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By political correspondent Varya Shaw ...
By political correspondent Varya Shaw

Seven executive mayors will be elected today, ushering in a new age in UK local government.

But critics warn the type of mayor created by Labour is wide open to corruption, while the weak state of local government means British mayors will only ever be 'ersatz Giulianis', fated to break their manifesto promises.

Doncaster MBC, Lewisham LBC, Hartlepool BC, Middlesbrough Council, Newham LBC, North Tyneside MBC and Watford BC will all selected mayors.

If they prove a success the idea may spread to other parts of the country.

Gerry Stoker, professor of government at Manchester University, said: 'The bottom line is how soon they can start to deliver on promises.' Their relationships with partners and their staff will be crucial, he added.

But George Jones, professor of government at the London School of Economics, warned the model meant far too much power was concentrated in one person and there was no way to remove a mayor who had 'gone bad'.

Ben Pimlott, author of a book on Ken Livingstone's time as London mayor, said it was pointless grafting powerful mayors on to atrophied local government. 'This is very much Ken Livingstone's problem. He has the image of Giuliani, but he doesn't have the power.

'It will be interesting to see if their image as managerial and decisive lasts.

I suspect people will blame them for not delivering.'

There are widespread fears the role of senior officers will be eroded by mayors interfering in operational matters. While some will see themselves as figureheads, others may want to get involved in the nitty-gritty.

But Robin Hambleton, professor of city management at the University of the West of England, said such fears were ill-informed: 'There's an outward looking role that is political and an inward-looking role which is managerial, for which you need a good officer. Mayors need effective chief executives.'

The elections have drawn the media's eye to local government. Middlesbrough Council, expected to elect maverick ex-policeman Ray 'Robocop' Mallon, issued 'five or six' times more media passes than usual. Five TV crews were due to attend the count, including two documentaries and Sky and BBC news teams.

But Brendan Bird, a spokesman for the Labour Campaign for Open Local Government, warned voters were electing 'Dirty Harry - the mayor with no policies'.

The Local Government Association and the Improvement & Development Agency are preparing tailored support for mayors. Earlier this year LGA chair Sir Jeremy Beecham (Lab) floated the idea of a mayor's forum. Senior figures in the association will meet with the new mayors at its conference in July.

Head of member services at the LGA, Roy Williams, said: 'We're taking it a step at a time. They're starting an entirely new experiment in local government, in local management. We're all feeling our way here.'

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