Directly-elected mayors were first introduced by the Local Government Act 2000. A directly elected mayor and a cabinet is one of three different ‘governance arrangements’ or ‘political management arrangements’ available to local authorities: the others are a leader and cabinet, and the traditional ‘committee system’, where decisions are made by policy committees and approved by full council. Elected mayors may be introduced in England and Wales, but not in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Initially, an elected mayor could only be created following a referendum in favour in the relevant local authority. Since 2007, local authorities have also been able to create an elected mayor by resolving to do so.

Currently, 15 local authorities have elected mayors. This figure does not include the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority, which are covered by separate legislation and have quite different powers to local authority mayors.

The 2010 Coalition agreement committed to holding mayoral referendums in the 12 largest cities (by population) in England. Both Leicester and Liverpool subsequently established mayors following resolutions by their respective city councils. A third city, Bristol, voted ‘yes’ in a referendum held in May 2012 and elected its first mayor in November 2012. The remaining nine cities rejected the mayoral system in May 2012.

Mayors do not have powers over and above those available to non-mayoral local authorities.