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The Bristol Cable

Work underway to build new committee system after referendum vote to scrap mayor

A group of councillors from different parties is being set up to design the new system coming into force in 2024.

Photo: David Griffiths

Bristol Mayoral Referendum

The city council’s Labour group has promised to help make the committee system work after last week’s momentous referendum result to scrap Bristol’s mayor.

Residents voted by 59% to 41% to abolish the position from 2024 and instead give groups of councillors the power to make decisions.

A cross-party working group is now being set up to thrash out the details, with main opposition Green group leader councillor Heather Mack saying there had been an encouraging start as representatives from different parties were already agreeing on most issues.

Labour and Greens each have 24 councillors on Bristol City Council but under the mayoral model, current office holder Marvin Rees has sole say on cabinet positions and has filled them all with members of his own Labour party.

The referendum was triggered when a legally binding Lib Dem motion backed the Greens, received support from the other opposition groups – the Conservatives and Knowle Community Party – at a full council meeting in December, while Labour voted against.

That sentiment along party lines was mirrored in the campaign ahead of the city-wide poll on Thursday, 5 May.

The result means the political groups now have two years to work together with officers and other experts to determine the new system where full council will continue to set the budget and make some major decisions while delegating most other powers to committees, such as housing, education and adult social care.

Councillor Steve Pearce, leader of the Labour group, which wanted to retain the mayoral model arguing that the committee system removed the public’s right to vote for their city’s leader, said: “The 2020s are such an important decade for Bristol.

“Faced with housing and climate crises, a mayor puts us in the best position to tackle these effectively and ensures we can continue to deliver on Bristolians’ priorities.

“However, we recognise and accept the result. We’re of course disappointed by it, but we have a duty to make the committee system work.

“We’re setting up a cross-party working group to draft a new, committee-based constitution, where we hope to have constructive conversations with other parties.

“We’ve come a long way since 2016 – we need to ensure the progress we’ve made under a mayor is safeguarded.

“We may be reverting to an old form of governance, but this doesn’t mean we’ll undo the progress we’ve made. We have a mandate to lead the city until 2024 and we’ll carry on with the job we were elected to do.

“We’re building an unprecedented number of affordable homes, including the largest council housing scheme in a generation, are investing massively in clean energy and are on track to be net zero by 2030 – among many other things.

“This result won’t be a distraction from our work to deliver on Bristolians’ priorities.”

After the vote was announced in the early hours of Friday, Mayor Rees said the referendum was a “distraction” from the myriad crises facing the city but that it would not stop his administration continuing to deliver on its goals.

He denied the result was a reflection on his leadership because he had already said he would be stepping down at the end of his second term, which he will see out until 2024, and that he hoped his fears about the committee system would not be realised.

Heather Mack, leader of the Greens, speaks to BBC Politics West on Sunday

Councillor Mack told BBC1’s Politics West on Sunday: “I have already reached out to the other party group leaders and we are finding loads to collaborate on, loads to agree on already, so this is a step towards that more collaborative and more democratic way of working in Bristol.”

Asked how concerns would be overcome about the committee set-up creating logjams in decision making, she said: “It’s about being able to work together. I spoke to the other party group leaders within 12 hours of the result and we found more to collaborate on and more to agree on than we had before.

“This is already helping us along the way. I really feel that taking more time and making really good decisions for the city is far more important than making quick decisions that are the wrong decisions, such as the arena.

“It will be about working with other parties. We want to get the city moving. There are transport issues across the city, we want better sustainable transport, we want people to get around. 

“We also want to seriously and speedily respond to the climate emergency. We are not doing that, we are not on track for 2030 carbon neutrality and we really need to get moving.”


Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • I think the council should subsidise bus fares, so that every journey costs £1.50 (£1 for a child)
    This would cut a huge amount of city traffic, as the bus would then be cheaper than the car – and no parking costs.
    This would cut fossil fuel emissions and also greatly improve air quality


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