Cities that voted against elected mayors in 2012 should not see the model brought back “in the immediate future”, communities secretary Eric Pickles has revealed to LGC.
In an exclusive interview at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, Mr Pickles said he was “not hung up on a particular form” of governance for cities and that the mayoral model should only be introduced “with the consent of the people”.
The model should come as part of a “deal” that transferred new powers and responsibilities to the elected mayor, he said.
“I’ve always been very enthusiastic for elected mayors but I’ve always felt it should be with the consent of the people,” he said.
“I always felt we should go on a gradualist approach… You’ve got to say to the public, this is what the deal is, if you get an elected mayor this is what they’ll be able to do, rather than say ‘here’s an elected mayor and it’s just like the council, but there’s one person in charge’.”
Chancellor George Osborne used a speech in June to offer “serious devolution of powers and budgets” to cities that brought in elected mayors. It came two years after referendums in nine cities saw voters reject the model.
Asked whether he agreed with the chancellor that mayors should be introduced in cities whose voters rejected it, Mr Pickles said: “No, not in the immediate future. I share the chancellor’s enthusiasm but I think we’re going to have to offer a deal in terms of what folks get.”
He said it was “up to us to make the case” to the public that they should accept the model as part of a devolution deal.
However, Mr Pickles also said he was “not hung up on a particular form” of governance and added: “It’s more subtle, it’s various shades, it’s a more gradated response and I think we can probably do that. My principal concern is devolving power, and I’m not hung up on structures.
“The thing I’m more interested in is getting power to neighbourhoods.”