City mayors ‘deserve more powers’

By Alex Stevenson

Plans to use mayors to drive the economic recovery will only succeed if they are given more powers, former Cabinet minister Andrew Adonis has warned Eric Pickles.

The director of the Institute for Government thinktank has outlined his proposed improvements to the coalition's current proposals in an open letter to the communities and local government secretary.

Under current plans referenda will take place in 11 English cities on whether they should create a mayoral post. Ministers will be able to hand mayors extra powers after the referenda have taken place.

Lord Adonis wants ministers to give mayors extra powers before the votes, in a bid to convince the public that the transition is worthwhile.

He recommends strengthening mayors' planning remit, giving them the power to appoint up to three Cabinet members from outside the council and handing them a veto over the council chief executive's appointment.

Sam Sims, who has authored an accompanying IfG report, said: "The experiences of cities that have already adopted the mayoral model provides reassurance to people in the 11 cities now preparing to vote that it can work, and work really well.

"Above all, learning from these valuable experiences will enable new mayoral authorities to prepare carefully, and manage any risks effectively."

He suggested that mayors will be most successful if they concentrate on making the most of their 'soft' powers, including influencing investment decisions and education and training.

The DCLG said the government was keen to encourage the introduction of mayors where local people wanted it.

"The government believes that every major city in the country should have the opportunity to be led by an elected mayor, and we are legislating to allow this to happen where local people want it," a spokesperson said.

"Mayors will be able to provide strong leadership, improvements in social outcomes and build civic pride in their cities while ensuring that our biggest cities are genuine drivers of economic growth – both for the benefit of the city and the surrounding area."

Persuading voters that introducing mayors is a good idea could prove challenging, however.

The IfG has recommended dividing the referenda into two stages, with Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds going first, to increase the chances of other cities accepting the proposals.

"In these cities, the debate on mayors is also more advanced than in the others and the example of London has already made an impact," Lord Adonis explained.

"If these three cities vote in favour of mayoral elections, they should take place earlier than initially planned, in September 2012. This would avoid a period of possible hiatus between 'yes' votes and elections whilst allowing enough time for candidate selection and campaigning."

The DCLG spokesperson added: "We do not presume to know what's best for these cities, and would expect the majority of suggestions for new mayoral powers to come from the cities themselves.

"We will consider carefully the content of the report, in particular recommendations around potential mayoral powers, as we continue to take forward and develop our plans for city mayors."