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DEMAND FOR MAYOR HITS MAJOR CITIES

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Metropolitan council leaders this week refused to be pressed into action by a survey which found two-thirds of thei...
Metropolitan council leaders this week refused to be pressed into action by a survey which found two-thirds of their residents supporting an elected mayor.

The New Local Government Network released the findings of a MORI poll which found 66% want an elected mayor in their city and 68% think there should be a referendum on whether to have an elected mayor. The five cities surveyed were Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield and results ranged from 59% to 68% in favour and 15% to 20% against.

Network chair Professor Gerry Stoker said: 'The important point is that local people should be able to decide how they want to be governed. A wise council might put the option of an elected mayor to them before they were forced to do so.'

But in the largest metropolitan council, Birmingham City Council, the ruling Labour group has already expressed its preference for a cabinet system (LGC, 18 September).

Leader Theresa Stewart said she found the results of the poll interesting but felt the network should have informed her the survey was taking place. She also noted that half the respondents to the survey were people who were unaware of the proposals for an elected mayor for London. 'It was a poll asking one question without giving options,' she said.

Local Government Information Unit director Dennis Reed said any narrowing of the options in the white paper would be extremely controversial: 'On the basis of the poll, some people seem to be inviting a centrally imposed reform from government in the Queen's Speech.'

Mr Reed also warned of conflict: 'I would have thought this survey cuts across the consultation exercise these authorities are already conducting and they are not delighted to be told what their local residents want on the basis of a limited poll.'

Leeds City Council leader Brian Walker said because the public do not like the existing system they were very likely to say yes to an alternative. But 'if you had an elected mayor by November it would make no difference; you've got to change the system first', he said.

Liverpool City Council deputy leader Flo Clucas said many members of her Liberal Democrat controlled council would be opposed to an elected mayor because of concerns about corruption.

'In Liverpool we have all had direct experience of one or two people having overwhelming control of what goes on in the council. The idea of local democracy is to represent all views, not give ultimate power to one individual,' she said.

Manchester City Council leader Richard Leese welcomed the survey for provoking debate. He said his council wants legislation as soon as possible. 'No change is not an option', he said, but neither the council or central government should prescribe the structure.

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