Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 13:47 GMT
Towns to get elected mayors
The government wants to combat town hall sleaze
Every town in England could have its own directly elected US-style mayor under new plans unveiled by the government.
The proposal appears in the new draft Local Government Bill which the government hopes will lead to the biggest reforms to local authorities in 150 years.
In an effort to force through plans for elected mayors in England, referendums on whether or not local authorities want one will be triggered by just 5% of the residential population - half the figure suggested in last year's local government white paper.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said: "Local people in towns and cities everywhere will be able to vote for an elected mayor to lead their communities.
The mayors would be elected under the "supplementary vote" system of proportional representation.
The draft bill, amended from the white paper, also outlines an "ethical framework" for councillors in an effort to clean up so-called "rotten boroughs".
New codes of conduct for councillors, new watchdog Standards Committees and an independent Standards Board to investigate complaints of sleaze would be introduced.
Regional Standards Boards with the power to "name and shame" corrupt candidates, and to ultimately bar them from holding local council office for up to five years, will enforce the new regime.
Under the plans councils will be run by Cabinet-style "executives" made up of a small proportion of councillors, in an effort to speed up decision-making and improve efficiency.
New rules to make more information about decisions publicly available are also proposed.
Local Government Association chairman Sir Jeremy Beecham backed the plans and said many councils were already modernising in the ways suggested.
But the Liberal Democrats have blasted the proposals for doing more to promote corruption than reduce it.
Lib Dem local government spokesman Paul Burstow said: "Without proper safeguards, these proposals are a recipe for tin-pot dictators."
To date, plans for directly elected mayors have proved more popular with the public than with councillors, who have been accused of dragging their feet over the issue.
Last July Mr Prescott said the government wishes its local government reforms to "hand power back to the people".
Under the reforms, councils will be required to choose from one of three models for local government:
If a council chooses one of the options involving a directly elected mayor, it will be required to put it to a local referendum.
At present, the government's plans only apply to England, although legislation is being prepared to implement similar plans in Welsh local authorities.
Draft legal codes of conduct for councils will also be among the first issues discussed by the Scottish Parliament.
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