Bradford would be forced to hold a referendum on whether to have an elected mayor within a year of a Conservative government coming to power, it was announced today.

Twelve big cities across the country would be ordered to hold the vote on the same day as local elections, Shadow Local Government minister Caroline Spelman said.

Other cities and towns would be encouraged to follow suit. There are only 13 elected mayors nationally.

Miss Spelman said: “It is time to give other cities the opportunity that London has enjoyed.

“We think elected mayors could make a significant difference to Britain’s largest cities and can help them come up the economic league table.

“It could be that people in Bradford will say ‘Thanks very much, but we believe we are very well as we are’ – and that would be fine. It would be up to them whether to have a mayor.”

Tory heavyweight Michael Hestletine has been charged with looking at what additional powers the mayors could have.

The call comes a year after Tory leader David Cameron, on a visit to Bradford, called for the city to have an elected mayor.

Today’s proposals form part of a bigger package aimed at Returning Power to Local Communities and the decentralisation of government. Conservative leader on Bradford Council, Councillor Kris Hopkins, said: “It is important to remember this is a green paper, a consultation document. It is also not just about the issue of elected mayors. There are some extremely important issues that I hope Conservative councillors and politicians will have the opportunity to positively contribute to.”

Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, Liberal Democrat leader on Bradford Council said: “You only have to look at what happened in Hartlepool – where they elected a monkey – and what is happening in Doncaster now. We need to have collective decision making, to put that power in the hands of one person is very dangerous.”

Coun Ian Greenwood, leader of the Labour group, said: “I have always believed that locally elected mayors are actually a distraction from the real issues. I believe what the taxpayer wants is the protection of essential services. We need an argument about an elected mayor like we need a hole in the head.”