Speaking at a New Local Government Network fringe event on regional government and directly elected mayors at the Local Government Association conference, Mr Mandelson argued that government must be brought closer to the people. Labour had undermined its achievements by being too centralist, he said.
'Government needs to release its grip, and more of its money to local people. Local neighbourhoods and communities should be given the tools to help themselves. New Labour must nurture a new politics to bolster community, foster grassroots involvement and mutual support in order to achieve change on the ground.'
Regions and mayors could provide this, as well as joining up state activity and attracting investment.
He said: 'We need backing from government for both local and regional government in order to reshape, join up and deepen public service activity. To the extent that government does not back local government and does not put itself behind devolution in England, both of which are essential to the government's efforts, I think the government will not be as successful [as it might be].'
Regional authorities could be up and
running as early as 2004, he said, following legislation next year and referendums
Mayors provided more accountability, not less, he said. 'Endemic corruption in European government at all levels' did not mean UK elected mayors would be corrupt. He had no wish to lead a regional authority or run as mayor of London, he added.
NLGN director John Williams attacked the campaigns around mayoral referendums in Berwick-upon-Tweed BC, Cheltenham BC and Gloucester City Council, all of which have resounded in an overwhelming no vote.
He said: 'The disturbing thing about the three campaigns so far is the debate has been non-existent. The barrage of publicity about losing 500 years of civic tradition has been plastered all over the papers. I hope that with a democracy day in autumn the media might think about covering this as an important issue.'