Apathetic Liverpool backs a directly elected mayor

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The Independent Online
LIVERPOOL, A city where apathy towards local government has seen election turn-outs dip as low as 6 per cent, plans to tackle the problem by becoming the first city outside London to elect its mayor directly.

A poll of 1,000 residents by the Liverpool Democracy Commission, set up to rejuvenate local government in the city, reveals overwhelming support for a figurehead who would be more accountable and stand up for the city's interests.

The commission wants to cut the number of city councillors from 99 to 35. The present number does not reflect Liverpool's depopulation in the past 40 years, said James Ross, chairman of both the city-based Littlewoods group and the commission. He said the poll showed people found the council "irrelevant and remote".

Mr Ross had a rough ride when he presented the commission's report, The Leading of Liverpool, to councillors yesterday, but he was unmoved. The "negative, cynical" response he had from some councillors was "part of the problem for which we are proposing a solution", he said. In the Eighties, the desire for a figurehead brought to power the left-wing Derek Hatton and plunged the city into problems. But unlike Mr Hatton, the mayor would be locally accountable, answering to representatives of 25 directly elected neighbourhood councils of 12 people.

"It would mean democratic monitoring, not unfettered power in the hands of an elected mayor," Mr Ross said. The commission, drawn from the church, business, politics and the media, recommends a city referendum next year to decide whether there should be mayoral elections.