Under the 2000 Act, any local authority wishing to establish a mayoralty required a ‘yes’ vote in a local referendum. The 2007 Act changed this, permitting local authorities to adopt a mayor by resolution. However, an authority can still choose to hold a referendum on the issue. Alternatively, authorities can be obliged to hold a mayoral referendum if 5% or more of the local electorate sign a petition demanding one (see section 3). The Government may also compel an authority to hold a referendum. The result of a mayoral referendum is binding on a local authority.

The Localism Act 2011 permitted a referendum to be held on abolishing an elected mayor, subject to time limits; and for a referendum to be held on establishing a leader and cabinet, or on using the committee system. Six authorities have held referendums on whether to retain their mayoral system, of which three have voted to retain the mayor and three to abolish it (see Appendix 3).

Authorities which have changed their governance arrangements as a result of a referendum can only make a further change following a further referendum. (Local Government Act 2000 s9M (2) (b), inserted by schedule 2 of the Localism Act 2011)

Where a local authority has held a referendum on its governance arrangements, a further referendum may not be held for ten years (five years in Wales). Conversely, where a mayor has been created by resolution of the council, five years must elapse before the council may resolve to abolish the mayor. (Local Government Act 2000 s9KC (4), inserted by schedule 2 of the Localism Act 2011)

However, there is no time limit on holding a referendum (whether initiated by the council or by a petition) to reverse a decision made by a resolution.

The Localism Act 2011 prevented a local authority from holding a second referendum if it had been required by the Government to hold a referendum and voted for an elected mayor. This provision was removed by section 20 of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. Bristol City Council was the only authority affected by this provision.