Liberal Democrats

Kay Barnard

Working For You

What difference do directly-elected mayors make?

For a wet Monday evening in November there was a good turn-out for a debate at the Watershed on whether elected mayors make a difference to cities.

The panel surprisingly agreed on many points.  In particular that Britain, or more accurately England, suffers from a hugely over-centralised system of government, with Westminster holding the purse strings and virtually all of the power.  Local government is highly limited in what it can spend and how it can spend it.

So has having the elected mayor in Bristol changed that situation at all?  Researchers from U.W.E and the University of Bristol found that at least people are clear now who is taking the decisions in Bristol. Unfortunately that hasn’t increased their trust in those decisions or just as importantly made them feel that their communities are being listened to.  To quote the researchers, “public perceptions relating to trust and representation remain disturbingly low”.

Does Bristol deserve better? The answer has to be an absolute “Yes”. It isn't really a gain in democracy to move central government power to one pair of hands in City Hall. That's certainly the case in Bristol at the moment.

As the Bristol City Council website clearly says “The Mayor has ultimate responsibility for all major policy decisions.  Whilst some of this responsibility may be delegated to/shared with Assistant Mayors, the Bristol Mayor has decided to keep this function.

How can it be democratic if councillors and their communities are excluded from the decision-making about the areas they represent? Bristol is such a diverse city that it’s easy to overlook areas with people who don’t make a lot of noise about their concerns.  In addition, to gain real power over the crucially important areas like transport and housing, Bristol will need to work with the surrounding councils in a “combined authority” in a metropolitan area. We won't be able to reduce the horrendous traffic congestion and the air pollution that comes with it or get more affordable housing without that cooperation.

Sharing power isn't easy but it should be an important part of being a successful politician in Bristol.  The style of the elected mayor of Bristol is an important issue. For the mayor to succeed in representing our wonderful diverse city, it has to be someone who is good at getting people working together, no matter what their backgrounds; be it Bristol councillors or the leaders from Somerset, Gloucestershire and Bath. 

And that is why I’m standing for election to be Bristol’s elected mayor.  Working with others is what I’m good at....


The panel consisted of Ben Harrison (Centre for Cities research), Dr.Thom Oliver (U.W.E.), Barbara Janke, (former Lib Dem leader of Bristol City Council), and Dr. David Sweeting (University of Bristol).


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