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Ray of light in bid for elected mayor; REFERENDUM: Number needed to sign petition for new governance may fall.

Byline: By Paul Dale

BIRMINGHAM council leaders could be forced to hold a referendum on whether the city should be run by a directly elected mayor if just 14,000 people sign a petition under a new government plan.

The figure, two per cent of the total electorate, is substantially less than the five per cent - about 36,000 in Birmingham's case - required at the moment.

The change, outlined in the Communities in Control White Paper, is one of a range of ideas to make it easier for people to change the way they are governed.

A petition demanding a mayoral referendum launched by the Birmingham Mail last year failed because it attracted about 10,000 signatures against the 36,000 target.

But if options in the White Paper had been in force then, the petitoners would have come within striking distance of victory and might have forced ministers to order a referendum.

Birmingham council leaders have been asked by the Government for their views on changing the existing rules.

Council leader Mike Whitby, who has spoken out forcefully against elected mayors, is unlikely to support any reduction in the percentage of voters needed to trigger a referendum.

The White Paper suggests reducing the five per cent trigger to either four, three or two per cent.

As an alternative, the percentage rule could be replaced by a threshold based on the size of the council - in Birmingham's case, 18,000 signatures.

The Government also wants to allow people collecting a petition to do so through email, something not allowed at the moment.

The White Paper says the Government wants to deliver "genuine empowerment to local people and local communities".

It adds: "Councils need governance models that readily deliver strategic leadership, sharp accountability, and effective and efficient decision taking.

"The Government recognises that the directly elected mayoral model can readily deliver this. It also recognises that governance models where there is an indirectly elected council leader can equally deliver these outcomes.

"We know in practice that it can be a substantial undertaking for petition organisers to collect the number of signatures required to meet the current five per cent threshold to trigger a governance referendum. This is particularly the case in those council areas covering larger populations."

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Under a new plan just 14,000 signatures would force Birmingham City Council to hold a referendum on whether the mayor must be elected.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Feb 7, 2009
Words:402
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