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The Bristol Cable

Mixed perceptions of mayoral governance in Bristol

A study identifies key strategic choices for the future of Bristol’s governance.


Words: Ella Wilks-Harper
Photography: Remaking Cities

Report reflects Bristolian’s view of mayor’s role since 2012

A report published by The Bristol Civic Leadership Project – formed as a collaboration between researchers of the University of Bristol and University of West England- has been researching how effective the mayoral reform has been for the city of Bristol and its potential drawbacks. The project looked at people’s perceptions of local governance prior to and after the election of Bristol’s city mayor.

Looking at the different socio-economic groups within Bristol, researchers Robin Hambleton and David Sweeting found that those living in economically better off parts of the city have most often shown more positive perceptions of the system of mayoral governance, in contrast to those living in the less well-off parts of the city.

The study identifies key strategic choices for the future of Bristol’s governance system. These include dispersing some power away from the mayoral office, developing the role of all councillors, re-energising neighbourhood governance.

Marked differences in opinion have also been found between people in different civic positions, with councillors tending to display greater negativity towards the reformed mayoral role than public servants and community and business workers.

Concerns have been found with the levels of representation of views within the city, levels of trust in decision-making and the timeliness of decision-making. A recent example of an ongoing issue with democratic processes has been reflected in the Mayor’s complete overturn of a Council vote against the sale of the Bristol Port.

Meanwhile a positive aspect highlighted by the report shows a ‘significant increase in the visibility of city leadership’, with a 45% increase since 2012.

The mayoral system came into place after a referendum that saw only 24% of Bristolians participating in the vote, begging questions as to Bristolians’ awareness of the new model.  George Ferguson subsequently became Bristol’s first directly elected mayor back in 2012, with 72% of people not voting.

The reform towards a mayoral system was set in motion by the Localism Act 2011  as a part of a wider scheme to devolve power to local authorities and strengthen city leadership. This reform has since spread to other cities including, Liverpool, London and Leicester; with Manchester planning to introduce a ‘metro mayor’ in 2017.

The mayoral election in May 2016 will provide an opportunity for Bristolians to hold the mayor accountable for developments of this mayoral system, and generate a discussion on devolution of power to cities and the model of governance for Bristol.


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