Directly elected mayors in the United Kingdom

Directly elected mayors in the United Kingdom

Directly elected mayors are council leaders elected by the general electorate of a council area for local government, instead of being appointed by members of a local authority, which is common in the United Kingdom. The Elected Mayor is elected from a number of candidates who put themselves up for election by all the electorate of a council area. The post is different from that of Lord Mayor, which is ceremonial.



The first directly elected mayor was introduced in Greater London in 2000 as part of the statutory provisions of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Elsewhere in England and Wales, since the Local Government Act 2000, there have been a range of options for how a local council leadership can be constituted, and installing a directly elected mayor is one of these options. It is possible to introduce or remove the office of mayor in any local council, other than the Greater London Authority, by triggering a local referendum with a signed petition. There are currently twelve directly elected mayors, including the Mayor of London.

In 2000, the Labour government led by Tony Blair passed the Local Government Act 2000, which introduced the option of directly elected mayors (also known as directly elected Council Leaders) for local authorities in England and Wales. The Act ended the previous committee-based system, where functions were exercised by committees of the council, and produced three distinct methods of local authority administration (and the opportunity for the Government to define more by secondary legislation). All three separated the decision-making executive function from backbench councillors and created opportunities for overview and scrutiny processes.

The Greater London Authority Act 1999 first introduced into England the principle of a directly elected Mayor of London under universal suffrage. The first election was in 2000, and former leader of the abolished Greater London Council, Ken Livingstone, won as an independent. However, the position is a strategic regional one, and quite different from that of local authority Mayors.

In addition to the Mayor of London, twelve councils in England now have directly elected mayors with real powers and an advisory cabinet to assist them. The changes were encouraged by the central government but usually required local request and ratification by referendum. This system had been considered by the previous government, and former Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine had been a proponent of it.[1]

A number of areas with Elected Mayors have also had Lord Mayors. Lord Mayors are ceremonial roles conferred on acting councillors, and are separate from Elected Mayors. Under current legislation, an authority cannot have two people with the word 'mayor' in their job title.[2]

Regional variances

Some of the first mayoral elections were won by independents, notably in Hartlepool, where the election was won by Stuart Drummond, who played Hartlepool United's mascot; and in Middlesbrough, where it was won by former police officer Ray Mallon, who left the local police force to stand for election. Having receded somewhat as an issue after 2002, it has now moved up the political agenda again, following positive reports of mayors' performance under the new system and recent Labour gains in several mayoralties. In February 2006, the Labour-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research published a report calling for elected mayors in Birmingham and Manchester, which was positively received by the government, but not by the two city councils concerned.

In October 2005, Torbay elected its first elected mayor.[3]

In October 2006, the DCLG White Paper Strong and Prosperous Communities proposed that in future the requirement for a referendum to approve the establishment of an elected mayor for a council area be dropped in favour of a simple resolution of the council following community consultation. It also proposed the direct election of council cabinets where requested, and that the mayor-and-council manager system in Stoke-on-Trent be reformed into a conventional mayor-and-cabinet system, it having been the only English council to adopt that system.[4]

Although Wales is included in the legislation, only one Welsh authority, Ceredigion, has held a referendum on such a proposal, which was rejected.

The Act does not apply in Scotland and the Scottish Parliament has chosen to reform local government instead by introducing the Single Transferable Vote electoral system. The Scottish Conservatives support elected mayors where there is found to be "local demand in our major towns and cities".[5] A mayor in Scotland is traditionally known as a provost.

Powers of Directly Elected Mayors

A local-authority elected mayor has powers similar to those of the executive committee in a Leader and Cabinet model local authority. These are described as either "exclusive" powers or "co-decision" powers and are defined in the Local Government (Functions and Responsibilities) (England) Regulations 2000.[6]

Co-decision powers are those the mayor shares with the council, notably the power to make the local authority's annual budget and its policy framework documents. These are: Annual Library Plan; Best Value Performance Plan; Children's Services Plan; Community Care Plan; Community Strategy; Crime and Disorder Reduction Strategy; Early Years Development Plan; Education Development Plan; Local Development Framework; and the Youth Justice Plan. To amend or reject a mayor's proposals for any of these documents, the council must resolve to do so by a two-thirds majority. This is again based on secondary legislation, in this case the Local Government (Standing Orders) (England) Regulations 2001.[7]

Exclusive powers are less easy to define, because they consist of all the powers that are granted to a local authority by Act of Parliament except those defined either as co-decision powers or as "not to be the responsibility of an authority's executive". This latter is a limited list, including quasi-judicial decisions on planning and licensing, and certain ceremonial, employment and legal decisions.

