UK Politics

Lord Heseltine: Theresa May won't ditch plan for mayors

Lord Heseltine Image copyright Reuters

Former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine has dismissed reports Theresa May could "kill off" George Osborne's elected mayor project.

The push for English cities and regions to elect a "London-style" mayor was a key policy for the last government as it devolved powers out of Whitehall.

But the Times claims the new PM is considering dropping the policy.

Lord Heseltine, a champion of the elected mayor model, said: "I don't think it's true."

Downing Street said areas that did not want an elected mayor would not have one forced on them, saying this did not represent a change in government policy.

However, in all of the devolution deals struck to date, adopting the model was a requirement.

BBC political correspondent Chris Mason said Mrs May's government did not seem to be as "evangelical" about elected mayors as Mr Osborne and David Cameron had been.

Lord Heseltine carried out a review into devolution for David Cameron's coalition government in which he called for the expansion of elected mayors despite the change being largely rejected in a series of a referendums.

The Tory peer said to cancel the policy would appeal to "those who want the status quo", saying councils bidding for new powers "have got to show that you have the management ability and direct accountability to do the man sized job that we are offering you".

The Times claimed Mrs May was "nervous" about giving a platform to senior Labour figures like former minister Andy Burnham, who is the party's candidate to be mayor of Greater Manchester.

It also said she was concerned the policy was causing "huge angst" in other areas where there was local hostility to mayors being imposed.

Asked about the report, Lord Heseltine told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was "very unlikely" Mrs May, who is currently on holiday, would be "initiating policies of this sort".

Last week Mrs May said elected mayors would give a "powerful new voice" to Sheffield and the West Midlands.

She made the comments in regional newspaper articles pledging her support for Mr Osborne's flagship "Northern Powerhouse" project - which The Times also claims she could phase out - as well as the "Midlands Engine" around Birmingham.

The Northern Powerhouse is the name attached to the government's bid to create a rival economy to London and the South East in the north of England.

Mr Burnham said it would be "deeply concerning" if Mrs May was "going cold on English devolution".

But the Labour leadership of Cambridge City Council said devolution would work better without the requirement for an elected mayor, urging the government to postpone the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoral election planned for May 2017.

The government said next year's elections would take place.