and sell their homes to pay for care.”
Finally, all candidates were asked how they would improve Salford’s image including using MediaCityUK.
Mr Gill said: “When I worked on the docks in the 1960s, it was a shambles. It was derelict after the docks closed and MediaCity has certainly changed that.”
Having previously prompted an investigation which saw 21 Doncaster councillors convicted of fraud, Mr Felse added he would create dialogue between public and council with whistle-blowing encouraged.
The debate ended with a loud cheer when an audience member weighed in with his suggestion to ‘get rid of the Labour party out of Salford’.
The full debate is available until May 3 by visiting http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00r6h5c