Birmingham needs a mayor, Tony Blair said last night.
The Prime Minister weighed into the debate over how the city is run as he insisted he was committed to radical reform of local government.
His comments will infuriate council leaders as they meet senior business leaders for a "city conference" at the International Convention Centre, which will approve a 20-year masterplan for Birmingham.
Coun Mike Whitby, leader of the council, has already made it clear he opposes a directly elected mayor. But speaking to regional newspapers at the annual lunch of the Newspaper Conference at Westminster yesterday, Mr Blair singled out Birmingham as a city where stronger leadership was needed.
The Government's proposed reforms of local government, published in a White Paper last month, were designed to encourage radical changes, he said.
"It will, over time, encourage greater use of mayors. I know it is controversial, including among sections of my own party. But I think the mayoral system is the way forward.
"Personally, I think cities like Birmingham would benefit from having a strong, directly-elected mayor."
Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore, the former council leader, supports the idea of a mayor – but he is opposed on this issue by most Labour councillors.
The Government removed a major hurdle towards the introduction of mayors in the White Paper, which revealed that cities would no longer need to hold public referenda to create one.
But Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) insisted there is very little public support for the idea.
Birmingham is run by the Conservative group in partnership with the Liberal Democrats. Labour had governed the city for 21 years, until 2004.