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Pickles signals mayoral U-turn

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Communities secretary Eric Pickles has announced a U-turn on the coalition government’s mayoral policy, apparently abandoning plans to create mayors in England’s 12 largest metropolitan authorities before holding referendums.

Earlier this month, local government minister Bob Neill told LGC that mayors would be created by turning the indirectly elected leaders of the 12 authorities into mayors and then subsequently holding retrospective, confirmatory referendums.

But taking questions in Parliament last week, Mr Pickles contradicted this, insisting referendums would be held in advance of the positions being created.

Asked, at the Conservative party conference, about how confirmatory referendums would work, Mr Neill had said: “[The question will be] we have set up these things, do you want to stick with them?”

Questioned as to whether this would mean incumbent leaders becoming mayors, he replied: “That would seem the easiest way of doing things, yes.”

The creation of mayoral models in the 12 authorities has been one of prime minister David Cameron’s signature pledges for local government. The concept of securing their creation by creating the posts before holding retrospective referendum is understood to have been opposed by the Department for Communities & Local Government but had been driven forward by Mr Cameron’s influential chief political adviser Steve Hilton.

Local Government Association vice-chairman and Liberal Democrat group leader Richard Kemp welcomed what he described as “a substantial shift in the government’s policy”.

“If retrospective referendums are not going to be included in the localism bill then that means we will not oppose that element of the legislation,” he said. “However, we will continue to campaign against the introduction of mayors in the 12 areas suggested.”


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