The Local Government Act 2000 introduced directly-elected mayors as one of the executive leadership systems available to councils. The introduction of a mayoral system required prior approval by referendum whilst the Act also provided for local residents to be able to trigger a binding mayoral referendum by petition.
The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 allowed councils to resolve to adopt a mayoral system without the need for a referendum. Despite these developments there are currently only thirteen elected mayors (excluding the Mayor of London).
David Cameron, then Leader of the Opposition, affirmed his support for elected mayors in his speech to his 2007 party conference. This followed publication of a report for the Shadow Cabinet by Lord Heseltine’s Cities Taskforce which advocated directly-elected mayors with a wide range of powers for top-tier authorities and ‘pan-city executive mayors’ for Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool.
The Conservatives’ policy paper, Control Shift, published in February 2009, signalled an intention to legislate to hold a referendum in each of England’s twelve largest cities outside London. The paper cited turnout in London mayoral elections as evidence that the mayoral system boosted democratic engagement. The 2010 Conservative manifesto took forward this commitment.
The Coalition’s Programme for Government promised: “…to create directly elected mayors in the 12 largest English cities, subject to confirmatory referendums and full scrutiny by elected councillors.”
The Localism Bill was introduced in the Commons on 13 December 2010 and received Royal Assent on 15 November 2011. It includes governance arrangements for English local authorities and incorporates some key policy changes, for example allowing an authority to return to the committee system should it wish.
One of the twelve cities has already adopted the mayoral model. On Thursday 5th May 2011, Leicester residents voted in Sir Peter Soulsby as the new city mayor with a four year term. Meanwhile, in February 2012 Liverpool City Council decided to bypass a referendum and is staging its vote for a new directly elected mayor on 3rd May 2012.
The Localism Act 2011 enables the Secretary of State by order to require a specified local authority to hold a referendum on whether it should operate a mayor and cabinet executive. Draft orders requiring mayoral referendums to be held in eleven cities on 3rd May 2012 were laid before Parliament on 5 December 2011, as were regulations governing the conduct of referendums. The accompanying press release notes: “If a city votes in favour of having a mayor at its referendum, that city will then rapidly hold an election for its first mayor. Mayors would be elected for four year terms.”
The Warwick Commission seeks to empower electorates, as well as local authorities and potential candidates in the eleven cities (including Liverpool) as well as central Government and other interested parties, with an evidence base on the potential effectiveness, otherwise, of adopting a directly elected mayoral model.
More background information relating to the debate can be found on our Useful Resources page.