Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby could be on course to take over as the authority’s chief executive – ousting Stephen Hughes from his £204,000-a-year job.
Under the Localism Bill, Coun Whitby will become shadow mayor of Birmingham at the end of the year, could remain in office unopposed until 2014 and may also opt to assume the duties carried out by Mr Hughes.
Legislation passing through Parliament makes it possible for Coun Whitby to become both the city’s political leader as well as the most senior official of Britain’s biggest local authority, overseeing 26,000 employees.
Coun Whitby would have the power to hire and fire chief officers, a sanction currently in the hands of a committee of senior councillors, even though he would not himself be an employee of the city council.
In theory, Mr Hughes could remain under the new arrangements, as head of the council’s paid service with a lower salary, but his chief executive title would disappear along with many of his powers.
Confusion remains about how long Coun Whitby, who has led the council’s Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition since 2004, will have as appointed shadow mayor before Birmingham’s first mayoral election.
Although the Bill refers to mayors being elected in England on the same day as council elections in May 2013, the West Midlands metropolitan authorities, including Birmingham, do not have elections scheduled during that year.
That could delay the election of a Birmingham mayor until May 2014 but city council leaders have appealed to the Government to allow a mayoral vote to take place in 2013.
Under the Bill as it was presented to Parliament, Coun Whitby would remain shadow mayor even if Labour takes control of the council in May 2012.
That was thought likely to change as the Bill passes through its committee stage, enabling Labour leader Sir Albert Bore to assume the shadow mayor position should his party win an overall majority of seats next year.
Coun Whitby does not have to accept all or any of the powers proposed under the Localism Bill.
If he wants to take advantage of the full range of powers available, effectively becoming chief executive as well as mayor, he would have to ask the council to approve the arrangements.
Calls by the Birmingham Post to Coun Whitby’s office on the mayoral issue were not returned.
The way the legislation is framed means Birmingham could face a constitutional nightmare next year since most councillors, including Coun Whitby, are opposed to the mayoral system.