Mayors to set standards on wise spending

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The Independent Online
A "positive debate" on Labour's proposals to elect mayors for major cities will be called for today by Tony Blair, the Labour leader, in a speech which will bluntly warn local authorities that they cannot expect big spending to return under a Labour government.

"In government, we will not be big spenders but wise spenders," Mr Blair is expected to tell councillors at the Shadow assembly of the new Local Government Association.

"The future of local government will not be based on spending an increased share of the national cake, but on improved efficiency and ensuring that every council sees its aim as matching the performance of the best." That means that while compulsory competitive tendering will go, councils will face a new duty of seeking best value for money - an approach which, Labour analysts believe, will mean some competitive tendering will continue. And government will retain a right to intervene if a council is not judged to seek best value. The "democratic renewal" which Mr Blair promises will include involving the public more in council decision making, and a "positive debate" on elected mayors.

But academics and management experts yesterday warned that the seemingly simple idea embraces a host of very different models.

Across the world, mayors range from those with powers to set budgets, hire and fire staff and veto a council's legislation, a model common in US cities, to limited formal powers, with clout coming from an electoral mandate, political skills and personality - as in New Zealand.

"The more you look at elected mayors," according to Gerry Stoker, Professor of Government at Strathclyde University, who has just completed a study of German and Italian mayors, "the more you realise the variation that can be achieved."

Even within one country, such as Germany, differing models abound. In Hessen, Professor Stoker says, the mayor is directly elected but a cabinet is then appointed by the assembly, so "to get anything done, you clearly need the broad agreement of mayor, cabinet and assembly". By contrast, the mayor of Heidelberg is elected for an eight-year term and has significant executive powers.

Public opinion seems to welcome the idea, however: a study by Strathclyde University last year found 70 per cent of the electorate in favour.

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