Leaders of English councils bidding for city region status are refusing to hand power to directly elected mayors.
Local authorities in the West Midlands, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Newcastle-Gateshead, Sheffield-Barnsley and Leeds say they do not want American-style city bosses presiding over multi-million pound budgets.
All of the councils selected by the Government to apply for city region status, including Birmingham and seven other West Midlands authorities, believe the new form of administration should be run by executive boards of council leaders and business representatives. The stance will disappoint Ministers, who have made it clear they favour mayors.
Local Government Secretary Ruth Kelly told a conference in Bristol last month that major UK cities should learn from the success of London under Mayor Ken Livingstone. She praised initiatives forced through by Mr Livingstone, including the London congestion charge.
Days later Phil Woolas, the Local Government Minister, gave the clearest hint yet that the Government would expect city regions to embrace the mayoral model.
"We are very much pushing them to consider the idea of an elected mayor or elected mayors," Mr Woolas said.
He added that Birmingham and the West Midlands councils would need to "toughen up" their proposal for a 12-person executive board to run the city region.
His comments during the run-up to publication of a White Paper on the future of local government threaten to re-open a bitter mayoral debate that raged in Birmingham four years ago, when city councillors from all political parties campaigned against the notion of a directly elected mayor.
If granted city region status, Birmingham and the seven West Midlands councils would be given power and budgets to take strategic decisions over economic development, transportation, housing and skills.
Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese is championing an executive board consisting of the ten North-west councils bidding for city region status.
He also wants a business leadership council consisting of private sector leaders to provide support and advice to the board.
Lord Peter Smith, leader of the Association of Manchester Councils, believes a directly elected mayor would be a "step too far".
Lord Smith, whose views are shared by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said it would be better to build a city region based on co-operation between the ten councils rather than have a single powerful figure.
In Liverpool, the city council has shown no enthusiasm for an elected mayor.
However, a campaign led by a BBC Radio Merseyside broadcaster seeks to produce the 17,000 signatures from local electors needed to force the council to hold a referendum on the mayoral issue.
In Sheffield and Barnsley council leaders are putting their faith in the Government-backed Northern Way initiative, which involves local authorities working more closely together to address economic regeneration issues.