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Ministers hint at mayoral retreat

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Ministers have prepared the ground for a retreat on the government’s controversial mayoral plans.

Local government ministers Bob Neill (Con) and Andrew Stunell (Lib Dem) have both now said the government will look again at proposals in the Localism Bill to install ‘shadow mayors’ ahead of referenda and to force them to assume all executive powers at their local authority.

Speaking during the bill’s report stage debate last week, Mr Stunell said: “I recognise, in particular, that there were different views on mayors, not only between government and opposition front benchers but between some of my hon. Friends. I will listen carefully to the points made today on the mayoral proposals in the bill, particularly on such issues as shadow mayors and mayoral management arrangements.”

Responding to questions from shadow communities secretary Caroline Flint on Monday, Mr Neill went further, saying: “We are now reflecting on the comments we have heard and intend to come back to these matters when the bill is considered in the other place.”

A Department for Communities & Local Government spokesman said: “The mayoral measures remain unchanged, however ministers have said they would reflect on the points made in the Commons and come back to them during the Lords. They also want to take account of Lord Adonis’ report due in the summer.”

Lord Adonis, director of the Institute for Government thinktank, is due to deliver a report to ministers based on his tour of the 11 cities where directly elected mayors are to be introduced. No date has been set for the report’s publication but a separate report on the effect that mayors could have on economic development is due for publication on the 14th June.

The bill gets its second reading in the House of Lords on 7 June.

The mayoral proposals are expected to get a much rougher ride in the House of Lords than they did in the Commons. Peers such as former Newcastle City Council leaders Lord Beecham (Lab) and Lord Shipley (Lib Dem) and Lord Tope (Lib Dem) have been tipped to lead the scrutiny of the bill.

The prospect of shadow mayors being created in Birmingham City Council where council leader Mike Whitby (Con) is set to become shadow mayor by virtue of the fact he leads a coalition administration with the Liberal Democrats, despite Labour being the biggest single party has raised serious questions as to the legitimacy they would have. In Bristol City Council, Barbara Janke is set to become shadow mayor despite her Lib Dem group running a minority administration.

Ms Flint had asked Mr Neill whether local authorities would have the ability to replace serving shadow mayors before mayoral elections are conducted and when shadow mayors would be appointed.

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