An elected mayor (in a mayor and cabinet system) also has the power to appoint up to nine councillors as members of a cabinet and to delegate powers, either to them as individuals, or to the Mayor and Cabinet committee, or to subcommittees of the Mayor and Cabinet committee. In practice, the mayor remains personally accountable, so most mayors have chosen to delegate to a very limited extent—if at all.

Protecting the British tradition of independent public service has led to the situation where the apparent introduction of separation of powers has led only to the transfer of powers from one elected branch (the council) to another (the mayor). Local authorities in Britain remain administered by a permanent staff of chief officers led by a chief executive, who are politically neutral bureaucrats. Their powers remain unaffected by the introduction of elected mayor. Senior officers continue to be appointed by a politically representative committee of councillors (and more junior officers by the senior officers), and the mayor may not attempt to influence the decision as to who is appointed (except within the committee as a member of the committee). To maintain the staff's professional and political independence, the mayor (or any other member of the council) may not personally direct any member of staff. Changing the direction of an authority may only be made through a formal decision-making process and then only on the basis of official reports put together by officers.

Accordingly, an elected mayor cannot really be accurately characterised as an executive mayor, as in parts of the US and certain other countries, but more as a semi-executive mayor.

Political attitude to system

There has been councillors backlash about perceived excessive power of directly elected mayors.[8] There has also been some academic comment to the effect that the role "may merely attract mavericks and self-publicists".[8] But British Prime Minister David Cameron is broadly in favour of the system, saying directly elected mayors are "accountable" and can "galvanise action".[9]

Voters in Stoke-on-Trent voted to remove the post of elected mayor on 23 October 2008, to be replaced with a more common system of council leader and cabinet.[10]

Campaigns are now under way in four of the twelve local authorities with directly elected mayors (Doncaster, Hartlepool, Lewisham and Torbay[11]) to hold referendums to abolish the posts.[12] In Doncaster, in March 2007, "Fair Deal" campaigners presented an 11,000-signature petition to the council calling for a new referendum. The council voted 31–27 in favour of a new referendum.[13] In Lewisham, the Bring Back Democracy campaign is calling for a new referendum, citing poor turnout and a very close result in the 2001 referendum.[14] In April 2007, Lewisham Council voted 28–24 against a motion calling for consultation over the issue.[15]

There are a number of private citizen campaigns underway for a referendum to introduce directly elected mayors in a number of English councils. Some of the most notable are in Shropshire, Stockport, Carlisle, Workington and Stafford.

Mayors in the largest cities

Under the Department for Communities and Local Government’s 2010 Structural Reform Plan, the twelve largest cities will adopt directly elected mayors, subject to confirmatory referendums and councillor scrutiny.[16] The twelve cities are:[17]

List of directly elected mayors

As of 2011 there were fourteen directly elected Mayors in England (including the Mayor of London). After the mayor of Bedford, Frank Branston died in office in August 2009, an election was held in October 2009 to elect a replacement.[18][19]

Location Post Type Mayor   Party
Bedford Mayor of Bedford unitary authority Hodgson, DaveDave Hodgson Liberal Democrat
Doncaster Mayor of Doncaster metropolitan borough Davies, PeterPeter Davies English Democrats
Hackney Mayor of Hackney London borough Pipe, JulesJules Pipe Labour
Hartlepool Mayor of Hartlepool unitary authority Drummond, StuartStuart Drummond Independent
Leicester Mayor of Leicester unitary authority Soulsby, PeterPeter Soulsby Labour
Lewisham Mayor of Lewisham London borough Bullock, SteveSteve Bullock Labour
London Mayor of London English region Johnson, BorisBoris Johnson Conservative
Mansfield Mayor of Mansfield non-metropolitan district Egginton, TonyTony Egginton Independent
Middlesbrough Mayor of Middlesbrough unitary authority Mallon, RayRay Mallon Independent
Newham Mayor of Newham London borough Wales, RobinRobin Wales Labour
North Tyneside Mayor of North Tyneside metropolitan borough Arkley, LindaLinda Arkley Conservative
Torbay Mayor of Torbay unitary authority Oliver, GordonGordon Oliver Conservative
Tower Hamlets Mayor of Tower Hamlets London borough Rahman, LutfurLutfur Rahman Independent
Watford Mayor of Watford non-metropolitan district Thornhill, DorothyDorothy Thornhill Liberal Democrat

Ex-mayors are:

Past referendums

To date there have been 37 referendums on whether to establish an elected mayor in English local authorities. Twelve have been passed and 25 rejected by the voters.

