Cameron backing for city Mayors

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AN ELECTED Mayor along the lines of London’s Boris Johnson could rule over huge swathes of West or South Yorkshire if the idea wins local support, David Cameron has revealed.

The Prime Minister is “open to the idea” of an elected Mayor governing across an area like the Leeds or Sheffield city region in a bid to boost their economic fortunes, he told the Yorkshire Post.

The prospect has been raised after former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine and former Tesco boss Terry Leahy proposed a Merseyside Mayor in a report commissioned by Mr Cameron into how to turn around Liverpool.

But Mr Cameron said he would not force the idea on anyone.

“I’m a great fan of city mayors,” he said. “I think great cities need great mayors, I think they can bring a leadership and an ability to get things done, I think we see that in London, I think we see it in Middlesbrough.

“I think the interesting thing about the Heseltine report is that you don’t have to have the same way of doing things in every part of the country.

“If the people in Merseyside are particularly keen on having a city region mayor, that’s something the Government would want to listen to.”

He said he could see “some strong arguments” for the Meryseyside Mayor but that did not mean Leeds had to do the same. Asked if he was open to more city region mayors, however, he added: “I’m open to the idea.”

Adopting city region mayors would be a dramatic advance beyond the Government’s current plans, which are to hold referendums in England’s 11 largest urban areas, including Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Wakefield, about whether people want an elected mayor to run their city.

A city region mayor would govern across council boundaries. The Leeds city region stretches across 11 local authorities – Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield and York along with North Yorkshire County Council.

Meanwhile Sheffield City Region covers eight councils – Barnsley, Bassetlaw, Bolsover, Chesterfield, Doncaster, North East Derbyshire, Rotherham and Sheffield.

With little appetite for city mayors at the moment and tensions between Leeds and Bradford hampering the city region’s Local Enterprise Partnership, there appears little chance of the idea getting far in Yorkshire despite the prospect of the role having extra clout to rival Boris Johnson.

Former Labour Minister Andrew Adonis recently called for voters to be given the option of city region mayors.

Speaking at the annual lunch of the Newspaper Conference, which champions regional newspapers, Mr Cameron said: “Localism’s not just giving local areas more power it’s about saying if you want to arrange things in a different way you can arrange things in a different way.”

Recommendations put forward in the report for Liverpool include moving civil service jobs to Merseyside and pooling business rates across the region’s six authorities.

They also urged the Government to base the Green Investment Bank in the city – pitting it against Leeds in seeking to host the new institution.

Mr Cameron acknowledged there are “many bids” to host the bank, which will help fund green infrastructure, but admitted he was “keen to tap into the energy and enthusiasm there is in Liverpool for regeneration”.

The Prime Minister also admitted frustration at the time it is taking for legal checks before money can be handed to projects through its Regional Growth Fund. “I’m very confident the Regional Growth Fund will be a success story,” he said. “The Government is frustrated things take a bit longer than you want them to.”