Boris Johnson has warned that elected city mayors will fail unless they are given control over policing, education and transport, as the Government prepares to hold referenda on creating mayors in Birmingham and Coventry.
The Mayor of London named four policy areas which he felt were essential for mayors of any great British city to have authority over.
But only one of these – housing – will automatically come under the remit of a mayor of Birmingham or Coventry.
Mr Johnson was asked what he felt mayors of major cities outside London would need in order to succeed, as he met journalists at Westminster.
Ministers have ordered major English cities including Birmingham, Coventry, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Leeds to hold referenda next May on creating directly-elected mayors to replace local authority leaders.
Announcing the policy in 2009, when she was Conservative Shadow Local Government Secretary, Meriden MP Caroline Spelman promised: “It is time to give other cities the opportunity that London has enjoyed.”
But as the referenda draws closer, it has become clear that city mayors will simply inherit the powers of existing councils, unlike the mayor of London, who is chairman of London’s transport authority, appoints the chairman of the police authority and chairs the London Skills and Employment Board.
In Birmingham, transport is the responsibility of transport authority Centro; policing will be overseen by a directly-elected commissioner, and education is increasingly provided by schools such as academies and free schools which are independent of local government.
Mr Johnson said: “My view is that you need to run the mass transit system, you need to have democratic accountability over policing, you need to have a housing function and you need to have some role in education.”
Mr Johnson added: “It is pretty difficult to have a general remit of delivering economic prosperity and improving the lives of everybody in the city unless there is a greater role in delivering on education.
“That is something we need to work on in London. That is the thing – the only thing – that’s keeping London back.”
While the proposed mayors will be limited in power, the Government’s Localism Bill, due to receive its third and final reading in the House of Lords later this month, does allow Ministers to transfer more powers to them.
And the Bill actually imposes a legal obligation on Ministers to consider requests to turn over responsibility for specific services to mayors if a request is received.
This could mean transferring property and other relevant assets to the local authority, the Bill states.
For a request to be considered, a mayor would need to demonstrate that giving them control of a public service would promote economic development or wealth creation or increase local accountability in relation to each local public function transferred by the order.
MP Gisela Stuart (Lab, Edgbaston), who has stated her intention to stand as Birmingham’s directly-elected mayor, said: “This highlights the important role the first mayor could play, because they will help to shape the role’s powers.”
Local authorities still played an important role providing direction for schools, she said.
“But the goal must be to serve the interests of parents and pupils rather than trade unions and providers.”
Other politicians who have announced their intention to stand as city mayor include former Labour MP Sion Simon and Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore.
Opponents of a mayor, including MPs John Hemming (Lib Dem, Yardley) and Roger Godsiff (Lab, Hall Green) are to launch a campaign urging Birmingham residents to vote against a mayoral system in next year’s referendum.