LEEDS could be “punished” by the Government for rejecting its elected mayors policy, according to council leader Keith Wakefield who claimed the referendum was distraction from the real issue of unemployment.
Almost two thirds of people voted against having a mayor in Leeds but Coun Wakefield said he feared the city would be “punished” for its choice and called on the Government to devolve more powers to the region – an issue he will raise in the coming months,.
The turnout for the election was low with only 31 per cent of people voting on whether to abolish the existing council structure and install a new figurehead.
Coun Wakefield said it was “quite clear” the referendum was not a major issue.
“I am delighted that the people of Leeds have made a democratic statement,” he said. “It’s time Government listened more to Northerners – it’s quite clear this whole exercise has been a distraction for people living in Leeds, who are very concerned about unemployment, investment and transport.
“But what I think is important is that although we’ve now clarified the future of the governance of our city, we should not be punished in any way for this choice.
“We want to have discussions with the Government straight away, now that the people have decided, to talk about devolving powers – real powers – down to the city, so that we can address the economic needs of our city region.”
The “No” camp won the referendum comfortably, gaining 63 per cent of the vote, compared to only 37 per cent for the Yes group.
But the campaign director for Vote Leeds Vote Mayor, Samuel Fisher, said he believed Leeds would look “enviously” to Bristol – the only city to have voted in favour of a mayor – in five years time and residents may choose to have another referendum
“We have had more than 60,000 people who say they actually do want a change in how a democracy is run locally and that’s nothing to ignore, “ he said.
“In five years time there could be an opportunity for the people to have their say on this again.”
He added: “The result isn’t surprising since all three of the main parties were against it and especially the ruling party (Labour) had people campaigning against a directly elected mayor.”