Birmingham turns down plea to create elected mayor
Birmingham has rejected Government pleas to introduce a directly-elected mayor and told Ministers it wants to stick with the current system.
Ministers ordered every local authority to consider introducing a mayor, after backing the introduction of directly-elected city leaders in principle.
But they stopped short of ordering councils to hold a referendum, instead giving them until the end of the year to make up their own minds.
At a meeting of Birmingham City Council’s business management committee yesterday, council chiefs opted to retain the current system of a council leader and cabinet.
But a crucial difference will be that the leader will have a fixed four-year term, instead of having to stand for re-election every May.
This means that if the current leader of the Tory-Liberal Democrat ruling coalition, Conservative councillor Mike Whitby, is voted in as leader next May, he will remain in that post until 2014.
However, Tory leader David Cameron is a staunch supporter of elected mayors and if his party wins the next general election he could overturn Birmingham’s decision and force the city to adopt the new system.
Under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 councils must be run by either a leader and cabinet, a mayor and cabinet or a mayor and council manager.
Each authority must let Whitehall know by the end of December which they are going for and it will then be in operation from next May.
The proposals will be debated and discussed in the coming months and ratified by a meeting of the full council in November before going out for public consultation.
But the council’s corporate director of governance, Dr Mirza Ahmad, ruled out a referendum on the issue, which the Birmingham Post’s sister paper the Birmingham Mail, has been campaigning for.
He said: “The city council does not have to undertake a referendum. If it did there would be substantial cost and time implications.
“It is clear the public has little appetite for such matters as what is important is value for money and effectiveness of resources.”
Under the new model, Coun Whitby would remain leader for four years unless he lost his Harborne seat, resigned or councillors passed a motion of no confidence in him.
Dr Ahmad said the current system worked well and there was no reason to change it. And he said there were many problems associated with switching over – most notably money as the costs would be “substantial”. Also, he said, an elected mayor would have to be paid more than a leader as they would be entitled to special responsibility allowances.