The introduction of Bristol’s elected mayor in 2012 has helped to boost the city’s image on both a national and international stage, a new study has found.
Just days after Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed plans to appoint a Metro Mayor for the Leeds region in his first Budget, academic research into the effectiveness of Bristol’s equivalent has given the position a firm seal of approval.
Research by UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol – set to be unveiled today at the Bristol Festival of Ideas – shows the role has improved the visibility of city leadership, while creating a high-profile figure able to engage important stakeholders.
It has also helped deliver greater clarity for the city’s identity and future plans, having been ‘critical’ in developing the One City Plan which sets out a detailed vision for Bristol up to 2050.
The role has also given its first two incumbents – George Ferguson and Marvis Rees – have also been able to use their profile to promote Bristol on an international scale to help bring further investment to the area.
There are downsides too, according to the research.
The role of councillors in exercising civic leadership has been ‘unnecessarily restricted’ and ‘remains a concern’ according to the report, which has also resulted in a small decline in the number of citizens believing there is opportunity to get involved in the city’s decision-making.
Dr David Sweeting, a Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Bristol and one of the report’s authors, said: “The report offers several suggestions on how to improve mayoral governance in England in general, and in Bristol in particular.
“For example, it suggests that Whitehall needs to devolve far more powers and fiscal autonomy to local areas so that elected local leaders, whether they are directly elected mayors or not, can exercise decisive place-based leadership.”
The report – which compared people’s views on the role prior to its creation in 2012 with their views now, eight years on – will be launched at Bristol Old Vic this evening.
Andrew Kelly, Director of the Bristol Festival of Ideas, will chair the evening, and Jaya Chakrabarti, a Bristol business leader who campaigned in favour of introducing mayoral governance in 2012, will offer her views on how the model has worked in practice.
Robin Hambleton, Emeritus Professor of City Leadership at UWE Bristol and another of the report’s authors, said: “Ahead of the forthcoming local elections in May there is a chance to study this report on whether the mayoral model has worked.
“We hope it will help the citizens of Bristol reach an informed view about whether Bristol should continue with a mayoral model of governance or get rid of it.
“We also identify challenges that need to be addressed by central government ministers if they want mayoral governance to succeed in localities across the UK.”