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City wait on mayor talks; ELECTED MAYOR POLITICS: Plans for debate blocked by council leaders.

Byline: By Paul Dale

CITY political leaders have blocked public debate on government plans to give Birmingham a greater chance of being run by a directly-elected mayor.

Proposals by ministers to reduce the number of signatures required on a petition to force a referendum on the mayoral issue from 36,000 to 15,000 should have been discussed at a city council meeting yesterday.

Members of the business management committee were being asked to agree the council's formal view on whether it should be made easier for voters to force local authorities to switch from the leader and cabinet system to an American-style elected mayor.

But a draft response to a White Paper was withdrawn after council chief legal officer Mirza Ahmad said he was unhappy with its contents.

Tory council leader Mike Whitby, an outspoken critic of directly elected mayors, said a response would be sent to the Government following private discussions between leaders of the three main political parties.

He confirmed that the matter will not go to the next meeting of the business management committee, which is due to be held after the closing date for comments on the White Paper.

Nor will it come before the full council - preventing any public debate by councillors on one of the most controversial issues in recent years.

It's the latest twist in an eight-year stand-off over elected mayors.

Last year, a Birmingham Mail petition calling for a referendum on the issue gained about 10,000 signatures.

That followed a council consultative mayoral ballot in 2001, with 40.2 per cent of those taking part in favour of an elected mayor, 13.4 per cent in favour of an elected mayor working with a council manager, and 46 per cent in favour of the leader and cabinet system.

But council leaders refused to hold a binding referendum on whether Birmingham should be governed by a mayor.

Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) said: "I am not inclined to alter the status quo. Personally, I have yet to see any evidence of support for change.

"It is reasonable to have a tipping point in any referendum in order to stop people who are playing games with the system.

"It is a matter of finding the right balance between the need for change and something that is vexatious."
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Feb 11, 2009
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