Prime Minister David Cameron has warned people in Bradford that failing to adopt the idea of electing a US-style mayor will see the city lose out on jobs and investment.
Mr Cameron yesterday appealed to voters in ten cities across the country, including Bradford, which are holding referendums on May 3 over the issue of a directly-elected mayor.
He warned that they needed to “join the race or fall behind” in attracting cash and added that a high-profile figure at the helm of major urban areas would help close the north-south divide.
Votes are due to be held next month in Bradford, Leeds, Wakefield, Birmingham, Bristol, Coventry, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, and Sheffield.
Speaking in Bristol, Mr Cameron said they were all “in an out-and-out race for jobs, wealth and investment” with rivals across the globe as the West seeks to recover from the financial meltdown.
He said he wanted mayors to follow his lead of travelling the globe to seek out contracts. “Whenever I go on a major trip abroad I load up a plane with business people so we can bang the drum for trade. I want a whole load of powerful British mayors with the same attitude pressing their business cards into the hands of those who can bring wealth and work back home,” said Mr Cameron He went on: “If the CEO of some big Japanese manufacturer or Gulf investment fund wants to call Bristol or Leeds or Bradford, they need to know who to call.
“They don't want to speak to an anonymous official, they want to talk to the person with clout, who holds the purse strings, calls the shots and runs the city. And that person is the mayor.”
Promoting the election of mayors as a weapon to combat the north-south divide, he said: "There's been a yawning gap between north and south.
“Frankly nothing we do in Westminster – no policy we pass or investment we make – can compete with having one energetic champion on the ground, whose round-the-clock, unrelenting focus is on seeing their city succeed.
“So our dream is to have real heavyweight, influential figures in the north, the Midlands and the west, ones who can give their city a distinctive identity, who can fight their corner and who will help rebalance our country.”
But Councillor David Green, Labour-run Bradford Council’s portfolio holder for regeneration, economy and sustainability, last night said the Prime Minister’s argument did not stack up.
“I know that in Bradford we have people fighting extremely hard for the district’s interests and we have 90 of us working with a clear direction of travel set by the largest group,” said Coun Green.
“The implication that having an elected mayor is the only way forward is disingenuous because that would depend on the who that individual is.”
Councillor Glen Miller, the Council’s Conservative group leader, said: “I think that we have been given a chance for residents of the district to make their choice known – either yes or no for a directly elected mayor.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Jeanette Sunderland said: “What concerns me is that these statements made by the Prime Minister seem to be directly at odds with the policy direction that he’s set with the Local Enterprise Partnerships and that the powers that are on offer for the mayor are not sufficient to get a Bradford Boris Johnson.
“What we will end up with is the vast majority of policies being set regionally and the mayor just being a very expensive figure with a seat on the LEP board.”