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BIG CONVERSATION TALKS ABOUT MAYORS

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By Political Correspondent, Mithran Samuel ...
By Political Correspondent, Mithran Samuel

Elected mayors could make a comeback, alongside neighbourhood boards empowered to run environmental services, according to the Labour Party's nationwide consultation document, launched last week.

Both ideas are contained in the Big Conversation, the party's attempt to gauge the public's views on its policy direction.

The document, which takes the form of a series of statements and questions, asks: 'In those places where mayors have worked well, what factors have played a part in it and could these lessons be applied elsewhere?'

Although the wording is neutral, Whitehall observers suggest mayors are still favoured by the prime minister, despite Labour losses in the first crop of mayoral elections.

The document moots the transfer of powers over public spaces from councils to elected neighbourhood boards, possibly with precepting powers.

This idea also appeared in a strategic audit on the challenges facing the government, published by the Strategy Unit last month.

Both documents make a strong attack on councils' legitimacy, based on existing turnouts, and see new structures as the solution - not council empowerment.

Nicholas Boles, director of centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange, said the problem of disengagement is real, but neighbourhood boards are the wrong solution.

'I don't think the fact people are not voting suggests they desire a whole layer of other individuals with different powers and different funding. We should give more power to the people we've got,' he said.

However he welcomed a revival of elected mayors as a way of making local government more identifiable.

Mr Boles said the government should have the courage of its convictions and impose mayors on all councils.

A Local Government Association spokesman said many councils are introducing neighbourhood-level arrangements and these should be evaluated before new structures are set up.

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