A report in the Times this morning said that Theresa May is considering relaxing the policy whereby local authorities after far reaching control over spending and transport must have a directly elected mayor.
Some councils are at stalemate over devolution due to infighting and political differences over the necessity of having a mayor. Leeds and Sheffield turned down the idea when floated by Labour in 2012.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said: “The Government’s position on devolution and indeed local devolution hasn’t changed. The Prime Minister has personally championed devolution; supports the deals already in place and we will continue to work closely with the local areas and we remain open to discussion on devolution proposals.
“We are going to continue to engage with the local areas on devolution in the way the last Government did. As under the last Prime Minster where authorities don’t want to be part of the deal we are not going to force them to do so.”
Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region and the West Midlands are all due to have metro mayor elections in 2017.
However the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman did not rule out that the Government would listen to other forms of governance and said all requests for devolution are considered on a case by case basis.
Concern over two-tier devolution also rumbles on as the Government continues to say they will not force councils into electing a mayor. Yet civic leaders say everyone knows that the full raft of powers from Whitehall only go to authorities who have one.
A source said: “They have told us all along that you don’t get the full package of powers unless you have a mayor.”
The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said: “In the deals that have been done to date [the mayor] has been a requirement. Under the last Government, discussions with local areas were open to looking at what were the means for strong accountable governance, clear accountability, including mayors, and that remains our approach.”
When asked if all deals will require a mayor, considering Cornwall does not have one, she said: “We are going to continue to work closely with local areas and be open to discussions on any devolution proposals that include strong accountable governance and clear accountability. That was the approach under the last Government and it remains the approach under this Government.”
“Discussions are continuing with local areas and I’m not going to speculate about where we might end up. Clearly strong accountable governance including mayors should be an important part of the devolution proposals.”
The perceived lack of clarity has already caused great upset among the politicians who have been working on trying to devolve more powers to the North.
The next deal to be rubber-stamped is the North East Combined Authority, a proposal worked up by council leaders on the understanding they must have a mayor.
In Yorkshire politicians are also working on the assumption that they only get the full range of powers if they have one.
This requirement was laid out in the Conservative Manifesto 2015 and Lord Heseltine reinforced it in the House of Lords when the devolution agenda was still being driven by George Osborne.
However the Government’s language around devolution has been consistently fluid and the Lords amended the draft Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 several times to provide greater flexibility.
The wording of the final act potentially allows for a number of possibilities by saying the Secretary of State “may” provide for there to be a mayor of a combined authority.
Caroline Flint, MP for Don Valley, who was mentioned in the Times article as having interest in the South Yorkshire mayoral position, said it was untrue and she wants to continue being an MP.