Tory minister's jibes over Leeds mayor row

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles today laughed off a threat from the leader of Leeds council that he would rather resign than become a "Boris-style" city mayor.

Mr Pickles joked that he will "chip in" for Coun Keith Wakefield's leaving do if he quits in protest at the government's controversial plans.

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He predicted the city's first directly elected mayor will come from "outside the existing political machine", raising the prospect of a well-known figure from business or the voluntary sector standing for election.

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"For someone wanting to put something back into public life, this is quite an attractive proposition," he declared.

The cabinet minister yesterday published the government's Localism Bill which confirmed that city mayors will be imposed on Leeds, Wakefield and 10 other major cities.

Under the plans, Coun Wakefield and Coun Peter Box, the leader of Wakefield council, will next year be "rebadged" and lead their councils as a so-called "shadow mayor".

They will be the city's political figurerhead until May 2012, when a referendum will be held to decide whether the mayor model of local government should continue.

For areas that vote in favour of keeping the system, mayoral elections will be held in May 2013.

Coun Wakefield yesterday hit out at the proposals and repeated his threat to resign. "This is really, really outrageous and anti-democratic.

"I still find it totally unacceptable to accept a position which has been imposed on the city, rather than elected for and I would not stand for elected mayor," he said.

But Mr Pickles made it clear that he was not taking the threat seriously.

He said: "With regard to our chum in Leeds, we will miss him dearly if he decides to stand down but I will turn up to his leaving do and chip in if necessary. But I hope he will consider standing as the mayor."

The government has still not published the full powers that Whitehall is willing to hand over to councils.

Under the current system over 20bn of business rates collected by councils are pooled by central government and redistributed across all local authorities.

The Localism Bill also includes a new right for the public to veto excessive council tax rises.

Joanne Mjadzelics

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