The survey was to find out the public's attitudes to elected mayors in major cities outside London and the public's views about the need for other radical changes to local government.
The findings were:
- 66% want an elected mayor for their city - 19% are opposed
- 91% think local councils need to get better at providing services
- 92% think councils need to consult the public more
- Knowledge about elected mayors was reasonably high with 49% saying they knew about an elected mayor for London before the interview
The results by city are (% in favour of an elected mayor for their city):
Birmingham 68% in favour - 20% against
Manchester 66% in favour - 15% against
Liverpool 64% in favour - 20% against
Leeds 59% in favour - 20% against
Sheffield 68% in favour - 18% against
Gerry Stoker, chair of the New Local Government Network, said:
'These results will shake up the whole of local government. We have the prospect of many, if not most of our major cities being run by a Mayor by the next election - whether the incumbents like it or not. I do not think this movement of opinion can be stopped, especially with the right to trigger referendums which is contained in the government's White Paper on local government reform.'
The current White Paper on local government proposes that electors should be able to force a referendum on a reluctant council if they can raise support from 10% of electors. This poll shows that they would be likely reach that threshold with ease and they would be likely to win a referendum to create a mayor.
Professor Stoker says:
'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.'
One council which did consult the public was Lewisham LBC which received a response indicating that 64% preferred an elected mayor even when they were given the option of a leader with a cabinet style government as the alternative.
The survey also showed strong public support for wider modernisation of local government with the public supporting the need to improve the delivery of local government services and to consult and involve the public more.
The New Local Government Network is an organisation of leading members and officers in local government and outsiders committed to promoting modernisation and change in local government in the public's interest. It does not represent local authorities as such.
MORI interviewed 1,004 people by telephone on 24/25 October 1998. The sample contained 200 respondents in the five city council areas of: Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield. Final data was weighted according to the relative populations of the five cities and the overall demographic profile.
Directly elected mayors with a cabinet will require legislation and the government in its White Paper on local government has set out its intent to legislate as parliamentary time allows.
When the legislation is passed, a city could put a proposal to have an elected mayor to the public in a referendum. If the public voted in support, mayoral elections would be held.
If the government legislates by next summer to allow elected mayors to be established, there could be local referendums followed by local mayoral elections in 2000.
On this timetable there could be elected mayors in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield by May 2000.
Very few councils have declared support for moving to an elected mayor or even to holding a referendum. Elected mayors are seen by most current local politicians as a threat to their traditional ways of working.
The evidence from Lewisham and elsewhere is that current leaders of councils are largely unknown and unaccountable. Only 5% of surveyed residents of Lewisham knew the name of the council leader, compared to one third knowing their MP's name.