A POWERFUL directly elected mayor could oversee the whole of Essex as part of a new vision outlined by county council bosses.

In the latest stage of the debate over the future of decision making in Essex, all district and the county council could be axed and replaced with up to four unitary authorities.

The plan is outlined in an email seen by the Echo and sent to Southend party leaders by the borough’s chief executive, Alison Griffin.

It explains Essex County Council leader David Finch, along with the council’s chief executive Gavin Jones, want to “explore” the creation of a “Greater Essex Mayoral Combined Authority” which would operate above the newly formed councils.

It would be led by an elected mayor who could have oversight of budgets, county-wide development schemes, the police and fire services and planning.

The mayor’s powers would need to be confirmed through negotiations with central government.

The email goes on to note the county council will not be seeking to become its own unitary authority, leaving it unclear whether it would join one of the other larger authorities.

The plan, which is in very early stages, has already been endorsed by Simon Clarke, minister for regional growth and local government.

The response is a stark contrast to Mr Clarke’s unenthusiastic response to a separate and significantly smaller plan from council leaders in the south of the county who have proposed the creation of a South Essex Combined Authority.

Southend council leader Ian Gilbert has stressed that the south Essex plan remains the “priority”.

Independent deputy council leader, Ron Woodley, speculated that the county council plan could mean Southend Council merging with Rochford and Castle Point and Thurrock merging with Basildon and Brentwood.

The other two authorities he said could be created by merging councils in the north east and the north west.

Mr Woodley continued: “It seems they want a combined authority over the top of the unitaries but why? You don’t need a combined authority above them.”