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Plans for an elected mayor in Oxfordshire ditched after parties cool on idea in manifestos

PLANS for an elected mayor in Oxfordshire have been ditched after the main political parties ruled out the idea in their election manifestos – a move which could pave the way for a 'super council' instead.
The change means months of joint work on a devolution proposal by Oxford City Council, West Oxfordshire and Cherwell district councils has been thrown into doubt, with officials scrambling to find out whether it has been for nothing.

And county council leader Ian Hudspeth hopes this will strengthen his case for a super council, which would see all existing councils scrapped and replaced with one authority.
Mr Hudspeth said: "I have always said we need to reduce layers of bureaucracy, not add more of them.
"What is clear now is there will be no mayors outside urban areas and so what they [Oxford, West Oxfordshire and Cherwell] have been working on can no longer happen.
"But it is clear that authorities which combine are going to be supported and we have put in a bid to combine authorities.
"We will have to wait and see what the Secretary of State says but I would urge other council leaders to come back to the table and talk."
The Government previously said elected mayors were needed if areas seeking deals wanted 'significant' tax-raising powers and control over large transport and infrastructure budgets.
But manifestos published by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have now all made clear this is no longer the case.
The clearest move against mayors came in the Conservative manifesto, which ruled them out altogether in 'rural counties'.
It pledged instead to support to 'authorities that wish to combine to serve their communities better'.
And Mr Hudspeth, Tory leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said he is hopeful this will play into his plan to establish a super council.
The manifesto launched by the Conservatives, who are on course to win the General Election on June 8, also casts doubt over the devolution process in England.
It says local authorities will continue to gain 'greater control over the money they raise' but does not mention control of major transport or infrastructure budgets that was previously offered.
It comes after claims earlier this year from the Tory leaders of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils – who also support the super council plan – that devolution was 'dead'.
South Oxfordshire leader John Cotton said last night: "It demonstrates a definite cooling towards devolution. The words used in the manifesto tend to support our view that merging councils into bigger ones is the referred route.
"There is not the enthusiasm there was for devolution and I have not seen anything anyway to suggest that what is being suggested is any different to what was rejected 18 months ago."

However James Mills, leader of Conservative-run West Oxfordshire District Council, said no major party had 'ruled out combined authorities'.
He said work being carried out by the Oxfordshire Growth Board – a committee of the county's council bosses – on a joint plan for development was an example of 'the direction of travel'.
But Mr Mills added: "What the manifesto does also say is that authorities that 'wish' to combine can do so. So that is unlikely to happen here where you have 60 per cent of the county's population, in Oxford West Oxfordshire and Cherwell, who are clearly against proposals for a super council.
"On the other hand, a barrier has potentially been removed for a combined authority because we no longer need a mayor. But the county council is still effectively vetoing that idea."
He added: "That is important when you consider the direction of travel we are going in."

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