I will be voting Yes in Thursday’s referendum on whether Bristol should have a directly elected Mayor. The debate over the last few months has persuaded me that Bristol will have a stronger voice both in London and on the international stage if a Mayor acts as our ambassador. It is that outward facing role that has swung me from being a sceptic to an enthusiast.
Successful cities around the world are led by strong, accountable mayors. Their strength and accountability stems from the fact that they are directly elected by the citizens of their cities. They work alongside city councillors representing communities that make up their cities. But it is the Mayor that is the public face of the city to their national governments and also within the network of global cities with which they compete.
It’s often been said that American Presidents wonder who to speak to in order to get the view of Europe. British Prime Ministers must think the same of Bristol, with our city spread across four separate local councils. With a directly elected Mayor, there will be no doubt in Downing Street who will be the “go to man” in Bristol. The fragmentation of government in Greater Bristol is a big problem. We could squabble for years on how to shift around the city boundaries. But with Bristol having a directly elected Mayor it would be crystal clear to everyone who speaks for the city.
A Bristol Mayor would lead the case for investment in the city’s bus and rail networks, including routes from Portishead, Keynsham and Filton. The Mayor of Bristol would lead the team of businessmen and councillors from across the Greater Bristol area when showcasing the area for trade and new jobs. The Mayor should have a good relationship with councillors and communities across the Bristol City Region. The next step in the democratic renewal of Bristol would be to have a Mayor elected by the whole of Bristol.
A successful Mayor of Bristol would not be some independent one man band, micro-managing every local issue. There will still be an important role for our seventy city councillors, from whom the Mayor would have to choose a cabinet to run the key city services. My membership of Avon County Council in the early 1990s taught me that more can be achieved by working with councillors from other parties. A Bristol Mayor would do well to pick the talent that is available on the city council benches from all parties, in order to fill the mayor’s cabinet.
Bristol’s Mayor, alongside other city mayors, would be a national figure on a parity of esteem with many central government ministers. The Prime Minister himself made this clear when he announced that he would create a national cabinet of city mayors, which he would chair. City mayors would have a major say in driving forward economic growth in the country’s regional economic powerhouses. It is vital that Bristol has a mayor sitting at this top table.
Bristol has always been an open, outward facing city. For centuries we have traded with all of the known world. Bristolians themselves are drawn from many nations. The Mayor of Bristol would be the face of the city to the rest of the world. An elected Mayor would be able to devote their time to making the case for Bristol, with decision makers at home and abroad. Bristol is a thriving successful place, the foremost of English regional cities. With a new City Mayor, it could realise its full potential and take its rightful place at the world top table.
Thurs 3rd May – ELECTION DAY NOTE ON WHEN RESULT DECLARED
The referendum votes will be counted on Friday 4th May, from 10am onwards at the Ashton Gate football ground. Result likely early afternoon, depending on turnout. As only yes or no piles to count and no other ballot papers it should be a very easy count to conduct…