Bristol mayor: their role and powers explained
Bristol will tomorrow head to the polls to vote for the city’s first ever directly elected mayor.
The only one of ten cities to have said ‘yes’ to an elected mayor in May, Bristol will tomorrow choose its winning candidate.
But in spite of the campaigning and the information booklets sent out by the council, many are still unsure of what exactly the mayor will do. Here we explain what the mayor’s role will be, and what he or she will have the power to do:
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The directly elected mayor will be the council’s political leader. He or she will replace the current council leader.
Although the mayor will work with the council and select a cabinet from the council, they are not themselves a councillor. They are instead voted in by their local electorates in a separate ballot.
The mayor will be elected for a four-year period. Once elected, he or she must appoint a deputy mayor.
An elected mayor does not replace the Civic Mayor (lord mayor), whose role is strictly ceremonial and non-political. The lord mayor is typically selected by their fellow councillors, but in Bristol the political parties take it in turns to nominate an individual.
The lord mayor has no power whatsoever; they simply promote all the good things about the city, and attend events. Conversely, elected mayors have the power to make significant decisions.
The elected mayor will have a variety of new powers devolved to them under the Localism Act 2011, which allows for the delegation of “local public functions” to “permitted authorities”. The Act enables ministers to devolve powers to councils without the need for further legislation.
The Government is taking a bespoke city-by-city approach to the decentralisation of powers, rather than trying to impose a 'one size fits all' approach. However, it has said cities with an elected mayor will “automatically meet the requirement for strong and accountable leadership necessary for taking on new powers and funding streams”.
The elected mayor will oversee the delivery of council services, and the organisation's strategic direction and policy development. They will not, however, have any extra formal legal powers.
The elected mayor will:
- Set the Budget and formulate significant policy framework plans. The amendment or rejection of these proposals requires a two-thirds majority of the council
- Decide on the size of the cabinet, appoint cabinet members and decide how, and to what extent, executive functions might be delegated. A cabinet of between two and nine councillors will be appointed, and one will be chosen to be deputy mayor
- Hold the police and crime commissioner (PCC) to account for police performance in the city
- Enjoy what the Government calls informal or ‘soft’ powers. A paper from the Institute for Local Government described these as “a mayor’s visibility, ability to convene organisations outside of his/her direct remit and ability to broker deals between these organisations”
- Come to Whitehall with his or her own personal mandate, and demand more powers over areas such as housing and economic development
A Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) paper explains “city leaders, alongside the area's local enterprise partnership, can make the case for being given new powers to promote economic growth and set their own distinctive policies.
“This amendment opens the door to greater local control over investment to drive growth, for example for housing and planning, economic development, or pooling resources and effort across functioning economic areas”
- Control tax increment finance schemes and co-chair the Local Enterprise Partnership
- Oversee work programmes and commission welfare services
- Chair the Integrated Transport Authority, overseeing 10 year regional funding allocation
- Appoint a nominee to the health and well-being board. The mayor will be empowered to insist on joint approaches locally to public health challenges
The elected mayor will act as the council’s spokesperson, providing political leadership, appointing and dismissing a cabinet and deputy, and representing the council on outside bodies.
The mandate of a mayor - after all, they’ve been directly elected – arguably places him or her in a stronger position to negotiate than the indirect mandate of a council leader.
The mayor will in theory be able to use their legitimacy to set a decisive strategic vision for the area and drive it forward.
Power has changed hands many times in the past decade in Bristol City Council. The council holds partial elections in three out of every four years, and we’ve had six council leaders in 10 years, making it harder for the people of Bristol to hold members to account.
An elected mayor will act as a focal point, enabling Bristolians to channel their dislike for policies they oppose, and praise for those they approve of. An Institute for Government poll found just eight per cent of respondents could correctly name their local council leader in non-mayoral areas – but how many Londoners wouldn’t recognise Boris Johnson?
With a highly visible leader at the helm, the people of Bristol should know who is responsible and accountable.
And should the mayor be seen to be too close to any one group or interest, voters can remove them at the next election.
It is hoped this accountability will help local people to feel more engaged in decisions, bringing power closer to them.