Birmingham could still have a directly elected mayor, either to run the city or as a “metro mayor” with responsibility for the wider region, Ministers have insisted.
Government plans to introduce mayors in England’s major cities are very much alive despite last week’s crushing referendum defeat, said Cities Minister Greg Clark.
And he predicted elected mayors in cities such as Liverpool would prove to be a success – and inspire other major cities to think again.
Birmingham voters rejected plans for an executive mayor, which had the personal backing of David Cameron, voting 57.8 per cent against the idea and 42.2 per cent in favour, in a referendum held on the same day as local elections.
The city was one of ten to hold referendums on the same day – and only one, Bristol, saw voters choose to create a mayor.
But in an interview with the Birmingham Post Mr Clark insisted the policy had been successful. Ministers had originally announced that 12 cities would hold referendums but councils in Liverpool and Leicester chose instead to create a mayor without a public ballot, which local authorities can do if two thirds of councillors back the change.
It means that three out of 12 of the councils originally due to hold referendums, a quarter, now have mayors – and others would follow suit, he said.
The comments were condemned by Birmingham MP Roger Godsiff (Lab Hall Green), one of the leaders of the victorious campaign against a mayor, who said: “He’s living in a dreamworld.”
Mr Clark said: “I think you’ll see this with Bristol, Leicester and Liverpool. People in the cities that have them will wonder why on earth there was any doubt about the desirability of having them, and I think people in other cities will see the advantages and over time be convinced by what they have to offer.”
The cities that voted against a mayor would be won over once they realised how the others were benefitting, he said.
“Sometimes change happens step by step through demonstration rather than by revolution. And I expect that the big change we have seen, from the situation where London was the only big city with a mayor, to by the end of this year having Liverpool, Leicester, Bristol and London – having a significant number of cities with mayors – I think people will observe how they do, and I expect them to do very well.”
He added: “I am convinced this will establish a trend and a recognition of the benefits of strong city governance.”
Ministers had always expected many cities to reject a mayor at first, Mr Clark insisted.
“The experience is that people are often shy about change, nervous about change. So I never expected there to be every city voting in favour.
“The fact that of the 12 we now have three of them, a quarter of them, that have directly elected mayors, I would have thought that a quarter of the big cities outside London having mayors would set up a clear demonstration of the effects of mayors.
“My personal view is that I’m very strongly in favour of them. I think the advantages are palpable, I think they will be demonstrated over time.
“The argument is being won. Demonstration is often the most powerful effect.”
Although the Government is also keen to encourage smaller cities and towns to adopt a mayoral system, it originally ordered referendums to be held in 12 major cities including Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle Upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield – which all voted “no” to the idea on May 3 – as well as Liverpool, Leicester and Bristol.
Ministers could also introduce new legislation creating “metro-mayors” with authority over a larger area than a single city, Mr Clark said, but only if they were asked to.
“What’s also been suggested in some quarters is that if we were talking about metro mayors, if people wanted to come together with an alternative proposition, then would I be willing to contemplate that? The answer is yes.”