Conservative plans to ramp up the powers of elected mayors by abolishing chief executives have been condemned across the political spectrum.
Elected mayors labelled the plans “madness” and “a recipe for disaster”, with none of the respondents to a LGC straw poll of half of the incumbent mayors prepared to back them.
The proposals, outlined by shadow communities secretary Caroline Spelman on Monday, would give mayors the power to abolish the position of chief executive and take on their powers.
Selling the plans as part of a “stop town hall waste” policy, the Tories said an “executive mayor” would “take over the role of the chief executive, giving them genuine hands-on power to hire and fire staff, determine the councils’ operational practices and direct local authority spending”.
But the proposal to merge the roles failed to gain traction with mayors, even among some Conservatives. Torbay Council mayor Nick Bye (Con) said: “I doubt if a political mayor would have the skills or knowledge to ‘run the shop’ as well as doing all the decision making and undertaking the community leadership and public roles.”
The other Conservative elected mayor, North Tyneside’s Linda Arkley, was unavailable for comment.
Other mayors were less charitable about the proposals.
“It’s bonkers,” said Hackney LBC mayor Jules Pipe (Lab). “Leaders and mayors should be busy enough without taking on the role of head of paid services and the HR issues.”
Mayor Pipe added that chief executives should bring expertise to the table that elected politicians might not have, such as local government and managerial knowledge, and the pair should work as a partnership to run the authority.
Hartlepool BC mayor Stuart Drummond (Ind) – who was first elected in 2002 under the guise of football mascot H’Angus the Monkey – also dismissed the idea of merging the posts and said it could cause problems with morale if politicians perceived as being under-qualified took over the role of the chief executive.
Despite the lack of appetite of mayors to take on the chief executives’ responsibilities, some welcomed the prospect of increased influence over hiring and firing.
Eleven authorities have an elected mayoral model but the Tories would like to create considerably more.
In its localism green paper published in February, the party called for referendums on a mayoral system in the 12 largest local authorities that are cities and have not previously had a referendum. These are Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Wakefield, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham and Newcastle upon Tyne.
Ms Spelman said on Monday: “We will create powerful new executive mayors to help them bring real change to our cities, taking power from unelected officers.
“What once were humble town hall clerks are now on glorified six-figure salaries, bumping up their salaries in football-style transfers from council to council. Let’s cut that cost, save the money, and have proper accountability on who’s in charge and where the buck stops.”