27 February 2004
The government should test out directly elected mayors in at least two big cities, where they would be most suitable, the New Local Government Network claimed this week.
In a mid-term analysis of the first 12–18 months of England's 11 elected mayors, the network accepts that the policy would not 'spread organically'. It calls for ministers to intervene, with pilots in unitary or metropolitan areas, acknowledging that mayors would not work in districts or counties.
The current mayors reside in the London boroughs of Hackney, Lewisham and Newham and in smaller conurbations such as Watford and Stoke-on-Trent. Major cities outside London have steered clear of the policy, which is unpopular among councillors.
The network, one of the foremost proponents of the idea of elected mayors, is also calling for the government's freedoms and flexibilities, which it awards only to top-performing councils, to be granted to mayoral-led authorities. It claims that the freedoms ensure councils perform their community leadership role more fully and 'this is in tune with the role of elected mayors'.
The report finds that mayors are not without their problems, with political stalemate in some areas, but are showing a 'promising start'.
An NOP poll, commissioned by the network, found that 57% of people recognised the elected mayor in their area, compared with 25% of people with a traditional council leader. However, more were satisfied with their council leader (62%) than with their mayor (52%).
Anna Randle, head of organisation at the NLGN, said: 'It is clear that many good things are emerging in the mayoral authorities and that the main fears expressed about the model have not emerged in practice.'