Mayors take the fast track

25 Nov 99
Directly elected mayors for major cities in England and Wales could be in place as early as spring 2001 as the government this week signalled it wanted to speed legislation through parliament.

26 November 1999

As ministers unveiled their second Local Government Bill, they said they wanted legislation on the statute books by next summer, raising the possibility that city mayors could follow soon after.

The speed was said to have surprised officials at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, who had been expecting publication next month.

Beverley Hughes, junior local government minister, said at a meeting in central London on November 23 that Labour was hoping for royal assent 'by early summer – Juneish'.

The bill, which gives councils more economic and social responsibilities, introduces a statutory ethics code for councillors, and repeals section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act which prevented councils from promoting homosexuality. It was introduced in the House of Lords on November 25.

One pro-reform group, the New Local Government Network, welcomed early legislation. Executive director John Williams said: 'We are keen to see the bill in place by next June to enable local authorities to have referendums by autumn 2000 so they can adopt new forms of community leadership.'

One sticking point for DETR officials was what to do in the event of an electorate rejecting a mayor in favour of retaining the current system. Local government minister Hilary Armstrong has said that the status quo is not an option. But ministers are said to be confident that electorates will vote for change.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, chair of the Local Government Association, called on Labour to allow councils to have 'flexibility' when deciding on new political systems. To help promote its cause, the LGA launched an all-party Parliamentary group on local government on November 24. Among those invited to join the group are Simon Hughes, John Prescott and Theresa May.

PFnov1999

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