Watford revives mayoral hopes

19 Jul 01
The campaign for elected mayors took one leap forward then a large step back this week after residents in Watford voted yes to a US-style boss, only to find that slow work by Parliament will put back the town's mayoral election by seven months.

20 July 2001

Regulations that govern mayoral elections, and which need the assent of the House of Commons, will not be put in place before MPs break for the summer on July 20.

Instead it will be late October, when MPs return, before the regulations pass through the Commons.

The result is that Watford's mayoral elections – originally expected to take place in October – will probably not go ahead until May 2002.

Supporters of directly elected mayors fear the momentum prompted by Watford's decision may be lost because of the delay.

'We are disappointed and would have expected that the people of Watford would be given an opportunity to proceed,' said John Williams, executive director of the New Local Government Network.

Privately, some council members were angry, claiming that if they had been responsible for the delay, ministers would have been the first to criticise.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions said the late general election and early summer recess were to blame.

But she said the regulations would be placed before the Commons as soon as it returns on October 15.

The delay throws up the prospect that the vote in Watford could take place on the same day as elections in other towns that have backed the mayoral route.

Several councils will hold referendums before the end of the year.

The vote in Watford, on July 13, resulted in a slender majority of just 496 backing the mayoral route.

A total of 7,636 voted yes, while 7,140 voted no. Turnout was 24.5%.

Watford's chief executive, Alan Clarke, said the result heralded 'the start of a revolution in local government in Britain'.

Vince Muspratt, Watford's Labour leader, is seen as one of the front-runners for the job, which is expected to have an annual salary of around £50,000.


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