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Fresh push on mayoral changes

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Labour is preparing a fresh push to derail the government’s plans to encourage the adoption of directly elected mayors.

Shadow communities secretary Caroline Flint has called on Conservative and Liberal Democrat backbenchers to support an amendment to the Localism Bill that would strip it of provisions to turn council leaders in England’s biggest cities into ‘shadow mayors’ ahead of referenda. An amendment would also remove the bill’s provision for the mayors to be the chief executives of the councils.

The amendments will be debated and voted on at the bill’s report stage and third reading on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Under the government’s proposals, communities secretary Eric Pickles would appoint the shadow mayors later this year, ahead of confirmatory local referendums in 2012. If local voters backed plans for an elected mayor, the shadow mayor could be in place for almost two years before facing the electorate in May 2013.

This has raised questions of how much legitimacy some shadow mayors will have.

Ms Flint said: “The Tory-led government is imposing shadow mayors on cities regardless of whether they want one or not. That’s both unfair and undemocratic and Labour will be calling for a Commons vote next week to oppose their plans.

“Elected mayors can offer effective leadership, which is why Labour in government gave people the power and opportunity to elect them. But it must be up to local people to decide, not the Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, sitting in his office in Whitehall.  

As the bill currently stands, in Birmingham City Council, current leader Mike Whitby (Con) will become shadow mayor and, if the voters return a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum, act as mayor until 2013 even if Labour takes outright control in next year’s elections. Labour is already the biggest part on the council but is short of an overall majority.

The government has tabled a number of its own amendments to the bill. These include minor changes to proposals for neighbourhood plans, planning incentives and the scrapping of the Standards Board.

A DCLG spokesperson said: “The Localism Bill will mark a revolution in the way the country works by putting power back into the hands of the people through a radical package of reforms and new freedoms.

“The amendments laid today, ahead of the report stage, continue to refine the bill so it can effectively remove the barriers preventing people from running their own affairs and incentivise sustainable local growth helping build a stronger, fairer Britain.”

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