Tories: Give all cities a Boris

By staff

The Tories have launched their local community programme by promising a veto on council tax and elected mayors for 12 UK cities.

The policies – previously announced but not as part of a unified package – are intended to hand power back to local communities, David Cameron said.

If the plans were implemented, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield would get mayors with similar powers to London’s Boris Johnson.

Shadow local government secretary Caroline Spelman told the Today programme Labour had stripped power from local government.

“It’s not actually accountable, and it took power away from local government so that people feel when regional decisions are made that they are being imposed on them and they can’t actually influence the way that decision impacts their local community,” she said.

Mr Cameron described Britain as “one of the most centralised countries in the developed world”.

Labour said the Tory announcement did not add up to much, with local government secretary Hazel Blears arguing: “There is a huge gulf between their rhetoric of decentralisation and the reality.

“Much of what they propose, such as people in cities being able to choose to have a mayor, are policies already introduced by this Labour government.”

The Liberal Democrats shared that analysis – but not its positive spin – saying the Conservatives had stolen Labour’s clothes.

“Rather than being radical, many of these proposals could have been copied straight from the government’s agenda,” said Liberal Democrat communities spokesperson Julia Goldsworthy.

“What this makes clear is that the Tories, like the government, have no intention of reforming the grossly unfair Council Tax that they created.”

But there were good reviews from some democratisation activists.

Director of Unlock Democracy Peter Facey said: “This is significant progress from the Conservative Party and will go a long way to reverse the damage done by Margaret Thatcher’s centralising policies in the 1980s.”

The Tories are also proposing to scrap a cap on council tax rises and replace it with a system of local referendum if increases broke a certain threshold and five per cent of local tax payers wanted one.

Council expenditure would also be published – including staff pay and expenses.