Backlash threatened over plans for elected mayors

THE Government is facing a backlash over its plans to impose mayors on four Yorkshire cities after signs of a coalition split.

Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem deputy leader, has voiced concerns over the plan, which would see council leaders in Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Wakefield "rebadged" before a referendum to see whether voters want an elected mayor running their city.

Ministers say the move is logical but critics claim it is an attempt to rig the referendum so voters back the idea of an elected mayor despite opposition from many senior councillors in the region.

With Labour also branding the "shadow mayor" proposal undemocratic, Mr Hughes' intervention will heap pressure on Ministers to rethink their plans. MPs could seek to make changes to the Localism Bill to ensure a referendum takes place before any job titles are changed.

Mr Hughes said he was not opposing the Coalition Agreement pledge to hold a referendum in 12 of England's biggest cities but said it was wrong to re-title council leaders beforehand.

"We ought to allow those cities to have that debate and then, if they vote for directly elected mayors, so be it," he said.

Shadow Local Government Secretary Caroline Flint said creating shadow mayors would give that person an advantage if they were subsequently to stand for mayor. "It cannot be right or democratic for the leader of whatever party it might be to have such an advantage in a mayoral election," she said.

A study by the Local Government Chronicle today claims moving to mayors in 12 cities could cost 3.3m in redundancy payments to the authorities' chief executives, whose posts would no longer be required.