Only Bristol has backed the government’s directly elected mayors proposal with key cities including Birmingham rejecting the idea.
Of the 10 ‘core cities’ holding a referendum forced by the Localism Act, nine rejected the plans with low turnouts across the country.
Bristol, the only city to back the switch from leader and cabinet, saw a yes vote of 53% on a turnout of 24%.
The results, and the low turnouts, suggest few of the electorate agree with cities and decentralisation minister Greg Clark’s suggestion that elected mayors will herald a “new era of people power”.
Voters in Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield all rejected the proposal.
The most resounding rejections were seen in Sheffield (65%), Coventry (64%), and Leeds (63%). The turnout was highest in Bradford (35%), and lowest in Nottingham (23.9%) and Bristol (24%) where there were no council elections this year. The city with council elections and the lowest turnout was Manchester (24.7%).
Liverpool and Leicester, the two other ‘core cities’, have already elected mayors after deciding to skip the referendum stage. Former council leader Joe Anderson (Lab) was elected in Liverpool while former MP Peter Soulsby (Lab) was elected in Leicester.
In a separate referendum not related to the government’s core cities agenda Doncaster residents voted by 63% to keep the elected mayoral system they have had for the last decade and through a number of years of political turmoil.
The coalition government has been keen for cities to adopt elected mayors with prime minister David Cameron suggesting he would meet with a mayoral cabinet twice a year and promises of ‘city deals’ providing extra powers.
Speaking to the BBC on Thursday night, communities secretary Eric Pickles sought to play down the importance of the ‘no’ votes and said that even without new mayors, the government was still empowering cities through ‘city deal’ negotiations.
“If I’m a fan of mayors, I’m an even bigger fan of localism and local people deciding,” he said. “I’m not so hung up on the structure of local government but I do feel that British cities – if they want to compete with Milan, Chicago and Frankfurt – then I think they’ll have better chance with a mayor. That isn’t to rule out other forms of governance. We have done a deal with the Greater Manchester authorities and are currently negotiating with Yorkshire to give a greater degree of authority to those areas.”
Referring to Liverpool City Council moving to the mayoral model without holding a referendum, he said: “A place like Liverpool is a big global city and it will have a big advantage over other cities in the UK as it will be able to speak with a united leadership in a way that wasn’t possible before.”