Minister ready to insist Birmingham holds election for mayor

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Indy Politics

The Government is expected to underline its commitment to introducing directly elected mayors by forcing Birmingham, Britain's biggest single council, to hold a referendum on the issue.

Nick Raynsford, the Local Government minister, is expected to force a ballot after the Labour-run council refused to water down its opposition to the reform.

With a £2bn-a-year budget and a remit over education and housing, a Birmingham mayor would have much more power than Ken Livingstone in London. Likely Labour candidates could include Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Lord Rooker, a Home Office minister, and Gisela Stuart, a former health minister, all of whom are or have been Birmingham MPs.

Mr Raynsford told the council before Christmas that he was "minded" to compel it to stage a legally binding ballot of its residents unless the city held one voluntarily. The council has not changed its stance and senior government sources have told The Independent that a poll is now "inevitable".

A consultation exercise by the city council last September, in which 200,000 of the city's 1.1 million residents took part, found that 40 per cent favoured an elected mayor with a cabinet, 13 per cent an elected mayor with a council manager and 46 per cent wanted a leader and a cabinet. Mr Raynsford pointed out that most voters, 53 per cent, favoured a mayoral model of some sort.

John Williams, executive director of the think-tank New Local Government Network, said yesterday that the election of a mayor in Birmingham could lead the way for several other cities. "It's a very brave decision by the Government ... It's important that local people are given the chance to decide rather than local politicians, many of whom have a vested interest in not supporting an executive mayor," he added.

Of the referendums held so far, eight towns or boroughs have rejected the idea and six have voted in favour. Watford, Doncaster, Hartlepool, North Tyneside, Middlesbrough and Lewisham will hold mayoral elections in May this year.