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Newcastle may be run by a mayor; Tories propose to hold referendum if they are elected.

Byline: William Green Political Editor

ABORIS Johnson-style politician could run Newcastle as a powerful mayor if the Tories win the next general election due in little over 12 months.

The Conservatives are planning a national campaign to encourage elected mayors with major English cities - including Newcastle - required to hold referenda on the same day, potentially within a year of David Cameron taking power.

If voters back the idea, a full election for a city mayor will be held, and Tory Shadow Local Government Secretary Caroline Spelman said London's Tory mayor Boris Johnson was an example of the successful leader they wanted to see.

The push for elected mayors forms a core part of Mr Cameron's blueprint for councils under which regional government - including development agencies - would be axed with town halls handed powers over planning, housing and economic development.

Councils would be able to offer tax breaks to small businesses, such as post offices and pubs, and raise extra council tax by the building of new homes for six years. Tories also want to make it easier for councils to raise money for projects by offering bonds against their assets.

But the proposals ran into problems after Tory chiefs appeared to mix up what are the 12 biggest cities in England by population - the basis on which areas have been selected to hold co-ordinated referenda on introducing mayors.

Ms Spelman said polls would be held in Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Wakefield, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham and Newcastle within the borders of existing councils. But Sunderland City Council covers 280,300 residents compared to 271,600 by Newcastle City Council.

A Tory spokeswoman later said Sunderland was not targeted because locals had already voted no in a mayoral referendum.

But Ms Spelman had said a poll was going ahead in Birmingham despite not getting past "first base".

"Our proposal would be to do this quite simply in all 12 cities on one day as part of a national campaign to encourage the electors to look at an alternative model," said Ms Spelaman.

"But it may that they still prefer to keep local government in city hall.

John Shipley, Liberal Democrat leader of Newcastle council, said the proposals for an elected mayor was "ill thought out" but would be happy for a referendum to take place if the Tories paid for it.

He claimed putting power into the hands of a single person would create more problems, in terms of democracy and accountability because of the need for the mayor to delegate.

And Mr Shipley blasted proposals to axe regional development agencies as potentially disastrous.

STATE OF AFFAIRS

TYNE and Wear currently has just one elected mayor despite efforts by former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

North Tyneside voted in favour of an elected mayor in 2001, with 36% of the electorate returning their postal votes.

A total of 30,262 people voted yes and 22,296 no to the question of whether they wanted a mayor to oversee council services.

In 2002, the election of football mascot Stuart Drummond, alias H'Angus the Monkey, as mayor of Hartlepool summed up growing disillusionment of voters with mainstream political parties. Labour lost control of North Tyneside Council as Conservative Chris Morgan was elected mayor and in Middlesbrough former police chief Ray Mallon romped home. Labour's John Harrison took the post in 2005.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 17, 2009
Words:570
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