Elected mayors urged on reluctant region

Cities Minister Greg Clark
Cities Minister Greg Clark
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YORKSHIRE’S cities will be left behind if they do not support the Government’s controversial elected mayors policy, with Ministers warning they could lose out on funding and devolved powers.

In May referenda will be held in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and Sheffield even though the full scale of the powers wielded by mayors will not be revealed until after the vote.

Council leaders have told the Yorkshire Post they are opposed to the idea, and believe the Government’s approach amounts to “Whitehall bullying tactics”.

Liverpool has announced it will have a directly elected mayor without a referendum and Cities Minister Greg Clark praised its “ambitious and dynamic approach which has stolen a march on the rest of the country”.

Mr Clark said that should cities want devolved powers and additional funding they “must show strong and accountable leadership, and a mayor meets that requirement”.

But Wakefield leader Peter Box said he was “disappointed” the Government believed strong leadership “comes from a job title”.

Mr Box says there appears to be little support for a mayor in Wakefield but he will seek the Labour nomination should a Yes vote succeed. He said: “This is Alice in Wonderland politics – people are being asked to vote for something, and only afterwards will they be told what they are voting for.

“The electorate have a right to know what powers any new form of leadership will have that the leaders of councils do not currently have.

“Ministers must understand that leadership doesn’t come from a job title, it comes from the vision you have for a particular area of the country – how does having the title of mayor make a person a strong and effective leader?”

Despite a swell of support for the policy in Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol, so far there is little interest in Yorkshire.

Mr Clark said: “Clearly Liverpool have stolen a march on the rest – it is a dynamic, ambitious bid and we were able to approve their city deal. They have set the pace. Our city deals document states that to take on new powers and funding streams, cities need to demonstrate strong and accountable leadership. Cities with directly elected mayors meet that requirement.”

When asked what position cities that choose not to have mayors would be in with regards to powers and funding, Mr Clark said it was open for them to “suggest a stronger form of governance”.

“We need to deal with the situation we have – that the cities in the UK are punching below their weight internationally, and that is true of Yorkshire cities,” he said. “Leeds does not have the national profile, less the international profile, that I believe it should have.

“I passionately believe that it is important to have that strong local leadership for cities to punch above their weight.”

Clive Betts, Sheffield South East Labour MP and Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, believed Mr Clark’s comments were a tactic to stimulate interest in a policy that has little public support in Yorkshire.

“I don’t see how they can guarantee stronger leadership from an elected mayor than you get from the council model – a council leader is held to account on a daily basis by the councillors at the authority, a mayor is only held to account every four years,” he said. “The Government should make it clear that if you do not have a mayor, what do you have to do to get extra powers? It is unfortunate that it is being used as a bribe to get people to vote in a certain way, the Government is trying to stimulate interest by offering something.”