SOUTHAMPTON’S finance chief is on collision course with the city’s mayor over plans to axe mace bearers as part of £20m budget cuts.

Labour's Cllr Simon Letts wants to save £40,000 by removing town sergeants from driving and ceremonial duties for the mayor’s office.

It would end hundreds of years of tradition. At civic ceremonies, council meetings and public events, the city’s mace-bearers have proudly led processions of dignitaries and councillors for five centuries.

As well as scrapping the mayor’s chauffeur, it is hoped the authority could raise up to £150,000 by selling off the TR1 private number plate that has been on the mayoral car for more than 80 years.

The move, which would end all ceremonial duties including mace-bearing functions carried out by town sergeants for the mayor and other civic functions like council meetings and the recent Remembrance Day service, has been met with outcry from those close to the role.

It comes shortly after Southampton mayor Cllr Derek Burke, also a Labour councillor, said he believed the roles performed by the town sergeants are “a vital part of this city’s functions”, and the city “would be the poorer” for losing them.

Writing in The Mace-Bearer magazine, he said: “In my discussions with mayors and chairs, across not only Hampshire but nationally, they all agree that one of the most important elements of the job is the mace and mace-bearers.

“I believe it is of vital importance that the things that make this such a great place to live and work are valued and retained, indeed reintroduced where they have been lost.”

Cllr Burke told the Daily Echo he would be “very disappointed” if the ceremonial duties disappeared and would be lobbying for the cuts to be avoided.

He said town sergeants did a “fabulous” job.

Cllr Burke also called for a rethink of the sale of the mayor’s number plate. “Speaking on a personal level, it would be foolish to sell it,” he said. “It sends out the wrong message.”

Susan Spencer, whose husband Alan is one of the town sergeants, said she believes axing their roles will lead to more than just tradition being lost.

She said: “They are advisors on protocol for both the incoming mayor and those who come into contact with the mayor throughout the year.

“Why would the premier city on the south coast wish to get rid of its mace-bearers, whilst other towns and cities are reintroducing them?”

Labour chiefs say are needed to balance the books in the face of a huge drop in Government grants. City finance boss Cllr Simon Letts said: “We have had to look at all opportunities to raise money in the current climate.

“Other councils have sold or are in the process of selling similar items and, with jobs threatened and services reducing, it seems to us the right decision. If a wealthy individual or group of individuals want to purchase the number plate as an investment and lease it back to the city for the mayor to use we would be happy to look at that option.”