Mayoral system or cross party cabinet – you will decide how Bristol is governed on May 5

Marvin Rees

By Harry Mottram: Bristol will go to the polls in May to decide whether to scrap the mayoral system and return to the cross party committee system.
The current Labour Mayor Marvin Rees was re-elected last May and will stand down in May 2024 having served two terms.
He replaced the Independent George Ferguson in 2016 who was the first incumbent of the new system of elected mayors.
The mayor has faced criticism from the opposition Liberal Democrats and the Green Party for being too powerful and dictatorial.
His supporters say he is getting things done when for too long issues have remained unresolved such as building new homes.
Last year the Liberal Democrat leader in the Council Jos Clark put forward a motion to hold a referendum on changing the mayoral system back to a cross-party cabinet system so as to be more accountable to a wider selection of voters.
The criticism in the past was this system led to continual compromises and that politicians blocked other plans by the other parties for the sake of it.
Not surprisingly the Mayor did not agree with the decision to hold a referendum this May following the vote.
Bristol 24/7 reported him as saying: “The quality of the arguments in the chamber were incredibly poor. They often are, but we reached a low last night.
“No one is claiming that any political model is perfect – the mayoral model isn’t perfect. If you are going to have a debate about the model of governance that you want to bring in for the next ten years, at least have a debate that would meet the quality of a GCSE essay paper.”
The Council is currently made up of 24 Labour members, 24 Green Party Members, 14 Conservatives, 6 Liberal Democrats and 2 former Lib Dems now in the Knowle Community Party.
In the last Mayoral election Marvin Rees had 59,276 votes against Sandy Hore-Ruthven of the Green Party who received 45,663 votes.
This result gave Marvin Rees a mandate as he saw it to push through projects as Mayor.
The unusual thing is that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats who would normally be the main opposition in conventional politics have been overtaken by the Greens – normally seen as a minority group.
Councillor Jos Clark, leader of the Liberal Democrats said: “For one person to have such power is absolutely wrong, and I’m glad that our motion succeeded today in hopefully ending the over-centralised and unaccountable Mayoral system. Communities across the city have been ignored by the Mayor, but not any more.”
The newly elected Metro Mayor – who is the former Labour MP Dan Norris, said he wanted the role to stay.
The Metro Mayor or Mayor for the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) is charged with bringing together the heads of Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire to make strategic investment decisions such as infrastructure – which is obviously easier if he has only to deal with one person rather than a cabinet.
He said: “We should be really careful in giving up something that is better than what we’ve had previously.
“We must be careful when we make this decision that we make a good choice so we can get on with making decisions that help the community because that’s what democracy is about.”
He was supported in his view by the 24 strong Bristol Labour Group who are against the change and because elections are expensive.
Cllr Pearce, leader of the Bristol Labour Group, said: “We had an election in May where candidates that wanted to abolish the position of Mayor couldn’t even muster 30% of the vote.
“We have a new Covid variant, cost-of-living sky-rocketing, environmental and housing crises – and yet councillors are choosing to navel-gaze rather than get on with their job.
“Increased costs in adult social care and a lack of support from the Government mean we have to make £23m in budget savings.
“This unneeded, unwanted referendum will add around £700,000 to that.”
The main opposition group, The Green Party see it differently. Green Party Cllr Guy Poultney seconded the motion last year to have the referendum.
His colleague Cllr Mohamed Makawi said: “As Greens, we support giving people a voice in the decisions that affect their city and their lives.
“Imagine if this council’s policies were motivated by the desire to fix the issues we see every day in our communities.”
To add another voice to the debate the first elected mayor George Ferguson has come out in favour of a council leader structure with a cross-party cabinet.
Mike Norton, the former editor of the Bristol Evening Post has also been putting his opinions into the mix.
In articles penned this year for Bristol 24/7 he recalled how the elected mayor system came about.
He had been in favour of it having seen how decisions in the committee system led to political stalemate.
He said: ” Bristol in 2012 was on the verge of political meltdown. The cabinet system was breaking because council elections rarely produced outright winners with a working majority. So the city was often governed by minority administrations – either Lib Dem or Labour.”
In a follow up piece he also attacked the current Mayor and his office for the way it has been separated from the elected councillors.
That is something the current opposition councillors say – along with criticising the seemingly all powerful office of the mayor – and was the reason they have called for the vote. There are clearly pros and cons to both options.
The referendum will be held on Thursday 5th May.