Ministers bid to save mayors from poll scrapheap

Bradford councillor David Green
Bradford councillor David Green
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THE Government is holding talks with political leaders in Yorkshire about the possibility of a “metro mayor” with power across entire city regions.

A referendum on a proposal for elected mayors in 10 cities in England – including Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and Sheffield – was overwhelmingly rejected in all but one poll earlier this month.

However the Yorkshire Post can reveal talks are already under way about resurrecting the concept, but rather than covering city boundaries, the mayor would be elected by a whole city region.

The Leeds city region includes Bradford, Wakefield and York while the Sheffield city region takes in Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and Chesterfield. The “metro mayors” would potentially be given significant powers over major regeneration and transport infrastructure decisions.

Sources have told the Yorkshire Post that some political leaders in the region, who were opposed to the original city mayor concept, have already expressed interest to the Government in supporting a possible “metro mayor”.

The Department for Communities and Local Government welcomed the move, and a spokesman said it will be “up to local people to decide if they wish to make a case for a mayor over a larger area”.

“It was right that local people were given the chance to decide how their city is governed, rather than having a mayor imposed upon them,” he said. “We want our cities to have the powers they need to build a prosperous future.”

Ahead of the referendums, the Government promised devolved powers and greater funding for cities with mayors, as well as a seat at a mayoral Cabinet in Westminster.

Following the policy’s battering in the polls, council leaders in Yorkshire are now demanding those benefits are still offered to all cities which rejected the plan, stating “resources should be allocated according to need, not as a way of influencing a public vote”.

Leeds Council leader Keith Wakefield said: “In the absence of a Government strategy for the North, it is more important than ever that cities like Leeds secure greater local and regional decision making powers – and those powers must be matched by funding.

“I hope the Government now chooses to work with us on these priorities rather than punishing people in Leeds for rejecting an elected mayor.”

David Green, leader of Bradford Council, said: “I have written to David Cameron outlining that Bradford needs devolved powers and funding regardless of whether there is an elected mayor or not.”

Sheffield leader Julie Dore said: “There seems to be this idea that you need a mayor to go out and campaign for Sheffield in Whitehall, do they think council leaders sit locked in their offices waiting for the phone to ring? “As soon as I started this job I wrote to six different Ministers and I’m out there every day fighting for this city.

“David Cameron said this mayoral Cabinet would mean cities benefit from access to him, well Nick Clegg is a Sheffield MP who as Deputy Prime Minister has access to the Prime Minister every day and it’s not done us any good.”

Cities Minister Greg Clark said the “no” votes would not mean the end for elected mayors. Highlighting the positive vote in Bristol along with mayors now in place in Liverpool, Leicester and Salford, he said: “Sometimes change comes step by step through demonstration rather than revolution. Those four cities will prosper and be examples of what can be achieved. Others will watch with great interest and have a chance to join them in the future.”