Ministers must come clean over plans to introduce an elected mayor for Birmingham, MPs have insisted.
They demanded answers following speculation that city council leader Mike Whitby could simply be appointed Birmingham’s mayor without an election.
Ministers have refused to confirm exactly what is planned, although they are expected to make an announcement in about two weeks, when a new local government White Paper is published.
But local government minister Bob Neill sparked an angry reaction when he appeared to let slip some of the plans in an interview during the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.
He suggested a powerful mayor could be created without first holding a referendum asking Birmingham residents whether they approved of the idea.
This marked a major change with the Tory proposals while in opposition, when the party promised to create mayors with responsibility for key local services in England’s 12 biggest cities, including Birmingham and Coventry - but only if residents backed the idea in a referendum.
Mr Neill also suggested that existing council leaders such as Coun Whitby could simply become mayors without a vote.
Previously, the Government had indicated an election would be held in May 2012.
Government sources privately suggest it is unlikely Coun Whitby will become mayor in this way, but Ministers refuse to make any public comment.
Erdington MP Jack Dromey (Lab) said Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles must provide answers.
He said: “This news will come as quite a shock to anyone who has heard Eric Pickles expounding the virtues of localism. Cities and communities should have the final say on whether or not they want elected mayors which is why Labour introduced the right for local people to decide.
“However for Pickles to impose it on Birmingham and another 11 of our largest cities before holding referendums shows that he just doesn’t trust local people to take decisions for their own areas.”
Gisela Stuart (Lab Edgbaston) said: “I believe a directly-elected mayor will be good for democracy but it must be elected, not simply appointed by Ministers in London.
“The Government must now explain exactly what is going on.”