To cause a referendum, the normal procedure is for the council to request it, which has happened in 22 cases. In 14, the voters themselves have requested a referendum by petition. In Southwark, the government forced the holding of a referendum. There is, of course, no reason to actually hold a referendum, as Councillors have had the right in law to just bring about the post of Elected Mayor instead of the appointed Council Leader, by a simple two thirds majority vote in Council under the Local Government Act 2000 and 2007. Parliament Briefing on Elected Mayors and simple resolution by Councils to bring post into being

"Yes" majority shown in green, "No" majority shown in red.

Local authority Date Yes Votes Yes Vote % No Votes No Vote % Turnout %
Berwick-upon-Tweed 7 June 2001 3,617 26 10,212 74 64
Cheltenham 28 June 2001 8,083 33 16,602 67 32
Gloucester 28 June 2001 7,731 32 16,317 68 31
Watford 12 July 2001 7,636 52 7,140 48 25
Doncaster 20 September 2001 35,453 65 19,398 35 25
Kirklees 4 October 2001 10,169 27 27,977 73 13
Sunderland 11 October 2001 9,375 43 12,209 57 10
Brighton & Hove 18 October 2001 22,724 38 37,214 62 32
Hartlepool 18 October 2001 10,667 51 10,294 49 34
Lewisham 18 October 2001 16,822 51 15,914 49 18
Middlesbrough 18 October 2001 29,067 84 5,422 16 34
North Tyneside 18 October 2001 30,262 58 22,296 42 36
Sedgefield 18 October 2001 10,628 47 11,869 53 33
Redditch 8 November 2001 7,250 44 9,198 56 28
Durham 20 November 2001 8,327 41 11,974 59 29
Harrow 6 December 2001 17,502 43 23,554 57 26
Plymouth 24 January 2002 29,559 41 42,811 59 40
Harlow 24 January 2002 5,296 25 15,490 75 25
Newham 31 January 2002 27,263 68 12,687 32 26
Southwark 31 January 2002 6,054 31 13,217 69 11
West Devon 31 January 2002 3,555 23 12,190 77 42
Shepway 31 January 2002 11,357 44 14,438 56 36
Bedford 21 February 2002 11,316 67 5,537 33 16
Hackney 2 May 2002 24,697 59 10,547 41 32
Mansfield 2 May 2002 8,973 55 7,350 45 21
Newcastle-under-Lyme 2 May 2002 12,912 44 16,468 56 31.5
Oxford 2 May 2002 14,692 44 18,686 56 34
Stoke on Trent 2 May 2002 28,601 58 20,578 42 27
Corby 1 October 2002 5,351 46 6239 54 31
Ealing 12 December 2002 9,454 45 11,655 55 10
Ceredigion 20 May 2004 5,308 27 14,013 73 36
Isle of Wight 5 May 2005 28,786 43.7 37,097 56.3 60.4
Fenland 14 July 2005 5,509 24.2 17,296 75.8 33.6
Torbay 14 July 2005 18,074 55.2 14,682 44.8 32.1
Crewe and Nantwich 4 May 2006 11,808 38.2 18,768 60.8 35.3
Darlington 27 September 2007 7,981 41.6 11,226 58.4 24.6
Bury 3 July 2008 10,338 40.1 15,425 59.9 18.3
Tower Hamlets 6 May 2010 60,758 60.3 39,857 39.7 62.1
Great Yarmouth 5 May 2011 10,051 39.2 15,595 60.8 36

Source: Electoral Commission; Ceredigion County Council; Darlington Borough Council


  1. ^ Hunt, Tristram (16 May 2004). "Why cities can thank the Tories". The Guardian (London).,9826,1218659,00.html. Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  2. ^ "Historic title may change to 'chairman'". Leicester Mercury (Leicester). 23 December 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  3. ^ "Tory elected as mayor of Torbay". BBC News. 21 October 2005. Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  4. ^ "Local government reform - England". City Mayors. 2006-10-30. Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  5. ^ Annabel Goldie: A One-Nation party - News and Press - Scottish Conservative Party[dead link]
  6. ^ "Statutory Instrument 2000 No. 2853". Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  7. ^ "The Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) Regulations 2001". Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  8. ^ a b "West Midlands: Government 'night-mayor'". BBC. 19 October 2006. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  9. ^ "Manchester 'should have elected mayor'". BBC News. 16 April 2010. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  10. ^ "City votes to eject elected mayor". BBC News. 2008-10-24. Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Sherman, Jill (4 September 2006). "Voters aim to throw out mayors they say are acting like dictators". The Times (London).,,17129-2341604.html. Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  13. ^ Waugh, Rob. "Councillors back referendum on mayoral system - Yorkshire Post". Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  14. ^ "Parallels H-Sphere". Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Mayor dies after heart operation". BBC News. 2009-08-14. Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  19. ^ "Lib Dem win in mayoral election". BBC News. 2009-10-16. 

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